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This is true of our dogs, as well. I’ve been spending a lot of time at the dog park lately, and talking with dog owners, both for fun and also to get information and ideas that I can use in my blogs. Last week, I met an adorable beagle named Chuck. His person, Debbie, laughingly says that she’s going to change his name to “Chunk,” and I can see why. The poor little guy has to be at least 15 pounds overweight, and that’s a lot for an adult dog that should only weigh about 28 pounds to begin with.
Of course it’s not just Chunk… er, CHUCK. I see a lot of overweight dogs at the park. Obesity is actually one of the most common health issues in adult dogs. So, what causes obesity, and how can you fix it?
Obesity in dogs is caused by the same things that cause it in humans – simply stated, the dog is taking in more calories than he or she is expending through exercise. And like humans, dogs tend to slow down as they age, so obesity tends to develop when the dog reaches middle age (five years or so, usually).
Now, you probably know overweight people who say “I can’t help it – it’s my metabolism, I have an underactive thyroid.” Sometimes, that’s true, and it is also true sometimes with dogs. Most of the time, though, people just don’t stop eating when they’ve had enough. Same with dogs.
If you are confident that your dog is not over-fed and under-exercised, it’s time for a trip to the vet to find out if the problem is hypothyroidism, or some other metabolic disorder. Your vet will examine your dog, check out his overall condition, and palpate his ribs, head, tail and lumbar area to rule out any issues that could be causing the obesity. Then, he or she will recommend a course of treatment.
Treatment is, as you might expected, directed toward losing weight and then maintaining the ideal weight over the long term. Your vet can recommend a diet plan that you can use to achieve the desired goal, and will most likely recommend either cutting out treats entirely, or limiting them to one or two a day.
A good weight loss diet is low in fat, but rich in fiber and protein. This is because protein stimulates the metabolism and makes your dog feel full. Fiber stimulates the intestine, and facilitates more efficient use of calories.
If a better diet and more exercise isn’t working, there are weight loss medications available from your vet that work to suppress your dog’s appetite. However, these should only be used if you are willing to commit to a healthy diet and an active lifestyle for your dog. You can’t expect the medication to do all the work, and besides, as is the case with humans who rely on diet pills to lose weight, once your dog is off the medication there is a good chance that he or she will just pile the weight back on.
Now, can obesity in dogs be prevented? One person I talk with often, when I’m looking for an “outside the box” perspective, is a woman who has been breeding Rottweilers since 2001. Of seven Rotties she has kept since that time, none has ever had a weight problem, even well into their senior years.
So, you can bet I wanted to know Wendy’s secret. It’s actually pretty amazing in its simplicity – she “free ranges” her dogs. She brings home dog food, dumps it into a big basin, and lets the dogs eat when they want. Food is never an event, and never used as a reward – it is simply something that is there. The dogs eat as much or as little as they want, whenever they want. Another benefit to this is that even when there are several dogs in the house, fights do not break out over food. There is plenty for everyone, and no one gorges.
This seems to help with the longevity factor, too. Usually, a Rottweiler lives to be about nine years old. Wendy’s have all made it past the “best before” date. She lost one recently, a female named Sophie, at the amazing age of 16 – still trim and fit until the end.
If you allow your dog to become overweight, you are not doing him or her any favors. I know it’s hard to say “No” to those sweet brown eyes, but stuffing your little buddy full of treats, or making food an event, can cause harm over the long run.
I think Wendy’s approach makes sense as a way to prevent canine obesity, and I’m also glad that Debbie is bringing Chuck to the dog park regularly. Chuck has a long way to go, but he’s on the right track. For that matter, Debbie could lose a few pounds too (I hope she’s not reading this!) so it’s a win-win situation.