An important aspect of being a responsible dog owner is being sure your dog is in shape. You may think your fat dog is adorable just the way he is, but the truth is he could already be at risk for health problems. Certain breeds will be affected more than others by even the slightest weight gain, so it’s important to maintain your dog’s fitness throughout his entire life. Also, you want to make sure your dog does not have any underlying health or metabolic conditions such as hypothyroidism, which might be making him or her overweight.
Different breeds have different silhouettes, and it’s important to understand what’s normal and appropriate for your specific dog. In a Labrador Retriever, for example, the underline of the dog is pretty much a straight line from the elbow all the way to the rear leg. A Rhodesian Ridgeback, by contrast, should have a little bit of a “tuck-up” (or waist ) and the ribcage should gently curve upward before it joins the body at the loin. A Ridgeback who has no discernible waistline is a fat Ridgeback.
Conversely, there are other breeds – including many of the Sighthounds, such as Salukis – that are naturally lean.
If you can’t see a hint of rib on an Azawakh, for instance, chances are it may be slightly overweight.
If you have a less-than-common breed, your veterinarian may not be familiar with its correct outline and weight. Check the AKC Website for that breed’s page and breed standard. If you are in touch with your dog’s breeder, don’t hesitate to forward some photos – ideally, taken from the side and above – to get another opinion.
Dogs gain weight the same way humans do: by eating too much and exercising too little. Dogs that eat excessive amounts of treats, table scraps, and food at mealtimes will gain weight quickly, especially if they are not very active. Before starting any new diet or exercise plan for your dog, have it approved by your veterinarian.
One simple solution to jump-start your dog’s weight loss is to feed your dog his normal food in the morning but replacing his second meal with mostly green beans (low sodium), a bit of kibble, and a doggie multi-vitamin in the evening.
Switching your dog’s treats to healthier options will help him lose weight, too. Cut back on calories by greatly reducing the number of treats given at a time. Also, try replacing biscuits, cheese, and other high-fat treats with fresh chopped carrots, apples, or green beans that are free of added flavoring. Your dog will most likely still enjoy this new, crunchy treat!
If you are training your dog and give treats as a reward, remember to subtract those calories from your dog’s food allotment.
Lastly, don’t make the common error of associating food with love. Plying your dog with food to the point of obesity will only likely shorten the amount of time you will have him in your life. And don’t put too much stock in your dog’s opinion, either: Many dogs will act ravenous even after they have met their caloric requirements for the day.
Health Problems Caused by Obesity in Dogs
Dachshunds, Basset Hounds, and other long and low-bodied breeds that become overweight add strain to their backs and joints, making it painful or difficult for them to walk or sit. Brachycephalic breeds (meaning they have short noses and flat faces) such as Pugs, Boxers, and Bulldogs have an increased risk of breathing and respiratory problems from being overweight. In addition to shortened life expectancy, overweight and obese dogs are at higher risk for diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, breathing problems, and cancer. Have your veterinarian monitor your dog’s health and weight frequently to be sure he is losing weight and improving his overall health. Even the slightest difference will improve his overall quality of life.