By changing our own habits we can help our dogs live longer.

Obesity in dogs could be considered a perception problem, a human perception problem. Although over half the nations dogs and cats are now classified as overweight or obese by their vet healthcare provider. Statistics show that nearly 59% of cats and 54% of dogs equaling an estimated 50.5 million cats and 41.9 million dogs are at risk from weight-related disorders, furthermore its associated maladies and complications. There is a secret to pet obesity, inflammation which some in my profession believe is the real secret which needs to be revealed to both pet owners and the public.   

Why Are Dogs Fat?

Theres the obvious answer, too many calories, not enough exercise, but thats an oversimplification. Canine and human lifestyle issues, as well as human psychology, carry most of the blame, although hormone imbalances, reproductive status and genetics play minor roles.

For most overweight dogs, the real culprit is a combination of free-feeding, boredom and not enough playtime. Not forgetting theres the psychological component. Now, dont call the doggie shrink, because its not the dog’s psyche; it’s the psyche of the person whos responsible for leaving a big bowl of dog food available all day and cutting the half-hour walk down to a five-minute backyard potty break.

Balancing Act

Hormones pretty much run your dogs body. They control and influence appetite, reproduction, sleep, stress tolerance, behaviour, the immune system, fat storage and a myriad of other bodily functions. Hence, if a dogs hormonal systems are malfunctioning, almost any physical aspect, including weight and appetite, can be affected.

The two most common hormonal imbalances that can lead to weight gain in dogs are hypothyroidism, low thyroid levels and hyperadrenocorticism, increased production of cortisol by the adrenal glands. The latter is more commonly known as Cushing’s Syndrome.

Although both of these hormonal disorders can lead to obesity, it is unlikely that obesity will be your dogs only symptom. For example, other signs of Cushings include poor coat, skin infections and darkening, increased thirst and urination, panting, a potbellied appearance, increased hunger, and muscular weakness. Furthermore, other symptoms of hypothyroidism include warmth-seeking, lethargy, anemia, thickened skin, scratching, skin infections, and loss of coat.

If you think that a hormonal imbalance is at the root of your dogs weight problem, speak to your vet. There are a number of options both medical and surgical which are available. However, this will depend on exactly what kind of hormonal imbalance exists.

For more information on Cushings in dogs, you can checkout the Canine Cushings-Autoimmune Care email list and website.

I have been studying pet and human obesity for the last five years. During that time, I have witnessed the pet obesity discussions being diluted or people being in denial. It’s a simple fact that people ignore warnings about pet obesity the same way they disregarded smoking as being deadly to humans for decades, but subconsciously a majority of people know obesity is dangerous but they simple believe that it just wont happen to them.

Psychologists call this phenomenon of believing you or your pet is at less risk for harm despite evidence to the contrary,optimism bias.Hence, a necessary coping mechanism that allows us to get through our days without succumbing to a Woody Allen movie neurotic crisis. This also gets in the way of change.

I believe that it is now time to change how we talk about pet obesity.

We must be mindful that the real danger of obesity in pets and people isnt the fat; its the inflammation the fat causes. Here I am trying to communicate that our true medical objective must be to reduce chronic inflammation associated with obesity.

We shouldn’t chase a number on a scale; instead we must focus on improving the quality of life and decreasing the risk from disease, thereby taking measures to help reduce obesity-related inflammation.

I am very passionate about helping pets with obesity because I have witnessed the effect it has on their quality of life. After all pets with obesity cannot be happy suffering from chronic fatigue, malaise, decreased energy and vitality, and a menu list of aches and pains. Furthermore, they can develop type two diabetes and insulin resistance. Hypertension and kidney disease are also common, particularly in cats diagnosed with obesity.

Also, during periods of obesity Arthritis and joint problems are very common, given the hips, knees, shoulders, and elbows of dogs and cats are commonly affected, causing pain that can be debilitating.

Cats with arthritis often cleverly hide their pain until the disease is advanced. Recent research has shown most cats with obesity have joint damage. In addition, pet obesity has recently been recognised as a cause of Cancer; although studies in dogs and cats are currently lacking, the physiological connection between laboratory animals, humans, pets, and cancer is clear.

