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As few as five pounds above the ideal body weight can put your dog at risk for developing some serious medical conditions

WINTER WEIGHT

A common justification for over-feeding treats is that a pet deserves a higher quality of life as a trade off for longevity. While this might on some level make sense (after all, a pet munching on a treat is certainly getting a great deal of satisfaction from doing so), the other consequences do not make for higher life quality in the big picture. Here are some of the problems that obese animals must contend with while they are no enjoying their treats and table scraps.

Arthritis

The over-weight animal has extra unneeded stress on joints, including the discs of the vertebrae. This extra stress leads to the progression of join degeneration and creates more pain. Weight management alone decreases and can even eliminate the need for arthritis medications. The problem is compounded as joint pain leads to poorer mobility, which in turn leads to greater obesity.

Respiratory Compromise

The obese pet has a good inch or two of fat forming  constricting jacket around the chest. This makes the pet less able to take deep breaths as more work is required to move the respiratory muscles. Areas of the lung cannot fully inflate, so coughing results. The pet also overheats more easily. Many cases of tracheal collapse can be managed with only weight loss.

Diabetes Mellitus

Extra body fat leads to insulin resistance in cats just as it does in humans. In fact, obese cats have been found to have a 50% decrease in insulin sensitivity. Weight management is especially important in decreasing a cat's risk for the development of diabetes mellitus.

Hepatic Lipidosis

When an overweight cat goes off food or partially off food because of illness or psychological stress, body fat is mobilized to provide calories. Unfortunately, the cat's liver was not designed to process a large amount of body fat. The liver becomes infiltrated with fat and then fails. A stress that might have been relatively minor, such as a cold, becomes and life-threatening disaster.

Increased Surgical/Anesthetic Risk

Obesity Poses an extra anesthetic risk because drug dosing becomes less accurate. (It is hard to estimate a patient's lean body mass for drug dosing if it is encased in a fat suit.) Furthermore, anesthesia is inherently suppressive to respiration and adding a constrictive jacket of fat only serves to make proper air exchange more challenging.

Reduced Life Span

A study of age-matched Labrador Retrievers found that dogs kept on the slender side of normal lived a median of 2.5 years longer than their overweight counterparts.

How Did My Pet Get So Fat Without Eating That Much?

A Cup of Food Depends on the Cup

When food packages refer to a certain number of cups of kibble being appropriate for a certain body weight, they are referring to an actual measuring cup. This may seem obvious but many mugs, coffee cups, and other scooping cups may not be equal to a cup measure. 

The Package Guidelines Are Just Guidelines

Many packages of food include on their label some sort of feeding schedule that indicates how much food should be fed to a pet of a certain weight. This information is also available on most pet food websites as well. The problem is that each pet is an individual and just as one person weighting 150lbs can be obese and another person of the same weight may be skinny, the same is true of pets. These guidelines are meant as a starting point only. If your pet is too fat on the recommended feeding schedule, then you should reduce the amount of food or change to a diet that is higher in fiber so that a satisfying volume of food can still be eaten without adding calories.

Genetics

Some animals simply have the genes that predispose them to obesity. Dog breeds with genetic tendencies towards obesity include the: Golden Retriever, Cocker Spaniel,Dachshund, Beagle, Shetland Sheepdog, Boxer, Cairn Terrier, Basset Hound, and Labrador Retriever.

Children At Home

It is almost impossible to keep children from providing extra treats to their dog. This may include snacks spilled during play (pets have no "five-second rule") or purposely feeding the pet unwanted food under the dining table. Similarly, pets that are allowed to roam (usually cats) often find food left out by neighbors, either to purposely feed their own pets or strays, or as unsecured trashed. It is almost impossible to control the diet of an outdoor cat.

Slow Metabolism

Some pets do not burn calories efficiently; they simple have a slow metabolism. This might be genetic as mentioned or it might be the result of a disease such as hypothyroidism or Cushing's disease. Testing for health problems such as these is helpful to get the best treatment for resolution of the obesity. It seems like increasing exercise and eating a healthier diet would be easy to accomplish for a pet but it generally does not turn out that way.

Underestimating the Power of Treats

Many people express their affection for the pet by providing regular treats, and the pet happily obliges by begging or even performing cute behaviors. For some people, feeding treats to the pet constitutes a major part of the human-animal bond and they do not wish to give it up or reduce it. Pet treats are often high in calories, though, and four or five treats readily converts into an extra meal's worth of added fat. Free feeding of dry food encourages the pet to snack as well' meal feeding represents better calorie control.

Neutering

Sterilizing a pet is good for public health (fewer strays means fewer dog bites, less public resources needed for animal shelters, etc.), good for a better house pet (less urine marking, tendency to fight or roam), no unwanted litters, reduced risk of many diseases, etc. The change in the hormonal picture, though, creates a tendency to form more fat cells (celebrating increased fat storage capacity - especially in female cats), and typically slows metabolism.

