By: Dr. Eddy Collins, DVM
Obesity is widespread and is considered the number one disease in dogs. In the US, over 25% of dogs are categorized as obese, while at least 50% are considered overweight. By any definition, that is considered an epidemic.
Excessive Wear and Tear
A dog that weighs more than 20% over its ideal weight is considered obese, but even lesser amounts of extra weight can have a big impact on overall health. All that extra weight causes their bodies to have to work much harder than it should to do just about anything. There is more strain on the joints and back when getting up and down, using stairs, and definitely when running and jumping. There is also a more constant strain on the heart and lungs, which makes it much harder for them to remain active. This extra body mass, made up mainly of fat, means the liver is also overly stressed. All of this greatly impacts their overall quality of life.
To make matters worse, overweight and obese dogs are much more likely to develop some very serious diseases and are known to have much shorter life spans than dogs maintained at an ideal weight. Obesity frequently leads to diabetes, heart and lung disease, arthritis along with other bone and joint diseases, skin and coat conditions, and all types of cancers. What’s even sadder, is that it is almost always preventable.
Dog Food Math
There are several factors that can contribute to a dog becoming overweight or obese. Just like with people, it is simple math that determines how much your dog weighs. The number of calories eaten minus the number of calories burned, during a certain period of time, will determine how much weight gain or loss occurs during that period. If your dog is gaining weight, they are consuming more calories than they are burning. It’s as simple as that.
While how much your dog is allowed to eat explains one component of their overall weight, one of the biggest contributors to obesity is the kind of food they eat. The average carbohydrate content of a commercial dog food is more than 50%. This is mainly due to the use of cheaper ingredients in these foods in order to keep the cost of manufacturing down and their profit margins up. This extreme imbalance in nutrition contributes to a long list of problems, obesity being the most common.
A dog’s body wasn’t designed to eat high levels of carbohydrates anytime, but especially not on a daily basis. Because of this, diets high in carbohydrates are a major contributor to canine diseases including obesity and diabetes, and your dog is eating this at every meal. This is similar to a person eating every meal at a fast food restaurant. We all know where that will get us.
Another common contributor to obesity is commercial dog treats. These are typically very high in calories, not to mention many other potentially harmful ingredients. Many owners give their dogs treats out of love, but giving too many on a regular basis, actually causes them harm. There are many natural treat alternatives that are low in calories and don’t contain the harmful additions. You can replace commercial treats with green beans, carrots, celery, and even small pieces of chicken.
The other side of this simple math equation, is insufficient exercise. Proper exercise is an important part of overall health, both physical and mental, and contributes greatly to your dog's overall condition and behavior. It is also a great way to spend quality time with your dog. Exercise in an obese or overweight dog must be handled very carefully to ensure their bodies can handle this extra activity and to avoid causing other more serious issues.
Many times the solution is as simple as changing foods from a high carbohydrate commercial diet to a high protein, high fiber homemade dog food. Not only is this a great way to help your dog lose weight, but it is also a much healthier diet for many other reasons. This combined with adjusting the amount of exercise that your dog is getting, may be all that is needed to gradually get your dog back to their proper weight. Also, don’t forget to replace the high calorie treats with more natural alternatives.
There are some medical conditions that can lead to your dog becoming overweight or obese and also make it very difficult for them to lose weight. Thyroid disease in dogs results in an underactive thyroid gland. The thyroid is responsible for metabolism. When it's not functioning properly, your dog is not able to burn calories the way they should and thus gains weight. They may also show signs of lethargy along with skin and hair problems. This is a condition that can be easily diagnosed and corrected by your veterinarian, but like everything else related to your dog, it is best addressed as early as possible.
Only you can help your dog avoid the most common canine disease and all of its related problems by feeding them a proper diet, one that is best suited for how their bodies naturally work. Combine this with regularly monitoring their weight and making any necessary adjustments to food and exercise. Not only will you help them live a longer, healthier, and happier lifestyle, you just might find that some of these ideas work for you as well.
Dr. Eddy Collins, DVM
Coco's Canine Cuisine