It’s that time of year when everyone is thinking about a healthy lifestyle! It’s not just people who can end the winter carrying more weight than is ideal due to poor weather-limiting opportunities to exercise outside, or due to extra eating over the festive period.
Vets estimate that over 50% of the dogs they see are overweight or obese, yet less than 20% of owners think their dog is overweight. A dog which is in a healthy body condition has ribs which can easily be felt when stroking the dog, a waist when viewed from above, and an abdominal ‘tuck’ when viewed from the side. These features can be harder to assess in some breeds, so ask your Vet or Vet Nurse if you are unsure.
Excess weight is not just a cosmetic problem for dogs. Obesity is associated with increased risks of osteoarthritis, cardiorespiratory disease, diabetes mellitus, some cancers, dermatological problems, and presents an increased risk to animals under anaesthesia. It has also been shown that overweight dogs live shorter lives when factors other than food intake are equal. A group of Labrador Retrievers of normal body condition lived an average of 1.8 years longer than a matched overweight group. Both groups suffered from similar illnesses and causes of death, but the overweight group was affected earlier in life.
Before embarking on a weight loss and fitness programme for your dog, it is a very good idea to get a full health check from your vet as obesity can negatively affect cardiovascular function and joints and muscles. Nutritional supplements or medications may be needed to allow your dog to start exercising safely. In a small number of cases weight gain can be caused by disease or by medications. An underactive thyroid is a relatively common problem in dogs which struggle to lose weight. Other symptoms include repeated skin infections, lethargy, and seeking warmth, and your vet can offer blood tests to diagnose the condition. Overactive adrenal glands (Cushing’s Disease) lead to high levels of natural steroids and can lead to fat being deposited in strange places. Affected dogs often have pot bellies, thin skin, or fat along their backs, again, blood tests are needed for diagnosis. Steroid medications can also cause an increase in appetite and unusual fat deposition.