Did you know that more than half of all American dogs are overweight? According to the APOP (Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, founded in 2005), a whopping 52.7% of American dogs are fat!
The main contributing factor to this epidemic is the so called “Fat Gap” ~ referring to the unbelievable 93% (!) of owners of obese dogs who believe their dog’s weight is normal ~ this was the surprising result of a study conducted by the APOP in 2013.
Why Are So Many Dogs Obese?
Many owners have been conditioned by their pooches to dish out food whenever they “bark for some”, and to substitute attention with an increased amount of food and/or treats.
Begging dogs are rewarded with table scraps due to their pleading,“sad” doggie eyes owners just can’t resist (the “begging” behavior of a dog is an incredibly rude one, by the way, and should therefore never be encouraged), and additionally, no regular, daily exercise is provided.
Breeds especially prone to weight gain due to genetic predisposition are Labrador Retrievers, Dachshunds, Beagles, Cairn Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Basset Hounds.
Physical Signs Of An Obese Dog
1. Ribs can not be felt when running your hands down your dog’s sides (note: Ribs should never be visible, but you have to be able to feel them! If they are visible, your dog suffers from the opposite end of the spectrum and is underweight.)
2. The dog doesn’t have a waistline.
3. The dog’s stomach sags.
Health Risks In Obese Dogs
Dogs who are overweight are much more prone to heart disease, respiratory difficulties, joint problems, diabetes, and kidney failure.
Their quality of life is compromised, and their life expectancy drops drastically due to their overall decreased immune function.
Vet Check Up & Set-Up Of Diet Plan
If you suspect that your pooch belongs to the overweight half of America’s doggie population, please consult your vet to rule out any diseases contributing to obesity, such as hyperthyroidism, cushing’s disease, insulinoma (tumor occurring in the pancreas causing increased insulin production), diabetes mellitus (not depending on insulin), abnormalities in pituitary gland (controls metabolism & appetite).
These diseases are only likely to occur in 5% of dogs, however, so the culprit deserving blame for extra pounds is most likely the dog owner.
Once your vet has diagnosed obesity in your dog, he will then put Fido on a diet. Depending on his size, he should loose an average of 1-5 lbs per month. The weight loss program should last about 6-8 months.
Tackling Those Excess Pounds
If a dog is completely out of shape, start building up his stamina very slowly, increasing the amount of exercise on a daily basis.
Severe cases of underexercised dogs may only be able to walk down the driveway and back home for the first few days, and will still be panting as if just having returned from a 5 hour hike (sadly enough, I have experienced this, but I have also experienced the fairly quick turnaround of consistent daily exercise for a few weeks. As with all things in life, consistency and discipline are key in weight control).
1. Daily, brisk walks, for a minimum of 30 mins.
2. Playtime & trick training.
3. Swimming for those who like it, which is especially gentle on joints.
My pups Missy & Buzz stay fit and in shape by exercising every single day, to include weekends and holidays. You can find a collection of fitness articles in my post Best Of K9 Fitness 2015:
Healthy, Nutritional Diet
1. Feed a high-quality diet – you won’t find this kind of dog food at your grocery store! You will have to purchase it at a pet retail store or online. For some input on healthy dog food resources, please check out my Healthy Dog Resources tab.
2. Don’t feed any dog food containing cheep fillers (e.g. corn), artificial food-coloring, and harmful chemical preservatives such as BHA, BHT, TBHQ, and Ethoxyquin.
I put together a compilation of my Best Of K9 Nutritional blog posts for further reading:
1. Monitor amount fed by taking notes, so you don’t lose track.
2. Don’t free feed, but measure out meals, ideally at set times. If you feed kibble and use a free feeder, only place the equivalent of one meal inside the feeder.
3. Don’t give in to begging; even better: Don’t allow begging! Simply ignore those “sad” eyes.
No Unhealthy Table Scraps
1. Never ever feed your dog unhealthy, greasy leftover human foods.
2. Not even once, or they will remember this and hope for it to happen again.
3. Make sure your entire family is on the same page.
4. Instruct guests not to share any of their leftovers either.
Minimize The Treat QUANTITY & Maximize The Treat QUALITY Instead
1. Limit treats to a maximum of 10% of his daily caloric intake. If you use treats for training purposes, don’t forget to cut back on your pup’s daily food intake.
2. Only feed healthy limited or single-ingredient treats. Choose the kind that are rich in natural glucosamine and chondroitin such as dehydrated duck/chicken feet or green lipped mussels. Both benefit your dog’s joints and therefore help with arthritis.
Missy & Buzz get a dehydrated duck foot from Treats Happen, and also a dehydrated green lipped mussel from BooBoo’s Best every single day. We just recently found out about the green lipped mussels and their anti-inflammatory powers – the pups LOVE them, and I love having the peace of mind knowing that I’m not treating my fur-babies with garbage.
3. Have your pup work for treats, don’t just hand them out whenever he “asks” for one! Have him perform a trick (e.g. “rollover”), or at least a basic command such as “sit” or “down” before giving him a goodie.