How to Begin a Weight Loss Program

"Fewer calories in plus more calories out equals weight loss"

Unfortunately, it's not as simple as that. You should never put your dog on a diet without the assistance of your veterinary healthcare team. There may be an underlying medical condition that is causing or contributing to your dog's excess weight. Some common diseases associated with weight and include hypothyroidism and hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing's disease). These diseases, along with others, would be eliminated as possible causes or contributors to your dog's weight problem prior to beginning a diet. Too many dogs start on a diet and fail to lose weight simply because the diet wasn't the problem - a disease was. Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination and recommend blood tests to ensure that there are no obstacles to weight loss for your pet.

How Much Should I Feed?

In order to answer this question, your veterinarian will need to calculate your dog's ideal weight based on its breed and size. Based on your dog's degree of excess weight, your veterinarian may recommend a target weight higher than the ideal weight to start. After the dog loses this weight, a re-evaluation will be made to determine whether further weight loss is needed. A safe weight loss for most dogs is 3-5% body weight loss per month. For most dogs, feeding the recommended number of calories should result in weight loss. It is vital that you know how many calories are in your food and that you count the calories or measure the food when entering into a weight reduction program. Feeding too much will result in no weight loss and feeding too little can potentially result in serious health consequences associated with malnutrition. 

How to Introduce a New Diet?

When you are introducing a new diet to your dog, you should allow about a week to make the transition. To minimize digestive upsets, mix the old and new diets together in gradually increasing proportions. Start by feeding one-quarter of the new diet mixed with three-quarters of the old diet for one to two days, then increase to half and half for another two days, then three-quarters new food and one-quarter old food for a final two to three days before completely switching to the new diet. To enhance the palatability of the diet food, try warming the food, adding a flavoring such as ketchup or oregano, a small amount of salmon juice of low-fat soup broth, or an omega-3 fatty acid supplement.

Only One Dog is Overweight

The ideal solution for multi-dog households is to feed the dogs separately. Feed the overweight dog its diet in one room while feeding the other dog its food elsewhere. After a prescribed time, generally fifteen to thirty minutes, remove any uneaten food. Do not leave food out white you're away from home. You can't control who eats what when you're not around.

How Long to Diet

Most dogs will achieve their ideal weight within six to eight months. If the process is taking longer than this, something needs to be changed. A healthy weight loss is between one to five pounds per month based on your dog's size and current condition. Some dogs may need to go slower while others may shed the pounds more quickly. In general, your dog should be weighed at least every month until the ideal weight is achieved.

Exercise

The first thing you can do to help your dog lose weight is to increase the intensity and length of your daily walk. Few dogs will naturally walk at a pace that generates the elevated heart rates needed for sustained aerobic activity and weight loss. Based on observations of people walking with their dogs., the average pace is 20 to 25 minutes per mile, whiich is actually a stroll. They make frequent pauses (on average every one to two minutes) to allow their dog to smell an interesting object or mark territory. Walking for weight loss is very different than walking for pleasure. You should aim for a daily brisk 30-minute walk. With this sort of walking, you should break into a slight sweat within a few minutes. 

Some additional tips for getting your dog to exercise more are:

  • Move the food bowl upstairs or downstairs, changing its location frequently so that the dog always has to walk to get to its food bowl. Fat dogs are smart dogs and if the food bowl moves upstairs, they'll start relocating upstairs, too.

  • Use toys, balls, laser pointers, squeaky toys, or sticks to encourage games of chase or fetch. Try to play with your dog for at least ten to fifteen minutes twice a day. There are toys that move randomly and make noises that may also be interesting to your dog. For many dogs, variety is important, and what is exciting or interesting today may be boring tomorrow. 

How to Deal With a Pleading Pup

  • Do not use a self-feeder. While this seems obvious, auto-feeders are nothing more than unlimited candy machines to a fat dog.

  • Pet your dog or play with it when it begs for food. Many dogs substitute food affection so flip the equation and you may find that playtime displaces mealtime.

  • Go for a walk with your dog when it begs. The distraction and interaction may be just enough to make it forget its desire for food.

  • Feed small meals frequently - especially give a last feeding for those dogs that like to wake you up in the wee hours begging for more goodies - divide the total volume or calories into four to six smaller meals - whatever you do, don't feed extra food.

  • When the bowl is empty and your dog is pleading, add a few kibbles to the bowl. A few means only a few - not a handful.

  • If more than one person may feed the dog, you should measure out the total daily food into a separate container such as a covered food storage container. Then, everybody knows how much the dog has been fed, and how much is left for the day. If you enjoy giving treats to your dog, feed her several kibbles from the container rather than giving her high calorie dog biscuits.

  • Give a couple of pieces of vegetables such as baby carrots, frozen sliced carrots, broccoli, green beans, celery, or asparagus. Most dogs love crunchy treats so make it a healthy - and low-calorie- choice.

  • Offer fresh water instead of food. If your dog is eyeing the empty food bowl, a drink of cold, fresh water may satisfy the craving.

For most dogs, the secret to weight loss is a dedicated, committed, and concerned family. Dogs don't understand that their excess weight is killing them. It's up to us as good stewards to protect them from harm and not inadvertently contribute to their premature death or development of debilitating diseases. Together - veterinary healthcare team, you, and your family - we can help your dog achieve a healthy body weight and condition safely and successfully.