How to get your chubby dog back into shape this New Year!
People are getting fatter and it is affecting our pet’s health as well.
We love our pets and like to give them the little indulgences that we enjoy, so pets are gaining weight too. And we like our pets to be “well-rounded” – most pet dogs have considerably more body fat than dogs in the wild but wild and feral dogs are often closer to the way a fit dog should look.
Being overweight can have lasting consequences and can even be fatal. Studies have shown that overweight dogs do not live as long and are more prone to illnesses that spoil their quality of life, such as arthritis, breathing difficulties, heart problems and diabetes. There is a genuine risk of killing your pet with kindness.
The way the body works changes considerably in overweight animals. Once an animal is overweight, the working speed of the body slows and they are less active so they do not need to eat much to maintain their weight. It is rare for medical problems to cause obesity in dogs.
Dogs are scavengers in the wild and it is natural for them to eat everything they find, whether they are hungry or not. Begging for food is a trick that they quickly learn to exploit and it is our fault for giving them treats when we are eating.
Only giving them treats “now and then” makes things worse. The scientific name for this is “variable reinforcement” and it is why people play fruit machines – the occasional win makes up for all the losses. The cure is for all the people in the house to learn never to give treats when eating, or to shut the dog in another room at mealtimes. And do not let your dog follow small children who are snacking and “hoover up”.
There is a lot of variation in the energy that different individuals require daily, and feeding packets tend to recommend an over-generous daily amount. Do not be alarmed if your dog generally seems to have quite a small appetite, but do consult your vet if there is a sudden loss of appetite. If you are concerned about your dog’s weight, consult your vet. The guidelines below give an indication of how to find out if your pet is the right weight.
There is evidence that chubby puppies become fat adults. Breeds likely to get joint problems such as poor hips (hip dysplasia) are more likely to develop these problems with overfeeding. Feed your puppy the minimum amount for the body weight recommended on the packet, and monitor body shape as your dog grows. Ask the vet to check at vaccination time.
If an otherwise healthy, happy dog seems reluctant to eat do not be tempted to offer different foods or human foods to coax his or her appetite. You may cause your pet to become a fussy eater. Dogs fed human foods often over eat and become overweight, even on foods relatively low in fat, such as chicken. However, if your dog eats nothing at all for more than 24 hours, contact your vet for advice.
Is my dog overweight?
You cannot tell by weighing a dog and looking at tables of “right weight for breed” because all individuals are different. The only way is to look at body shape and assess body fat. Does your pet have a potbelly? Viewed from above, does your dog have a waist – that is, does the body taper after the rib cage? Can you easily feel your dog’s ribs? No waist, a bit of a paunch, and a well-cushioned ribcage means it is time to take action. The average “chubby” pet is usually at least 15 per cent overweight.
The next step
It is best to start with a trip to the vet. Although increasing exercise is not enough on its own, it is helpful, although your pet will need a check-up for medical conditions that could interfere. Using a special calorie-controlled food from the vet is usually the most effective way of losing weight and well worth considering. Many vets run weight control clinics providing regular check-ups. They are often free of charge, and help to ensure that the diet is working, and that weight loss is not occurring too rapidly.
A food diary
Make a record of everything – including table scraps and treats – that your dog eats for a few days. This is often valuable in highlighting “extras” that your pet is getting. A dog that does not seem to eat much dog food probably still has an appetite for sausages and chocolate biscuits!
With calorie-controlled food from the vet, you will be advised how much to feed daily. This will be for the target weight – not the current weight – of your dog. It is best to weigh food out daily, at least to start with. Many dry diets come with calibrated scoops but it is easy to overfill these. You can reduce hunger by feeding two or three times a day, so long as you don’t go above the daily recommended amount. If you must feed treats, either take these out of the daily ration, or choose low calorie items, such as a piece of carrot, apple, or rice cake.