A little discipline regarding doggie mealtime & exercise will go a long way! Let’s all take the pledge to being responsible dog owners, and providing a long and healthy life for our canine companions. After all, they’re our best friends ~ don’t they also deserve the best treatment?
How do you ensure your pup stays in the healthy half of American dogs? As always, we’d love to hear from you in our comment section!
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There’s a 50% chance your dog is fat. Learn more here: #HealthyDogshttps://t.co/xRw8vgbY4h pic.twitter.com/2qElMmypsB
— K9s Over Coffee (@K9sOverCoffee) February 23, 2016
Maddie gets overweight in the winter (like 4-5 lbs). It’s hard sometimes to get her out walking with her legs so bad. But normally she stays at a stable weight.
Aw, poor Maddie with her little legs. Have you tried cutting back on some of her food to make up for the decrease in exercise? That should help some 🙂
I’m sorry, but you are wrong when you say ribs should never be visible. For many dogs having the last few ribs visible is absolutely a sign of healthy weight. I know many people with healthy weight dogs who get attacked when in public and accused of abuse or starving their dogs, and comments like yours above about if ribs are visible your dog is underweight just make it worse. SOME dogs whose ribs are visible are underweight. Not most, and certainly not all.
I’ll add, if you want me to send you photos of dogs at healthy weight, I can get together a huge collection of healthy competitive sports dogs of a variety of breeds and mixes to send you. You’ll see a lot of ribs, and I promise, our dogs are healthy and not starving.
I would absolutely love for you to share some pictures of healthy working dogs with us – it pains me seeing so many (severely) overweight dogs all the time that it would be a wonderful change to see their fit counterparts! You are welcome to share them right here on Disqus 🙂
Hi Cyrstal, thanks so much for stopping by! I am very excited about the fact that you keep your pups at a healthy weight. I suppose I should have clarified that I meant emaciated dogs whose entire rib cage is showing. I myself know several dogs whose last few ribs are slightly showing – they aren’t working dogs, but just have a high metabolism.
P.S. I need to add that I would never attack people in public, that’s not my style & not my place.
If Labs hunted as they were bred to do, they would not be overweight. 🙂 I think a big contributor to obesity is the idea of using treats for every little bit of training. And I will agree that on a working dog, ribs may be visible. Also senior dogs should be kept lighter than when they were younger. Less wear and tear on joints. Due to loss of muscle mass, ribs may be visible on them.
I absolutely agree – as I just mentioned below in the reply to Crystal’s comment, I meant emaciated dogs whose rib cages are showing. I should have clarified that.
Yes, too many high calorie training treats and not balancing them out with less food at mealtimes will pack on a nice cushion real quick.
I have never had to think about this with Daisy or with Cocoa. I think it is because we are so active and run and play and hopefully make sure their physical as well as mental health is good. I also am lucky because both of them have full access to food and only eat what they want and then walk away. I could learn from them, lol!!
I love that you’re so active with Miss Cocoa, Julie!! – every now & then I need a little reminder about that lesson as well… 😉
Wonderful post and advice, Barbara! One thing I realized with Haley is when giving treats, she doesn’t notice the difference between a small treat and a larger one. In our human minds we do notice so we sometimes might think our dogs will notice too and feel slighted if we only give them a small bite, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference to them. Haley’s just happy to get something.
Thank you, Elaine! You’re making a very good point – Missy & Buzz are just as happy as Haley to get something, regardless of its size 😉
We see the problem all the time and read about it as well, but last fall at our vet check when our vet said she loves to see us and examine us because it is so rare to find really fit dogs let alone a family with three. She almost always has to have weight conversations with pet parents. It is very sad. Love is more than food. Eat to live, not live to eat.
Is is super sad – your vet sounds exactly like ours. She always tells us how frustrating it is to spend the vast majority of her days having weight-related conversations with her patients’ humans.
I couldn’t agree more with your “eat to live, not live to eat” statement.
You know we LOVE this post – great tips and advice for folks – now if we can only convince those millions of people with fat dogs!
LOL, I do 😉 This is right up your alley! Thanks so much for all the wonderful posts and ideas on how to keep our K9 friends fit! ***Let’s tackle the people with fat dogs, one by one!***
We don’t eat raw (dehydrated human grade) but we try to eat healthy. I am big on portion control. I measure everything. This is an excellent post. Thanks so much for writing – have a great weekend!
Thanks so much, Cathy! I’m excited to read that you feed dehydrated human grade food, that’s a very healthy alternative to raw. I feed dehydrated or freeze-dried food every now & then as well (usually when we’re in-between raw shipments or if I forgot to take some raw out of the freezer to thaw).
P.S. I had a grand weekend, which is why I only reply now – after having worked non-stop for several months, I finally decided I needed to not work on a weekend. It was refreshing & much needed! I hope you had a great weekend as well!
Mr. N gets his treats for training and he gets tiny, tiny bites usually. Also we exercise with him every day.
Mr. N always looks to be in great shape in every single photo I’ve seen of him! Your exercise routine & disciplined treating/feeding definitely shows!