Overweight Canines

posted January 15th, 2010 by
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By Kristi Eaton

A recent study shows that almost half of dogs are overweight or obese, and local veterinarians say it’s the owners that need to take control if they want to keep Fido around for years to come.

Earlier this year, a study conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention revealed that more than 44 percent of dogs are overweight or obese – a 1 percent increase from the previous year. That calculates to about 7.2 million obese and 26 million overweight dogs in the U.S.

“Pet obesity continues to emerge as a leading cause of preventable disease and death in dogs and cats,” said Veterinarian Ernie Ward, lead researcher and founder of the association. “Our pets are in real danger of not living as long as previous generations and developing serious and costly diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, and other largely avoidable conditions.” In some cases, said Mark Appelbaum, a veterinarian at Sheridan Road Veterinary Clinic in Tulsa, a dog carrying too much weight can develop bone and joint disease or heart disease. Unlike cats, overweight or obese dogs don’t usually develop diabetes, although it can happen, he said. The weight and possible resulting diseases play a role in lifespan. Research has shown that dogs with a healthy weight can live two years longer than slightly overweight canines. Too much weight can be attributed to hormone imbalances, at which point the vet will be able to help, Appelbaum said.

But in most cases it is a simple case of calories in vs. calories out, or too many calories consumed and not enough exercise to expend calories. He said it’s a matter of owners keeping track of what and how much their canines are eating.

“A dog will eat whatever you feed it,” he said. “If you feed it right, it will eat the proper stuff because it can’t go get its own food.” Like humans, Appelbaum said overeating and too little exercise can start at a young age.

“Just like with a kid, it starts at a young age and is hard to overcome,” the vet said. When dealing with an overweight pet, the owner must look at him or herself, Appelbaum explained. “They’re (the owners) going to have to look at a change in the diet, a more weight friendly, calorie controlled diet,” he said, adding that table scraps and treats are the biggest food culprits.

Appelbaum used an example of a 10 pound dog to explain his assertion. A 10 pound dog, he said, needs to consume about 200 calories per day to maintain weight. If that dog eats half a piece of toast and some eggs from the owner’s plate, that’s about 250 calories. Then, he added, the canine will consume his regular dog food. On top of that, most owners give their four-legged friend a treat every time he goes outside or does something good. If every treat contains about 25 calories and they get a four a day, that’s another 100 calories.

To combat the overeating, Appelbaum recommends eliminating giving treats when your dog goes outside or does something good. However, if that’s not possible, he said a treat should be broken into five or six pieces and only one piece given at a time.

Paul DeMars, a veterinarian at OSU’s small animal clinic, also believes people play a major role in the battle of the bulge. “When we look at the amount of food we take in, many times someone will look at a little tiny piece of cheese and say, ‘You know, for me this is not many calories.’ But if they look at the same amount of calories for their 10 pound poodle, that little piece of cheese that seemed so innocent may be the equivalent of feeding us two and a half cheeseburgers. It looks so tiny to us on our plate and what we eat in a day, but when you look at the size comparisons and the metabolic differences, you’d be amazed at how many calories they’re actually adding to that small little animal with the treat off their plate.” Exercise is the other important component for a dog to live a healthy life.

The basis guidelines for dogs, DeMars said, is at least 20 minutes of consistent exercise each day, but many pets do not get that.

“I think some people say my dog spends a lot of time outdoors, but if you actually videotaped the animal, you’d actually see the dog spends a lot of time sleeping, rather than actually moving. Like our doctors tells us, get up and do something physical for about 20 minutes a day…a walk around the block, in the park, something physical with the owner,” he said. Moreover, just because a dog is small it doesn’t mean exercise isn’t important.

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention study, small-breed dogs, like Dachshunds, Chihuahuas and Yorkshire Terriers, have more trouble with their weight than larger breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers or Golden Retrievers, due to a lack of exercise. Older pets are also more susceptible to being overweight, according to the study, which said that 52 percent of overweight or obese dogs are over the age of 7 years.

To combat the excess weight, De Mars said owners should take their canine to the vet every year and ask the necessary questions.

“Is this the right food? Is this what he should be fed? Are we feeding the right amount? Let the veterinarian help guide them in that process.” The vet can then determine the animal’s body composition score, DeMars explained. The veterinarians assess the canine’s body composition by examining the dog, palpating its ribs, lumbar area, tail and head. The results are then compared to the breed standard. If a dog is obese, it will have an excess body weight of approximately 10 to 15 percent. In the nine-point scoring system, dogs which have a body condition score greater than seven are considered to be obese.
Appelbaum said that, in addition to normal diet and exercise, there are different prescription diet foods. Purina and Science Diet, for example, each have one. Appetite suppressant medications are also available and can be prescribed by a vet.

“It helps by making the dogs feel fuller faster, so they don’t eat as much and, therefore, they tend to lose weight pretty well,” Appelbaum said.

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