Saturday, March 13, 2010

Why Is My Dog Fat And What can I Do About It?

It’s genetic.

Well, maybe not genetic, but definitely medical. And while it may seem that certain breeds (labs, beagles) put on weight faster than other (huskies, boxers) the truth is that all dogs are susceptible to weight gain. But there are certain medical conditions that contribute to rapid weight gain. The most common of these is hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism causes the dog’s thyroid to produce less hormone which, in turn causes a lower metabolic rate, which means that your dog needs less energy (ie: food). Another possible medical condition causing your dog’s girth could be Cushing’s disease. Cushing’s disease causes a rise in a certain hormone that increases your pet’s appetite and increases the deposition of fat. Talk to your vet before beginning a diet and exercise routine with your dog to rule out any medical condition. Dogs with certain medical conditions will not loose weight without proper medication.

Too much food

Before the 1950s, and the invention of commercialized dog food, dogs used to eat what we ate – a little bit of protein, a little bit of veggies, and a little bit of starch. Now that most of our pets eat kibble, we don’t know how much of what they are eating. Many people buy food based on ads they see on TV or what their friends recommend without thinking about the caloric needs of their pets. Some of the more popular brands are higher in starch and lower in protein – ok for some active breeds that could use the extra sugars, but maybe not so great for the couch potato sitting at your feet. Just as it is important for us to read our food labels, it is also important to read the labels on the food that we feed our pets. Not only will they tell us what is in the food we feed, but it will also tell us how much to feed based on the ideal weight of our pets.

Couch Potatoes

As we spend more time sitting in front of the TV so do our pets. Dogs and cats used to have to hunt and scavenge for their food, now they have us perfectly trained to bring them their food in nice big bowls. Since the necessity for activity has decreased, so has their desire to run around. It is up to us to exercise our dogs properly. If your dog is friendly and social you might want to try the dog park. If your dog doesn’t really like to play with other dogs, but is still tolerant and is well trained, you can try a local off leash beach or a hike in the woods. If your dog isn’t trustworthy around other dogs, and/or isn’t trustworthy off leash, a nice long walk around the neighborhood should do the trick. Remember to start off slowly and gradually increase the intensity of the exercise so that your furry friend doesn’t injure himself.

Sagging Bellies and Sagging Knees

This one is multifaceted because as our pets continue to age their lifestyle changes make it more likely that they will gain weight. Few people think to change the food they feed their senior pet. Many still feed the same food in the same amount that they fed their dog when he was a growing puppy. Also, senior pets are less active then they were when they were young. It is important to talk to your vet about the dietary needs of your senior pet. Many dogs need less food then they did when they were younger.

One thing its not: Sterilization

Many people blame their pet’s weight on sterilization saying that their pet was never overweight before it was “fixed”. While that may be true, there are many reasons why your pet might not have been overweight before. The first, and most often over looked is that many people get their pets fixed right around the time that they stop growing. People continue to feed them like a puppy when they no longer need it. It is true, however, that intact pets have hormones that help them stay slimmer. Estrogen (female sex hormones) can decrease appetite and androgen (male sex hormone) can stimulate roaming behaviors (ie: more physical activity). Once a pet is sterilized, their metabolic rate will probably lower some and their desire to roam will also decrease, therefore their caloric need will drop. It is up to the owners to adjust their feeding to the proper amount needed for their dog after surgery. It is not the surgery itself, but a combination of factors and a lack of understanding by the owner that contribute to weight gain sometimes seen after a pet has been sterilized.

Obesity is quickly becoming one of the largest issues facing our pets today. And is it any surprise that as our waist lines grow, so do our pets. Most pets become obese the same way that people do – they eat too much and exercise too little. And the complications they face as they grow rounder are the same that we as humans face: diabetes, respiratory difficulty, higher risk during surgery, joint pain, and shorter life span. It is important that you get your pet’s weight under control so that you can live long happy lives together.