As the years go by, you might notice that your pants feel more and more snug. That’s totally normal. With life changes and aging, we can often gain some weight. But humans aren’t the only ones whose weight can ebb and flow with time. Our pets can also gain weight! Oftentimes, these are small changes. But sometimes, things can change more dramatically. In fact, obesity has reached epidemic proportions for our dogs and cats!
Obesity can have dangerous consequences for our fur babies. For a small dog, even a small gain of 2lbs can have huge consequences on their health and well-being. We want to have our dogs with us and in good health for as long as possible. That’s why we need to be aware of the complications obesity can cause in our pets and pay attention to how we can prevent obesity in the first place.
If you aren’t sure how to tell if your dog is overweight, keep reading. We’ll help you learn the signs that your fur baby might be overweight or obese. And we’ll also share some tips to help them stay healthy and fit.
Why Obesity Is Dangerous For Your Dog
There are a number of conditions that go hand in hand with excess weight in your dog. You may hear your vet refer to them as comorbidities. These conditions are painful and uncomfortable for your dog and can be expensive to treat. Your dog’s quality of life will be seriously affected. Conditions like:
Osteoarthritis of the knees and hips
Type 2 diabetes
Decreased liver function
Cruciate ligament injuries
Heart and respiratory disease
Decreased life expectancy
Increased risk of certain cancers
High blood pressure
Increased anesthetic risk
Lowered heat tolerance
Obesity can even have a negative effect on your dog’s medical care:
Exams are more difficult, abdominal palpation is more difficult to perform effectively
Diagnostic procedures are not as precise. Ultrasounds and radiographs can be obscured.
To keep your dog at a lower risk of developing any of these conditions, pay attention during vet exams. If your vet says your dog needs to lose a little weight, then it’s time to take action before it spirals out of control.
How To Know If Your Dog Is Overweight
One of the main reasons obesity has become such a problem in companion animals is that most people don’t know it when they see it. A shocking 95% of owners fail to recognize that their dog is overweight according to an APOP study.
Of course, if you don’t know what to look for, it can be hard to tell. Fortunately, you can use a chart like this one to help you recognize what a healthy body condition should look like for your dog.
When you look down at your dog, you should see an obvious taper to the waist, but the ribs and hip bone should not be visible. This would be a sign that they have the opposite problem and are underweight. If there is no visible taper, or if your dog seems to be a little thicker in the middle, your dog is overweight.
Gently palpate along your dog’s body. They’ll just love the extra attention and won’t mind at all. You should be able to feel the outline of the ribcage, without being able to count every rib. You should be able to feel the gentle taper between the ribs and the hips.
Most dogs are not overweight due to other health conditions. The main cause is lifestyle, but there are exceptions. If your dog has rapidly gained weight after an illness or after starting a new medication, this is definitely something to discuss with your vet ASAP.
All weight challenges with your pet should be discussed with your dog's veterinarian so you can make the adjustments that are right for your dog.
Tips For Maintaining A Healthy Weight
Maintaining weight is much easier than losing it, and it’s surprisingly simple. Start with maintaining an active lifestyle. This is especially important for older dogs, who already have fragile joints.
Your dog doesn’t have to be running marathons, daily walks or hikes are all they need to stay healthy and fit. When your dog wants to play outside, make it active play! Throw a disc or ball, and let them run and jump. You can even set up an obstacle course in your backyard to make things interesting for dogs that need to expend a lot of energy.
If you have an older dog with fragile joints, swimming can be great exercise. If you don’t have a pool, find out if your local pool has dog days… many of them do. Many veterinarians also offer hydrotherapy. If not, then gentle walking is still very beneficial.
You can’t outrun a bad diet. If your dog is getting too many snacks, or consuming too many calories, it will eventually catch up with him. Think about how often you feed your dog during the day. If you free feed your dog and the bowl is always empty, they may need to go to a scheduled eating plan. Some dogs, most notably Labs, are bottomless pits who will gladly keep hitting the buffet line.
If your dog is already on a feeding schedule, are you measuring their food out? Or just winging it? Ask your vet to help you determine the right amount of food for your dog’s energy needs.
If you’ve tweaked your dog’s diet and they keep telling you they’re starving, add a fibrous low calorie veggie like green beans to their food. Most dogs love them and they help them feel full.
Watch the snacking. Your dog can get many unneeded calories from frequent treats. Reduce the number of commercial dog treats you feed your dog. Substitute a healthy low calorie treat. Carrots and blueberries make great dog treats and are full of nutrients. Or offer single ingredient treats that require a lot of chewing. These treats will last longer and satisfy the chewing urge that is natural in dogs.
Don't let something preventable shorten your time with your fur baby. Help them live their best active life with a healthy diet so you can spend as many years together as possible.