The Fat Dog Blues

Debbie Eldredge, DVM

Obesity – it’s having an abnormal  amount of fat on the body.  Medically speaking, the term is used for pets or people who weigh 15-30% more than the accepted norm for their body frame and size. Whether or not your dog is truly obese doesn’t matter. Being overweight is the real problem.

Our canine companions become overweight from eating too much, or not exercising enough – or both. Different pets, like different people, have different metabolic rates. Calories get burned up at a different speed for you than for your brother or sister.

For dogs, metabolism can vary by breed as well as among individuals of the same breed. Sighthounds rarely become overweight, although I have seen a pudgy Afghan. Beagles seem to be one of the breeds with the greatest tendency to corpulence.

The metabolic rate of a spayed or neutered pet is slightly less than that of an intact littermate. Therefore, the spayed/neutered dog will need slightly less food or more exercise to remain fit and trim. Spaying or neutering is not a valid excuse for a “round” dog.

We usually judge whether our pets are overweight by feel. You should easily be able to feel your dog’s ribs with just a slight amount of padding. If you have to actively dig, or can’t find the ribs at all your pet is too heavy. Most dog breeds have a waist or tuck-up. Viewed from above, their bodies should narrow behind the ribs and in front of the hips. Viewed from the side, the line of the abdomen should rise (or tuck up) from the rib cage to in front of the hind legs. On dogs with a full haircoat, it’s better to feel.

A distended belly is not usually a part of a weight problem. Young puppies with big full bellies may have just eaten, or could have an infestation of intestinal worms. An older pet with a distended abdomen may have decreased muscle tone or ascites (fluid accumulation) from congestive heart failure, liver or kidney failure. These senior citizens should be examined by your veterinarian.

Why do we worry about overweight pet? Being fat predisposes our pets to extra stress and some serious health problems. It can contribute to a shorter life span, and heaven knows, we feel their lives are too short at best. Overweight canines have a much higher risk of developing diabetes mellitus and some of the liver problems. The extra pounds aggravate arthritic conditions and many respiratory troubles — possibly turning a minor health problem into a serious, life-threatening one. The risks in surgery and anesthesia are greater for the pudgy pet, too.

An overweight, inactive pet who “overdoes” his exercise can do serious harm to himself. For example, a normally inactive, heavy pet running around playing Frisbee® on the first day of summer vacation is at greater risk of developing heat stroke or tearing ligaments (the cruciates) in his stifle.

Very often, overweight dogs are actually being fed the correct amount, but their owners overindulge their pets with dog treats and table food. Table food, or people food, is not very good for dogs. It does not usually provide a well-balanced diet and often has more fat and salt than is good or necessary for our canines.

Before you set out on a serious weight loss program for your pet, you should have him examined by your veterinarian. Your pet’s doctor can help you design a diet program and exercise schedule. The vet can also give you an accurate weight for your pet and a goal weight, too.

Are Pets Being Recycled Into Pet Food?

Tim Phillips, DVM

The headline read: “How dogs and cats get recycled into petfood” (San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 20, 1990). Similar headlines appear regularly. The belief is dead pets are rendered and the resulting product finds its way into petfoods.

Not true, according to Fred Bispling-hoff, DVM, Consultant for the Animal Protein Producers Industry (APPI). “I believe I have as much information on this subject as anyone,” says Dr. Bisplinghoff. “I have spent much time talking to reporters, renderers, petfood manufacturers and pet owners for the past twenty years. Adverse publicity has dictated that renderers get rid of small animals or make arrangements to sell their end products into markets other than the petfood market.”

Rendering pets for petfood is not harmful to pets consuming such petfoods. Nevertheless, emotional reactions over-shadow any rational discussion of this issue. Pet owners tend to be appalled by the idea. The rendering industry is well aware of public disapproval of the practice.

Rendering is an economical, environmentally sound way of disposing of pets. The alternatives are to bury or incinerate them. However, these alternatives have economic and environmental disadvantages. Still, because most renderers will not accept pets, humane societies and others have increasingly turned to incineration.

The following is the breakdown of producers of animal proteins by type of raw material processed:

♦    Independent renderers process raw material from small packing houses, supermarkets, etc. There are 182 in the U.S.
♦   Packer renderers process raw material from only the species they are slaughtering. There are ninety-eight of this type in the U.S.
♦    Poultry processors process poultry by-products. There are fifty-six nationwide.
♦    Protein blenders purchase dry rendered tankage from the preceding processors. There are twenty-four in the United States.

Of these, says Dr. Bisplinghoff, the only group that might process dead pets are the independent renderers. He estimates that of the 182 independent renderers, only five to seven process pets. However, this number does not include the “small country processors who may occasionally take a pet from a livestock producer.” Generally, these small feed companies do not manufacture companion animal diets.

Petfood manufacturers have demand-ed guarantees that their animal protein suppliers do not process dead companion animals. Since petfood makers are large volume, valued customers, says Dr. Bisplinghoff, no renderer would chance losing this profitable business.

Furthermore, dead pets are not desirable raw material for rendering. Therefore, there is no economic incentive for renderers to seek this type of raw material.

“Some renderers may process a small volume of dog pound animals,” says Dr. Bisplinghoff, “but they do it to get along with local health authorities who have the responsibility to dispose of these animals in an economic and sanitary manner. But, these renderers do not sell their products to petfood manufacturers. The few renderers who handle large volumes of dead pets either export their animal proteins or sell them to integrated poultry operations.”

Tim Phillips, DVM is Editor of Petfood Industry Magazine.

Reprinted with permission from Petfood Industry Magazine, March/April 1992.

