Obesity is the most common nutritional disease in dogs and in the UK pet obesity is increasing. The latest figures show that at least 65% of all dogs and 39% of all cats are overweight or obese.
Keeping your dog a healthy weight is very important, research has shown that dogs which are overweight have a reduced lifespan by 2.5 years!
Not only does excess weight affect their life expectancy but also their quality of life. Obesity increases the risk of other conditions such as osteoarthritis, cardio-respiratory disease, mammary tumours, and diabetes mellitus. As well as being at a higher risk during anaesthetics.
So what is obesity?
Obesity is excess accumulation of body fat, which is caused by an imbalance of calories; too many calories in and not enough out.
It’s surprising how few calories dogs require on a daily basis, but there is no set figure on this due to the difference in size, breed, sex, neutered or entire.
How do I know if my dog is overweight?
We no longer look at ‘Breed Standard Weights’ as some breeds vary in size and it also does not work for cross breeds or mixed breeds. Instead we need to look at the dog’s shape and how the dog feels.
The three main points to look at are:
Ribs: You should be able to feel the ribs easily without applying pressure. Think of it as it should feel like a T-shirt covering the ribs not a sweater.
Waist: Should be noticeable behind the ribs.
Abdomen: From the side view you should be able to see the abdominal tuck coming up from behind the ribs (if you have a long coated dog you should be able to feel it).
How to keep your dog the correct weight
Weigh the food out every meal using digital scales. A measuring cup, scoop or spoon can vary in weight greatly, so to keep things consistent weigh it every meal. Two measuring scoops can appear the same, but have a 10% difference in weight.
Treats should be kept to a minimum or should be taken into consideration when working out how much to feed your dog. There is nothing wrong with treats/ table scraps / leftovers as long as your dog is the correct weight, but we do have to be careful on how much we give them. Treats and scraps should never be more than 10% of their daily calorie intake, any more than this can cause your dog's diet to become unbalanced (a complete balanced diet contains all nutrients at the correct ratios). You might want to consider if you are giving your dog some table scraps in the evening to reduce their own dinner portion size.
What if my dog is overweight / obese?
Weight gain tends to creep up on us and often goes unnoticed until a vet mentions it during a routine consult. And where do you go then?
Firstly we look at the body condition score. 4 and 5 are a normal healthy body condition scores. A body condition score of 6 is classed as overweight (10% extra body weight), but any body condition score 7 or more is classed as obese (20-40% extra body weight).
With a body condition score of 6 your dog can remain on its own food but treats should be cut out completely and the amount of food reduced. Some food brands will have a low calorie / light / diet version of their food and it would be recommended your dog change on to that to help with weight loss.
Unfortunately if your dog has a body condition score of 7 or over and is classed as obese it is not recommended to remain on his/her own diet, and your vet or more commonly vet nurse will suggest changing your dogs diet to a weight loss diet. These diets are designed to aid in healthy weight loss for your dog. Healthy weight loss for a dog is between 1-3% per week but they’ll more commonly lose around 0.8% per week. So for dogs with a body condition score of 9 it can take a whole year to get down to their ideal weight.
Does exercise help lose weight?
No. Although there are very few studies out there on how many calories dogs burn during exercise, the few that are out there conclude that dogs burn very few calories walking.
One study suggests that dogs walking at 4 miles per hour will burn 0.8 calories per half kilogram per mile. This means that a 10kg dog will only burn about 64 calories during a one hour walk if maintaining a pace of 6.8 miles per hour. Then there is the question of fitness levels, could an obese dog maintain this pace for that long? And is it worth it for 64 calories?
If your dog is overweight or obese, or if you are not sure or worried about it, why not call your veterinary practice and ask if someone (often a nurse) can help you with getting your dog down to the correct weight? Most practices have dedicated nurses run often very successful weight clinics.