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.