Is My Dog Overweight?
Obesity is a common problem in dogs, so if your dog is packing on a few too many pounds these days, it is not alone. Suppose your veterinarian agrees with your observation of weight gain. In that case, the key is to then identify the possible causes before starting a comprehensive weight management program that can result in controlled weight loss and maintenance of an appropriate weight.
Understanding Obesity In Dogs
From a purely clinical perspective, obesity is defined as an increase in body weight beyond the limitation of skeletal and physical requirements, resulting from an accumulation of excess body fat.
Obesity is caused when caloric intake exceeds caloric expenditure; in other words, your dog eats more energy (calories) than it uses and stores the excess energy, most likely as fat.
There are a few common factors that contribute to obesity in dogs. Among them are:
- Age and gender
- Spay/neuter status
- Diabetes mellitus (When the dog secretes too little insulin hormone from its pancreas or the insulin is not recognized by the body.)
- Hyperadrenocorticism (also known as Cushing’s disease) results when the dog’s adrenal glands secrete too much cortisol.
- Hypothyroidism (When the thyroid fails to produce a sufficient amount of hormones that help with metabolism and other bodily functions.)
Your dog uses fat as its primary energy source. When your dog becomes overweight, it stores fat more readily when calories are consumed in the form of fat than if they are from carbohydrates. An overweight or obese dog should be fed a low-fat diet to restrict calories available from fat.
A typical fiber level, provided as a moderately fermentable fiber source, helps create and maintain healthy digestion. Healthy digestion is essential to your dog if it’s on a diet. Some weight-loss foods for dogs dilute calories with high levels of fiber. High-fiber foods may reduce the digestibility and absorption of many nutrients, including fat. These foods reduce weight by providing what could be considered poor-quality nutrition. These high-fiber diets may also result in large, frequent stools and decreased skin and coat conditions. Diets that provide essential fatty acids, like those found in vitamin-rich fish oils, help maintain your dog’s healthy skin and coat, despite lowered fat levels.
Dog Weight Management
The goal of a good weight management program should be gradual weight loss. Your rotund dog should lose 1% to 2% of its initial weight per week. You can accomplish this by reducing the caloric intake by 30% to 50% of maintenance.
A total weight management program can lead to successful weight loss in your dog. A tailored exercise program can help to keep the extra pounds off too. But before beginning any weight loss program with your dog, be sure to discuss the proposed plan with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may also provide you with additional tips tailored to your dog’s particular health, age, size, and needs.
Global Trends on Weight and Fitness in Dogs
In the best-selling book French Women Don’t Get Fat (Vintage), writer Mireille Guiliano explains how les femmes françaises indulge in baguettes, champagne, and chocolate without sacrificing their ability to slip into their curve-hugging sweaters. The question now is: Does the seemingly miraculous European food effect carry over to continental dogs?
In America, fat versus thin gets a lot of press these days, but more often than not, it’s about us and not what veterinarians are saying about the big, fat problem of American dogs. Below, Trisha Joyce, DVM at New York City Veterinary Specialists, weighs in on fatness and fitness in dogs globally and offers ways to make your dog très,très fit, and healthy.
International Dog Diets
Like human preferences, pet tastes are influenced by cultural surroundings. “Dogs that live in households with people of Japanese or French or American descent will get table scraps and acquire the same preferences and tolerance for that kind of cuisine,” says Joyce. “In my practice, I see dogs that don’t get spicy food often who eat an Italian sausage and show up at my door 24 hours later with colitis, while dogs that are used to fatty, spicy foods are much less sensitive to it.”
In industrialized countries, though, commercial dog food is similar or often precisely the same as what’s available in the states. “When I was in Japan, I saw Iams and Science Diet,” says Joyce. “There’s probably someone making commercial Japanese dog food, too, but the biggest companies are international.”
Priming Your Dog’s Palate
If experience shapes preferences, should you be sharing your favorite dish with your favorite dog? “No way,” says Joyce. “Veterinarians in this country, myself included, tend to be pretty strict about not feeding people food to dogs. It contributes to obesity and other related health problems.”
Around the world, though, food practices can vary. “In other cultures, it may be a little looser,” Joyce says. “The traditional role of dogs was to clean up the extra food, and some older societies still relegate them to that position. In certain cultures, they’re still considered scavengers.” She adds that a different trend is occurring in America. “In the U.S., our dogs have evolved into being family members, with the unfortunate side effect of being overfed.”
So Are American Dogs Fatter?
Suppose feeding table scraps leads to obesity, and veterinarians outside of the U.S. tend to be less, ahem, dogmatic about feeding human food to dogs. Shouldn’t it stand to reason that dogs in other industrialized countries would be heavier? Guess again. While no hard-and-fast data is comparing the dogs’ weights country-by-country, Joyce hazards a guess that American dogs are more likely to get fat.
“Obesity is a huge problem in pets in this country. Heavier people tend to have heavier children and probably are also more prone to having heavy pets,” says Joyce, who indicates the weight gain may have to do with inactive lifestyles and overfeeding. While French women may indulge in chocolates and cheese, they stay fit by eating fatty foods in moderation and consuming smaller portions.
How Do I Keep My Dog Fit?
In the fight against fat on Fido, your veterinarian is truly man’s best friend. Your dog’s doctor can give you an ideal weight range for your pet and suggest ways to reach or maintain that goal; this can include a diet and exercise program. Most veterinarians will offer a meal plan, which is easy enough to do when kibble or canned food is the diet mainstay. But limiting your pet’s caloric intake might also require examining your eating habits.
“If a pet owner uses food as a way to soothe and reward himself,” says Joyce, “he is likely to soothe and reward his animals in the same way. I have clients who say, ‘I felt sorry for him. He was alone all day, so I gave him a few treats.'”
To combat this, Joyce recommends thinking twice, or even three times, before using food as a quick way to make your dog happy. “Trust me, your dog would rather go outside and play,” she says.
As the thinnest of the French doggies will surely tell you, a romp in the park is better than even the stinkiest cheese.