Research has shown that almost 50% of dogs in the UK are overweight and many are obese.
Overweight or Obese?
If you don’t have an up-to-date weight for your dog, drop into your local vet practice. Most have a weighing scales in their reception and are more than happy for you to use it. Some even offer free vet nurse weight clinics.
An overweight dog is between 10-15% above their ideal body weight. Their ribs, spine and hip bones are hard to feel. Their waist is barely visible and they have a layer of fat by their belly and at the base of their tail.
An obese dog weighs 15%+ more than their ideal weight. Their ribs, spine and hip bones are extremely difficult to feel under a thick layer of fat. No waist is seen and their belly will droop a lot. These dogs also have heavy fat pads on their lower back and at the base of their tail.
If your dog is obese, we recommend a health check with your vet who will advise on your dogs healthy target weight and can rule out possible underlying or current health concerns.
Why is obesity a problem in dogs?
Joint disease – obesity increases the stress on joints. It predisposes them to ligament rupture (cruciate disease) and arthritis. Once those conditions occur, it can be really tricky to get dogs to lose weight because they find it painful to exercise.
Heart and breathing problems – fat deposits in the chest and around the airways can restrict breathing. This is a particular problem in dogs which already have breathing problems such as those with short noses or diseases like bronchitis. Increased blood pressure in obese dogs can also be a problem.
Hormonal disease – obesity causes the body to become resistant to the effects of the hormone insulin. This can complicate (or some believe contribute to causing) diabetes in dogs. Other hormonal diseases (e.g. hypothyroidism) can be the cause of obesity.
Incontinence – a common problem in older, spayed dogs. Obesity can make their problem worse.
Cancer – is more common in obese dogs
Shorter lifespan – In one long experiment, Labradors kept lean throughout their lives lived 2 years longer on average than Labradors which were allowed to eat to the point of obesity.
The Hunger Genes
Some breeds of dog are prone to obesity, suggesting that genetics play a part. A study conducted by Cambridge University showed that Labradors and Flatcoat Retrievers carry a gene that is important in regulating how the brain recognises hunger and the sensation of feeling full after a meal. Labradors who carried the gene were on average 2kg heavier than their non-gene carrying Lab friend. It’s because they ate more than they needed as they never felt full!
Weight loss is tough for anyone, two- or four-legged! However, losing weight and getting in shape has been proven to add almost 2 years onto our dogs lives.
If your dog is obese, we recommend a trip to the vet. Here you will get an accurate weight, they can advise on your dogs healthy target weight and can rule out possible underlying or current health concerns.
We’ve spoken to the UK’s first pet obesity clinic at Cambridge University vet school to learn more about how we can help our overweight dogs. It may sound obvious but their advice is based on years of dog research and results.
Feed the right amount of the right food
Restrict food kindly
Feed little and often, by splitting your dog’s ration into multiple small feeds or using a puzzle feeder to trickle the food out throughout the day so they get multiple chances to satisfy their craving for food.
Puzzle feeders work well to let a dog obsess about food without getting much to eat. Some are made of tough rubber which your dog can tug/chew/throw around for hours to liberate the food inside; try stuffing them with tinned food then freezing them. Others are more complex with tasks for dogs to complete to expose a small treat.
Feed a high fibre, relatively high protein diets. The fibre slows the passage of the food through the gut which means the body absorbs the food more slowly and sends messages that there is food on board for longer. Protein is a particularly potent chemical signal of recent eating and also makes dogs feel full.
Use low calorie treats to fake a snack. Raw veg, tiny meat treats or even ice cubes can mean your food-focused dog is kidded into feeling they’ve eaten.
Distract your dog from thoughts of food. Most people know how tempting it is to snack when we are bored. The same is true for dogs. Keeping your dog busy really will distract them from their hunger. Can you increase their activity and interest levels by providing toys, puzzle feeders, going for a walk but putting in a dog flap so they can spend more time in the garden?
Make the relationship with your dog about play, not food. Food-obsessed dogs will always be food-obsessed, but try to avoid reinforcing this. Dogs can be as satisfied with a fuss or a game as with a biscuit.
Dogs enjoy gym time!
Some dogs don’t get as much exercise they could enjoy. Ask yourself whether you could get them out more.
Can you improve the quality of daily walks? Ball launchers or frisbees can increase the mileage your dog does, even if you stand still to throw. Do they like to run? Would your dog follow you on a bike? There are also dog “walkers” who offer running sessions. Some dogs also love agility, fly ball or swimming.
Does your dog spend most of the time on a lead? Dogs walked on leads cover much less mileage than when allowed to explore. If you are worried your dog will scavenge, consider using a basket muzzle so they can explore safely without being able to eat.
Could your dog spend more of the day outside? Consider sending your dog to doggy daycare or put in a dog flap so they can use the garden more.
Can you get your dog more active at home? Puzzle feeders and toys can be really good at getting dogs moving in the house.
Remember that there are some good reasons for limiting exercise: puppy joints can be damaged by sustained running, and breathing problems, illness or arthritis may mean other dogs can’t exercise vigorously. Speak to your vet or vet nurse if you are concerned.
Timeline and expectations.
Slow and steady wins the race here, crash diets are definitely not healthy for our pets. We recommend and calculate for a safe rate of weight loss at approximately 1% per week.
If your pet is not losing any weight after 4 weeks, someone, somewhere is cheating!
Warm woofs and wishes,