The Skinny on Dog Obesity: Part 1

05.28.2020

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This blog is a soap box for me, so let me just hop up here for a moment. I am also expressing my personal opinions, for the most part, based on over 10 years of being a dog trainer and through my CPCFT certification process. I feel strongly about this topic because it is so preventable.

An Overview

Pet obesity is a HUGE problem in this country and most instances of obesity are 100% preventable. In 2017, the AVMA reported that 1 in 3 dogs and cats that were seen at Banfield Animal Hospitals were overweight. Between the years 2006-2016, Banfield reported a 158% increase in overweight dogs. Yes, there are occasionally times when a pet’s metabolic system goes haywire, or a medical condition requires medication that causes weight gain. That’s a completely different issue that should be monitored by your veterinarian. For the rest of this blog I’m only going to speak about dogs, because I know next to nothing about cats, and most other small domestic pets.

Let’s think about some non-medical reasons for why dogs might end up being obese or overweight:

  • Food = love! Many owners enjoy indulging their pets. Giving a treat here and there throughout the day makes owners feel good. Sometimes these owners will over feed at meals, or add high calorie “extras” to their dog’s food.
  • Free feeding. Owners allow dogs to eat as much as they want, and refill the food dish as soon as it is empty.
  • The dog is a “chow hound.” These dogs typically stop at NOTHING for any kind of food. If this dog lives in a multi-dog household, this dog might even steal the other dogs’ food.
  • Breed. Some breeds are more predisposed to becoming overweight or obese. A reputable breeder will know this information and pass it on to their puppy buyers, along with some tips to avoid weight gain.
  • The dog is lazy. He or she just lays around the house all day long.
  • Owners lack information about proper body condition. With so many obese dogs, many owners do not have realistic expectations of what normal looks like.

With all of these examples, there is one common factor that contributes to obesity. It’s the owner’s end of the leash. Although, some of these reasons can be attributed to lack of education, which is nothing to be ashamed about. If your veterinarian, dog trainer, or pet professional mentions that your dog is overweight or obese, it is not to hurt your feelings. It is because they care about your dog and want them to live a long, happy life. Dogs who decrease body fat and increase muscle mass feel MUCH better in everyday life. How did you feel when you lost just 10 lbs.? Did you have more energy? Did you have less joint pain?

The bad, the ugly, and the EXPENSIVE!

There are some serious complications that can occur with an obese dog. Just like with people, obese dogs are more prone to metabolic conditions, cardiopulmonary diseases, cancer, and orthopedic issues, which all contribute to shortened lifespans and poor quality of life. I’m not going to go into great detail about the specific diseases that are associated with obesity. You can find those details here.

Anything that requires additional veterinary oversight can get expensive quickly. Most of these conditions will require prescription medication to be given daily, along with additional testing and monitoring. Which means more veterinarian visits on top of your typical wellness visits. Your dog could also need a prescription diet, which are often more expensive than regular dog food formulas. Having an obese dog is EXPENSIVE!!!!!

Obese dogs are at greater risk of suffering from osteoarthritis, hip dysplasia, and acute injuries. Acute injuries might be the most expensive complication of obesity. Let’s imagine a worst case scenario of an acute injury, which is commonly seen in overweight/obese dogs. An obese dog decides he wants to get on the couch. It takes a great deal of effort and the dog has to really rally himself to get up there. One day while he’s in his “getting on the couch routine” the dog slips and tears his Cranial Cruciate Ligament (CCL, or ACL in people). There are other reasons for a CCL rupture, and even non-obese/overweight dogs can suffer this very painful, yet fairly common, injury. In this example, the dog’s increased body weight and lack of strength causes the dog’s rear legs to endure greater force, with each back and forth rally to generate the momentum to get on the couch. This unnatural movement and increased force makes jumping onto the couch much more risky, than it would be for normal weight dog.

This injury happened after your general practice veterinarian’s office is closed. You have to go to the Emergency Clinic, where they do an exam, take x-rays, and prescribe pain medication. That visit alone (depending on what part of the country you’re in) could be roughly $500-$800. The emergency vet recommends you follow up with your primary veterinarian as soon as possible. Three days later you’re able to get into your regular veterinarian. They do an exam, take x-rays, and develop a treatment plan. The recommended treatment plan includes a TPLO (Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy) surgery, but there’s only one animal hospital in the region who can perform this surgery. You leave your regular veterinarian’s office with more pain meds, a referral to the other animal hospital, and a $300-$400 bill. When you get to the referred hospital to meet with the surgeon, it comes with an exam, more x-rays (if previous x-rays were insufficient for the surgeon), and an estimate of $3,500+ for the surgery. You have now spent $4,000+ on your dog for an injury that potentially could have been prevented. To recover correctly your dog will also need rehab, which is another cost. On top of all of that, a dog is more likely to tear the other CCL during recovery of the first CCL rupture. Again, obesity is not the only cause for a CCL rupture. The dog’s structure, gait, muscle mass, prior injuries, etc. can all contribute to this injury occurring.

Another expense dog owner’s tend to not think about when it comes to obese dogs is dog food and dog treats! Think about how much longer a bag of food can last if you feed your dog 25% less food per meal, and 25% less treats per day. I’m using 25% less as my number because that is the recommended reduction of calories when first working on a weight management plan with dogs. By feeding your dog the correct amount of food, you can spread food costs out slightly more as well. Over the lifetime of your dog, that could be significant savings. I am REALLY bad at math, so you’re going to have to figure out those savings yourself.

 

Check back next week for Part 2, where I will discuss some strategies on how to prevent the causes of obesity listed above.

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