Managing these conditions

Even for the most dedicated pet lover it’s a challenge managing these conditions. For example, administering insulin injections, and blood pressure medications requires patience, persistence, and lots of vet checkups. The good news, these diseases can often be prevented by proper nutrition, an active lifestyle, and maintaining a healthy weight.

In my option the biggest adversary in the war on pet obesity is silence. We must evolve until we find the perfect balance between science, language, promotion, procedures, health and happiness.

The challenges are substantial and the stakes extraordinary, human and the vet fraternity must unite and share informations to preserve the human and animal family.      

The time is now for vets to reshape the pet obesity conversation.

Although dogs of any breed or cross breed can be overweight, research shows that dogs of certain breeds are more prone to being overweight than others, which suggests a genetic component. These breeds include Cocker Spaniels, Labrador and Golden Retrievers, Basset Hounds, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Dachshunds.

Spaying and neutering doesn’t make your dog fat. However, there is a connection between how many calories a dog requires and the reproductive status. This doesnt mean that these changes will make your dog fat; it means that spayed and neutered dogs, like older dogs, generally require fewer calories and/or more exercise to maintain a healthy weight.

As your dog ages, or after spaying/neutering, you need to be mindful of weight gain, and act immediately to reduce calorie intake and increase activity levels if necessary.

Healthy Weight Loss

While healthy, permanent weight loss in humans is hard to achieve, its much easier with dogs. They dont eat a container of ice cream after a stressful day, and they rarely hit the drive-through instead of making a healthy dinner.

As long as the human in the relationship refrains from overfeeding and doesn’t under-exercise the dog, weight-loss schedules for canines are surprisingly successful.

Before getting started, get your dog vet checked to ensure he or she doesnt have medical issues that might be affected by weight-loss and exercise schedules. Thereafter, ask your vet to help you calculate a reasonable calorie intake for your dog. Aim for a loss of no more than 1 to 2 percent of body weight per week.

There are a number of ways to determine a starting a caloric level for healthy weight loss.

Your vet is able to use formulas known as Maintenance Energy Requirement (MER) or Resting Energy Requirement (RER) to give you a basic calorie level for your dog’s diet. While other practitioners simply restrict food below current levels by a specific percentage.

Although different methods may result in different figures, these differences arent important. Trial and error is required to determine your actual dogs metabolic requirements. That said, any of these methods give you a place to start.

If your dog doesnt lose weight, or loses weight too rapidly, then that particular caloric level is not right for your dog, so should be adjusted up or down as necessary.

Knowing how many calories a given commercial food contains in a serving can be confusing. Sometimes the calories are given per cup, other times per gram, and sometimes both. A cup of one food might weigh more or less than a cup of another food, therefore its worthwhile investing in a food scale, so that you can measure the food by weight, not by volume.

Never just follow the feeding guidelines on a bag of food, as they are almost always too generous to support weight loss. If feeding a home-prepared diet, simply calculate the calories in the ingredients as you would for your own diet.

In addition, restricting calories too severely especially for very obese dogs may backfire, and could result in nutritional deficiencies, impair wound-healing and immune function.

When it comes to healthy weight loss, patience is a virtue. Loss of more than 2% of body weight in a week can lead to the loss of lean muscle instead of fat. Never rush things; if your dog has a lot of weight to lose, decrease his or her calorie intake in stages, and be mindful that most dogs will lose ounces, not pounds, at a time. As long as the scale keeps moving downward, slow is better than fast.

Do & Don’ts

Do exercise, your dog daily and not just because exercise cranks up the metabolism and burns calories, but it reduces your sedentary pet(s) from getting bored, and eating the things they do to alleviate boredom. Give your dog longer walks.

Don’t make food available to him or her throughout the day, which is extremely common, because they will eat more than if you feed him or her at regular times . Also he/she will eat up any uneaten food at adoc times. Hence, let go of the convenience of free-feeding,

Do feed your dog two or more small meals a day at regular intervals and make your dog’s/cat’s life more active and interesting with increased playtime.

Its up to owners

A study at Ohio State University found that weight-loss schedules for dogs were extremely successful as long as the people involved kept to them. Being lean can add years to your dogs life, and being obese can cause a myriad of health problems and significant joint pain. Our dogs cant join a gym or eat better on their own; its up to us to make healthy choices on their behalf.