Pet Obesity is on the rise: is your dog a healthy weight?

Emma Frain 15 October 2021

Written by Veterinary Surgeon Dr. Linda Simon

We all want the best for our pets. However, many of us are guilty of spoiling our dogs. While an extra treat or two may be enjoyable for them in the short term, it can have a negative impact on their long-term health. As extreme as it sounds, we may just be killing them with kindness.

 

Despite many owners knowing the above, there is a canine obesity epidemic in the UK at the moment. In fact, over 50% of our pet dogs are over weight. So, what can we do about it?

 

Why are more dogs getting obese?

 

Obesity is a complex condition and there will inevitably be several factors involved. It is important we look at the whole picture and tackle the issue head on.

 

  • We know that some dogs (including Labradors and Beagles) are genetically predisposed to piling on the pounds. Some breeds are hard-wired in their DNA to constantly seek food and their appetite seemingly does not have an off switch.

 

  • A lack of exercise and outdoor access is commonly an issue, particularly when an owner is elderly or disabled. We’ve also found that many dogs’ weights have increased during lockdown, when some owners simply did not feel safe to leave their home.

 

  • Over-feeding is often the biggest problem. Whether it be feeding the wrong food, overly large portions or offering too many dog treats and chews. Dogs only need a certain amount of calories and when we feed too many, they get converted into fat.

 

  • The media has a tendency to use over-weight dogs in their campaigns. This is seen time and time again when it comes to breeds such as Pugs and French Bulldogs in advertisements. Sadly, seeing one with a slim waist is almost a rarity. When we are bombarded with images of portly pooches, we can begin to think that they are ‘normal’.

 

Risks associated with dog obesity

 

Obese dogs not only live shorter lives, but also experience more difficulties in their life. Many struggle to exercise as they get out of breath easily and experience chronic joint pain. Obese dogs are also more prone to certain disease such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

 

An obese patient is harder to care for in the veterinary clinic. It can be trickier to access their veins when it comes to blood draws or gaining intravenous access. They are also poorer candidates for anaesthetic and surgeries and can experience prolonged healing times.

 

How to tell if your dog is overweight

 

As weight gain tends to happen slowly over time, many owners are unaware that their dog has gained weight and is over-weight. This can happen at any age but usually occurs when a dog is fully mature, so over the age of one or two.

 

We should all get in the habit of assessing our dog’s weight each month using the ‘Body Condition Score’ tool. This is a simple chart that allows us to assign a number to our dog, based on their body shape. The scale goes from a 1 to a 9 and we are aiming for a 4 or 5.

 

It isn’t sensible to focus on the scales alone. Owners often ask me questions like ‘What weight should my three year old Springer Spaniel be?’. However, each dog is an individual and should be treated as such when it comes to their ideal weight.

 

What breeds are prone to weight gain?

 

As briefly mentioned above, some dogs are destined to be more prone to weight gain than others. This is thanks to their genetic makeup. However, being over-weight does not have to be their destiny; every dog has the ability to be slim.

 

Typically, breeds including Labradors, Pugs, Beagles and Bulldogs are over-represented when it comes to being obese. We rarely see over-weight sight hounds such as Whippets and Salukis.

 

How to help your Dog lose weight

 

Don’t despair if your pooch has gotten a little podgy, there is lots that can be done. Making a plan and sticking to it should mean the weight gradually falls off and stays off.

 

  • Where possible, speak to your vet. Many clinics offer a weight clinic run by the nurses and it has been proven that participating in these clinics increases the chance of successful weight loss.
  • Start your dog on a weight management diet such as Pooch & Mutt’s Slim & Slender. These diets are formulated to ensure your dog feels fuller for longer and are high in digestible protein, to aid in muscle growth and fat loss.
  • Weigh out portions on scales to ensure accuracy.
  • Consider ditching the food bowl and switching to alternate feeding methods. This can include scatter feeding (sprinkling kibble in e.g. grass for your dog to seek out) and the use of food puzzles. Getting your dog to ‘work’ for their food is also a great way for them to unwind and to keep their minds busy.
  • Get moving! Going on brisk walks or runs will speed up your dog’s metabolism and help them burn off the excess fat. Aim for consistent, daily exercise, rather than several long walks each weekend.
  • Step away from the extra calories. Dental sticks, chews, training treats and table scraps all add up. If you do give your dog any of these, subtract the calories from their meals.
  • Keeping a food diary can help you understand where you may be over-doing it.