Friday, August 14, 2009


Obesity is an extremely common problem in dogs and, just like humans, being overweight or obese can be very harmful to your dog’s health. I’ve noticed when I personally put on a few pounds my knees hurt more, well that’s just a few pounds on me, but think of if Milly (who is less than half my weight) packed on a few extra pounds – the pressure to her joints would be much greater. I have read that one pound of excess weight is 5-10 pounds of added pressure to your dog’s joints, but I have not yet found a concrete statistic for this. Being overweight is not just a stress on your dog’s joints, but it can also be a stress on the dog’s overall body and puts your dog at an increased risk of diabetes, liver problems and joint pain.

People frequently comment to me, “Oh my, Milly is soooooooooo skinny!” or “I can’t believe how little you feed Milly! or “I can feel her ribs when I pet her!” as if inferring I keep Milly underweight, which I do not. I keep Milly at her ideal weight, and she is not at all overweight. At one point, I let Milly get overweight – she was up to 84 lbs – and I saw the detrimental effects this had on her health. Ironically, little had changed in my care of Milly to cause her to gain so much weight. However, at the time, I was only feeding her one meal a day (this can slow their metabolism, so she now gets two small meals), I measured her food, but I was feeding her a little bit more than I should have, I fed a diet containing corn, after my shoulder surgery Milly’s exercise time decreased and finally, Milly aged, and just like us humans, she hit a point where her metabolism slowed way down, and she no longer needed the food she once did. I saw the detrimental effects weight gain had on her – she was more lethargic and tired easily, she could not jump on to the bed (she now has no problems), and had trouble jumping into the back of the car.

When I took her to the vet for her annual checkup and learned of her weight (she had put on 12 pounds) I was very concerned. What surprised me was the vet did not even acknowledge Milly was overweight until I probed her about what would be the ideal weight. After learning great pointers on dieting I immediately went out and bought a measuring cup to keep in Milly’s food storage bin. I started measuring her food. ¾ of a cup in the morning and ¾ of a cup in the evening with two tablespoons of canned food split between the two meals. I felt bad for feeding Milly so little and started mixing in canned green beans (no salt added), fresh carrots, non-fat yogurt, and 100% canned pumpkin. I limited Milly’s treats – and even put her on a low-fat treat at first. If your dog is very overweight, you can measure out the daily food each morning, and use the kibble as treats throughout the day, whatever is left over in the bowl at feeding time is dinner.

I was a bit concerned that the vet did not even acknowledge Milly’s weight, but when I walked out there was another Golden Retriever in the waiting room who I can only describe as morbidly obese. This Golden looked like a rectangular coffee table with a head and tail. His back was literally flat, and he was three times as wide as Milly.

It did not take long for the weight to come off of Milly, and I saw major differences in her personality, happiness, and health as five pound increments seemed to fly off of her. She is now 63 pounds! Yes, she has lost 21 pounds in a year and a half! She could lose another 1-2 pounds, but at her age my vet and I agree it probably is best to leave her at 63 pounds. Most people I encounter say she is too skinny, but she is not. She is simply at an ideal weight, and so many people are used to seeing overweight dogs. Milly has a nice tuck, when you touch her sides you can feel her rib cage but her ribs are by no means protruding. She now is totally capable of going jogging with me, jumps on the bed with ease (though I am planning on building her stairs as this can be a strain on her hips), leaps into the car as if it is nothing, and has so much more energy! I feel like a horrible dog owner that I ever let her get over weight, but I am not lying when I said the weight gain really did creep up quickly.

Having seen what it was like to own an over weight dog, and the transformation in her quality of life and health to being at an ideal weight I see the great disservice many people do to their pets by keeping them overweight. I believe that many people give human characteristics to their animals, and enjoy giving them (often high fat) treats because it “makes them happy”. Well, a nice walk also makes a dog happy. A slice of an apple makes a dog happy. You don’t have to do away with dog treats, but think about portions. I used to give Milly the entire dog biscuit for each good thing she did. Now I break it up into at least 4 servings. She doesn’t seem to notice that the treats are smaller, and I can spread out the amount of times I give her treats by doing this so I have more opportunities to “make her happy”.

One of the most beautiful photos ever taken of Milly I have never posted, because I am ashamed of her weight. I still feel a lot of guilt and remorse that I did such a disservice to her, and in a way, neglected her health and well being. I have come to realize that a lot of times allowing your dog to get very obese can be almost as detrimental as under-feeding them and allowing them to get too thin.

Well, now here you have it. The photo of her at the barn was taken at her heaviest, and this is her now.

Even though she is sitting you can see that she is clearly overweight, and lacks definition. She does not have the "tuck" and her rib cage seems to flow evenly into her back end. She is between 82-84 pounds in this photo taken a year and a half ago.

Sorry this isn't the best angle, but here you can see she is more slender, and has definition.
You can somewhat see the "tuck" I described, but the angle is not the best. She is 63 pounds in this photo, taken last week.

Here you can very clearly see how the "tuck" and that she is at an ideal weight. She is not too skinny, is not at all overweight and is a very trim and fit 10 year old senior citizen. This photo was also taken last week.

Here info on dog obesity from the ASPCA website!

  1. Obesity develops when energy intake exceeds energy requirements. The excess energy is then stored as fat. Once a pet is obese, he may remain obese even after excessive caloric intake stops. The majority of cases of obesity are related to simple overfeeding coupled with lack of exercise.
  2. Certain groups of dogs appear more prone to obesity than others. Specific breeds (Labrador retrievers and pugs, for example) and older dogs are particularly prone.
  3. Is your dog a hog? As a subjective assessment of body condition, you should be able to feel the backbone and palpate the ribs in an animal of healthy weight. If you cannot feel your pet’s ribs without pressing, there is too much fat.
  4. Also, you should see a noticeable "waist" between the back of the rib cage and the hips when looking at your pet from above. Viewed from the side, there should be a "tuck" in the tummy—the abdomen should go up from the bottom of the rib cage to inside the thighs. Dogs who fail these simple tests may be overweight.

    5, 6, & 7. We recommend that you consult your pet’s vet before starting on a weight loss program, which should include these major areas:
  5. Correct Diet
    Overweight animals consume more calories than they require. Work with your veterinarian to determine your pet’s caloric requirements, select a suitable food and calculate how much to feed. The diet should contain a normal level of a moderately fermentable fiber and the type of fat that prevents the skin and coat from deteriorating during weight loss. Diets that dilute calories with high fiber lead to increased stool volumes, frequent urges to defecate and variable decreases in nutrient digestibility.
  6. Exercise
    Increasing physical activity can be a valuable contributor to both weight loss and maintenance. Regular exercise burns more calories, reduces appetite, changes body composition and will increase your pet’s resting metabolic rate.
  7. Owner Behavior Modification
    A successful weight management program requires permanent changes in the behaviors that have allowed the pet to become overweight. Perhaps you are giving your pet too many treats, for example, or not giving him enough opportunities to exercise.
  8. Are you committed to your pet’s weight loss? Here are some important things you can do:
    - Remove the pet from the room when the family eats.
    - Feed your pet several small meals throughout the day.
    - Feed all meals and treats in the pet's bowl only.
    - Reduce snacks or treats.
    - Provide non-food related attention.

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