Obesity is not only a matter of aesthetics, it also involves serious health problems
Obesity in Dogs: This is a growing threat in plain sight. The number of obese dogs is increasing steadily to the point that, in some European and American countries, it affects up to 50% of the dog population. In our wealthy Western societies, overweight issues and obesity have become a real “social plague”, and this applies not only to humans, but also to our four-legged friends.
Frequently our wrong lifestyle also affects our beloved “furry” ones.
A dog is considered overweight when its body weight is 5-20% higher than the normal and expected weight for the breed, while it is considered obese when its weight exceeds the standard weight by more than 20%.
Obesity in Dogs: How Can We Tell If Our Dog Is Obese?
When a dog is at his ideal weight, you should be able to feel the ribs along the side of his chest and see a slight hourglass shape after the ribs when looking down on him from above. If you don’t feel the ribs, it may be because excessive fat is covering them.
It is always good to ask the veterinarian if your dog is at its ideal weight. He will perform a thorough examination to find out if the dog has the ideal percentage of lean mass.
This is the first step that leads the dog owner to become aware of his pet’s obesity problem. Many do not recognize or do not admit their dog’s overweight, which in many cases is caused by poor eating habits imposed by the owner himself.
Obesity in Dogs: Causes
- An unbalanced diet: Owners often use food as a reward for their pets and as a way to show their affection for them. Sometimes this leads to the dog being overfed, even with food that is not suitable for it, such as snacks or cookies.
- Poor physical activity: Just like humans, pets need to exercise to burn the calories they consume. It is very common that owners do not have enough time in their lives for physical activity, such as walking, together with their dog, as they have a life full of commitments. This leads to their pet having a very sedentary lifestyle and, therefore, a higher risk of obesity.
- Spaying or neutering the dog is often a factor that negatively affects its weight: When the dog is spayed or neutered, its metabolism undergoes changes that lead to an increased appetite and, therefore, a tendency to gain weight.
- Some dog breeds are more prone to suffer from obesity, for example the Golden Retriever, the Labrador, the Beagle, the Dachshund and the Cocker Spaniel.
- Another factor that can increase the risk of obesity is age: The older the dog is, the less it will want to play and move around. Even elderly dogs often have problems or diseases that prevent them from walking, which makes them even more vulnerable to suffer from obesity.
Obesity in Dogs: Health Problems
Obesity is not only a matter of aesthetics, but also involves serious health problems. As with humans, obesity is a factor that increases the incidence of serious diseases, such as diabetes mellitus. Dogs with diabetes aren’t able to make enough insulin, a hormone that allows the body to store energy from food and move glucose into cells.
Insulin provides the sensation of satiety in the brain, so a low production of this hormone generates a constant stimulus that causes hunger, leading to a vicious cycle of eating that is very dangerous.
Obesity also causes cardio-circulatory problems, hypertension, difficulty breathing, dermatitis and joint problems. The latter especially affects older dogs that have to bear a greater weight than their joints are able to support, which causes or worsens the pathologies of their locomotor system.
Obesity in Dogs: How Is It Treated?
It is important to fight, but especially to prevent the onset of overweight and obesity in dogs. To do so, simply follow a few easy-to-apply rules that, if consistently followed, will allow your dog to enjoy a healthy and normal lifestyle.
- A balanced diet is essential. Give your dog the right amount of food, which will vary according to its body size, breed, and age. It is important not to be fooled by its puppy dog eyes when it asks for more food. This does not mean that your dog cannot eat snacks, but that it does so in the doses recommended on the packages. Your four-legged friend’s diet should be in accordance with his health and physical activity. An animal that frequently participates in sporting activities, e.g. agility, will burn more energy than one that does not, and therefore it will need a higher nutritional intake.
- Daily physical activity is as important in dogs as it is in humans. Dogs always need to exercise. They are not born to rest on the sofa at home. Regular physical activity, such as a walk of at least thirty minutes, is essential to ensure the dog’s optimal physical and mental health. In addition, a walk will be healthy for both the owner and the dog.
- In cases of persistent obesity, cases in which even a change in lifestyle may not offer good results, the veterinarian can also prescribe specific medications, which reduce the sensation of hunger and help with fat absorption. As side effects, these drugs may cause episodes of vomiting or diarrhea, but these symptoms usually disappear after the first few weeks of administration.
If in doubt, consult a professional who will give you good assistance and answer all your questions.