Warning: this may be an unpopular post!
(Which is why I put a very pretty picture of Sally up in an attempt to draw you in!)
Nearly 60% of dogs in the UK are currently overweight or obese, and this figure is on the rise.
This may be new one for you- have you ever assessed the weight condition your dog may be in?
This is a staggering number, and the negative side effects that come with being overweight make it something that we should really pay attention to. Being overweight can lower your pet’s quality of life and disturb their ability to perform natural behaviours such as running, grooming or playing. Diseases are also associated with increased weight, such as diabetes, respiratory problems and osteoarthritis just to name a few. Furthermore, being overweight can shorten the lifespan of your pet. It is therefore imperative for the welfare of your animal to maintain a healthy weight.
Is my dog overweight?
Your dog may look perfect to you, but weight varies with breed and size. To assess your dog’s weight between check-ups at the vet or sessions with the veterinary physiotherapist, you can assess if your dog is at a healthy weight by placing your hand on their side. If their ribs are hard to feel (or even seemingly completely absent!) they are likely to be overweight.
Some other signs you may notice are:
· Loss of a ‘waist’
· A tighter collar
· Reluctance or difficulty to walk
· Slower movement
· Shortness of breath
· Sleeping more and/or heavier snoring.
· Bad temper
· Difficulty climbing stairs or reluctance to jump on or off furniture
Why do pets become overweight?
Dog’s become overweight for several reasons, but the main culprits are listed below:
Lack of exercise, along with over-feeding, is the main cause of obesity in pets.
The majority of pets need exercise to avoid weight gain. Dogs need to be walked every day and if they don’t have regular exercise, they are at risk of becoming overweight. Regular exercise also helps your dog to sleep better and lead a happier life.
Sadly, many owners overfeed their pets, often through love and kindness.
Such as painful arthritis- may make an animal reluctant to exercise and therefore expend energy. Low thyroid level or hormonal imbalances are also a common cause.
Older dogs become less active, have less energy and require less calories. Therefore, continuing to feed them as much as they had when they were a youngster may lead to obesity.
Evidence has suggested that metabolism of neutered dogs is reduced compared to those intact. Therefore, they require fewer calories.
Some dogs are genetically predisposed to gain and hold more weight (just like humans!) For example, think whippet vs. rottweiler!
Love and attention does not mean feed them!
Owners will often mistake begging for wanting to be fed. Just because a dog may look like they are begging for food, does not mean they want it. Mostly, dogs just want your love and attention. Feeding your dog is not the only way you can show it love and sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.
Imagine if every time you wanted to show love to your child, you fed them a chocolate bar. Two things would happen:
1) They wouldn’t always want it (but may still eat it anyway!). They would probably far prefer to have your actual attention and to spend time with you.
2) They are likely to get very big, very quick if you love them a lot!
It is exactly the same for animals- you can show them love in so many other ways. So instead of giving your dog a piece of your dinner, try a stroke and pat on the head, a cuddle, talking to them, a scratch on the ear or even playing on the floor with them with their favourite toy.
Addressing the Problem
Although the most effective strategy to addressing the problem of overweight pets is to prevent your pet from becoming overweight in the first place, there are lots of techniques to help counteract the weight gain.
Dogs can be overweight for many reasons- so don’t feel embarrassed or uncomfortable to ask for help. Vets may offer advice such as:
· lower calorie treat options and the use of treats
· a suitable, tailored diet for your dog
· food enrichment recommendations which encourage your dog to work harder for their food. They also offer mental and physical stimulation.
Loosing just 6% of the excess bodyweight will help make your dog feel brighter, more energetic and improve their mobility.
The Wrong Way to Feed
Dogs are often fed ‘free choice’. This means that food is available 24 hours a day and your dog can eat whenever they want to. This is a very unnatural routine for any mammal, and (just like us humans) dogs will often eat when they are bored instead of just hungry. Furthermore, free choice feeding can even lead to hormonal changes, often making weight loss even more challenging.
Instead, dogs should be fed two to four small portions of food per day. With the total number of calories for both meals and treats equalling the number of calories desired for weight loss. It is so important to actually calculate and measure your dog’s food. Guessing never goes well! Again, you can consult your vet or vet nurse regarding calculating the required amount calories needed for your dog’s specific needs.
How to maintain a healthy weight?
Once you have reached your dog’s ideal weight, the amount of food they are eating will likely need to be increased. But it is important to continue weighing and monitoring this amount for future changes in weight.
If your pet is currently at a healthy weight or you have managed to reduce their weight to a healthy level, here are some tips on how to maintain it!
·Observe what your dog is REALLY eating. You may believe they have just 1-2 small meals of dog food a day. But they may also be sneaking in a few treats here and there from other family members and a few scraps of human food from the children too! Informing other family members on how easily some pets can gain weight if overfed should help them to understand how detrimental this habit can be.
Don’t give in to begging. It’s not easy, but the less you give in, the less and less they will begin to whine and beg. Whereas if you continue to give in, they know that this behaviour leads to more food and therefore will continue to do it. Meaning their weight will continue to rise.
Portion Control is Key. Knowing the correct portion size for your overweight dog is so important for keeping the correct weight or losing weight. Food companies will almost always publish nutritional information and charts indicating the necessary amount for your dog’s size and breed etc. If necessary, your vet can help you work out how much and how often to feed your dog.
How much exercise should I give my dog?
Exercise is just as important for pets as it is for humans. If you don’t have the time to walk your dog, you could always hire a dog walker or ask a family member to fit it in.
Exercise levels vary greatly depending on a dog’s size, breed and age. However, between 30 to 60 minutes per day for an adult dog is what owners should aim for. With less for puppies, smaller or older dogs. This can even be split up into multiple walks a day if your routine allows it, which is fantastic for preventing joint injuries and degeneration.
Moreover, for dogs who are slightly heavier or have painful joints, hydrotherapy and swimming can be a fantastic, low-impact exercise to burn some extra calories.
Please contact me if you would like further energy burning and/or strength exercises to help your dog stay lean and busy without having to walk for hours on end!
More than half of the dogs in the UK are currently overweight or obese. Is there a chance your dog may be in this category? Being overweight is detrimental to a pet’s health and therefore we need to make it our responsibility to tackle this problem. There are many ways you can assess your dog’s weight and warning signs that your dog has put on those few extra pounds- such as slower movement and heavier breathing. Dog’s mainlt become overweight from overfeeding and under exercising, but other factors such as age can play a part in weight gain too.
Love for your pet can often cause overfeeding- so try to show your love in other ways such as playing with them or giving them your attention- they would probably much prefer this and it is better for them too!
Lastly, there are lots of techniques to help counteract weight gain. So you shouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed to ask your vet, vet nurse, animal nutritionist or veterinary physiotherapist for help. By introducing a good diet and regular exercise, owners can extend the lives of their beloved pets and help them to achieve a healthy weight.
If you would like to talk more about this subject or are concerned that your dog may be on the slightly porkier side- please get in touch and we can discuss some techniques and methods that can help prevent or counteract the weight gain.