Cost per 100 kilocalories

This chart provides an interesting comparison. It shows the cost of 100 kilo- calories of energy for several brands.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t tell you anything about the quality of the ingredients, or the amount of nutrients your dog will get from a food. Ultimately, you need to balance the quality of ingredients, the price per calorie, the digestibility of the food, the level of performance of the food in your dog, and your level of trust in the manufacturer to decide which food is best for your dog.

Prices used in our calculations were checked in Austin, TX at PETsMART, PET-CO, and local supermarkets, mid-December 1998. For foods not available in the Austin market, the manufacturer provided a typical price for a 40 or 50 lb. bag of food in a typical market. The price used was neither the high-est nor the lowest price the product sells for. Remember, prices vary based on competition, distance from the manufacturing plant, sales, and other factors.

We used ME calculations provided by the manufacturers. Where none were available, we calculated ME based on the Modified At-water formula and Guaranteed Analysis data.

Animal Food Services Meat Eater Frozen Patties   .2364
Wysong Maintenance II/Synorgon   .1238
Riplees Ranch Original Dog Food   .0601
Dr. Ballard Maintenance   .0537
Bil-Jac Select   .0519
Nutro Natural Choice   .0509
Nutro Max    .0462
Blackwood 3000   .0455
Sensible Choice Lamb Meal and Rice   .0451
Sensible Choice Chicken and Rice   .0437
Regal Active Bites  .0434
Eukanuba Original Performance   .0432
Eukanuba Adult Maintenance   .0431
Waltham Conditioning Adult   .0417
Nature’s Recipe Original Lamb Meal/Rice   .0415
Science Diet Canine Maintenance Sm Bites    .0415
Pro Plan Chicken & Rice Adult   .0406
Purina O.N.E. Chicken & Rice Adult   .0380
Excel Lamb Meal & Rice   .0359
Blackwood 2000   .0353
Iams Chunks   .0351
Authority Adult Chicken Meal/Rice    .0311
Cycle Adult   .0303
National Training X-TRA   .0293
Nurture Adult   .0287
Pedigree Mealtime Small Bites   .0261

What’s Age Got To Do With

Activity isn’t everything. Age plays a big part. Those were the findings of two studies by Dr. Mark D. Finke in 1991 and 1994. At the time, Dr. Finke was at the ALPO Pet Center in Allentown, PA. Now he works for PETsMART, handling all petfood-related issues.

The first study was conducted with Beagles, Siberian Huskies, and Labrador Retrievers. All were kennel dogs. The second test was done with 19 unspayed, adult female Beagles, over a 60-week period. These also were kennel dogs, with a high activity level..

Detailed measurements were taken of caloric intake, and of urine and feces, to determine the energy requirements of each dog. The data were analyzed using regression analysis, a statistical method, and a formula was generated which gives a result consistent with the data.

Dr. Finke found that as dogs age from 1 to 7 years, their energy requirements drop by 24%. That’s similar to the 20% to 25% drop in adult human energy requirements from age 19 to 51 years.

Weather plays an important part, too. A house dog can have a 10% to 15% variation in calorie needs between summer and winter. Outdoor dogs will have an even bigger variation. Arctic breeds, with well-insulated coats, will have a smaller variation based on weather.

Adjustment will also be necessary if your dog is extremely active, or not very active. These figures are based on dogs who, for the most part, were quite active in their kennel runs.
Individual variations also will mean up to 10% difference in calorie requirements from these numbers.

Dr. Finke’s chart follows, and is called Chart II.

Use these numbers as a starting point, and adjust your dog’s caloric intake as necessary.

Should You Add Anything To Your Dog’s Food?

Many people think it’s great to add fresh fruit and vegetables to their dog’s diet. They think that fresh foods will give their dog something that a processed food won’t. Some people even think that fresh foods are the only way to add “life force” to the diet.

While we won’t debate the issue of life force, adding foods to an already complete and balanced diet can cause some problems. Any additions to an already complete and balanced diet are likely to throw the finely-tuned balance of nutrients way off. For example, if you give your dog cottage cheese, milk or ice cream, the additional calcium could create a zinc deficiency and you will probably see flaking skin, and, possibly, other problems, too.

Fresh fruits and vegetables contain plenty of water. Cooked vegetables contain even more water. Believe it or not, adding extra water to the diet dilutes the nutrients your dog is getting from his food.

Since fruits and vegetables also contain carbohydrates, you’re diluting the prepared diet with those, too. Because you have added calories to the diet, you are diluting the amount of protein your dog is getting, as your dog will want to eat less of his dog food.

The additions you make to the food may also result in the undersupplying of different vitamins. While there is a margin of error included in the formulation of the dog food, how close to the wire are you getting?

What about adding rice? Rice is just water and starch – carbohydrate. Now you’re diluting the dog food with water and carbohydrates. The more you add, the more you dilute, and the less the dog gets of the balanced diet.

How about celery? Although it’s one of my favorite snacks, celery is worthless to the dog. It contains plenty of water, and is mostly fiber. The fiber takes up space in the stomach, so your dog will eat less of the food (and therefore the nutrients) he needs.

Some people like to cook beans for their dog. Well, as you may imagine, beans can cause gas in dogs. It’s not a balanced addition, and will dilute the vitamins, minerals and fatty acids in the rest of the diet.

Are fresher foods more natural and better for your dog? There’s some debate about this, but no hard evidence. Commercially-made dog foods are the result of years of nutritional research, all with the goal of providing your dog with all of the nutrients he needs to live a long, healthy life. Various analyses show that the commercial food your dog eats will provide all of those nutrients. Most manufacturers also perform standard feeding tests to make sure that their food works well in real dogs, not just in the laboratory.

Dog food manufacturers have worked hard to balance the diet using many of the same ingredients you’d add to the diet. There’s really no need to add anything else.