Is Your Dog Overweight?
By Dr. Annette Richmond, DVM
Keeping our animals in good physical condition, and at their ideal body weight, is a lifelong challenge. Many dogs are overweight and poorly conditioned owing either to illness or lack of awareness by their caretakers. Overweight animals are predisposed to musculoskeletal disorders that include joint and disk problems, heart problems, and respiratory difficulties. Proper nutrition and plenty of physical exercise are the two key components to good health and appropriate body weight. Maintaining our pets at their ideal body weight will allow them to live longer, healthier, and happier lives.
If a pet is overweight, the first thing to do is rule out a metabolic disorder that may be caused by an illness. A visit to a veterinarian for a full physical examination and complete blood analysis is recommended. If there are no abnormalities with this analysis, the veterinarian can recommend the appropriate type and quantity of food and create a tailored exercise program.
Good nutrition is the most important factor in keeping an animal healthy and maintaining proper body weight. However, good nutrition is often overlooked by the food preparer. Our society is persuaded by the marketing of pet foods, which ensures they are good quality and appropriate for our pets when in fact, many pet foods contain poor nutrition. Many dog foods are too low in protein and too high in simple carbohydrates. Excessive carbohydrates come from grains in the food, which are unnecessary, and promote weight gain and other disorders just as they do in people. Many pet foods even contain dangerous preservatives. Unfortunately, many veterinarians promote these foods without understanding the adverse effects the foods may have, so it is crucial to choose a veterinarian who promotes high-quality diets.
High-quality diets do not always come in a bag though. Homemade diets can be either raw or cooked, but should be formulated carefully with the help of an expert. There are many prepackaged and frozen foods that are also excellent choices. Small, privately owned pet food stores that sell these types of high-quality foods and also carry frozen diets are a knowledgeable resource for guardians choosing to improve their pet’s nutrition.
The quantity of food is just as important as the quality, and so it is imperative that animals are not overfed each day. The daily caloric intake of pets can be carefully calculated using an official formula taking into account breed, activity level, and metabolic rate. A veterinarian can help caretakers calculate this amount. Occasionally, it can be as simple as decreasing the amount currently fed. Also, dog treats should be real food—not junk food—which is counted as part of the day’s total calories. High-quality treats can be purchased or created at home with meats, vegetables, or fruits. It is also imperative for all people in the household to abide by the feeding rules, which ensure that regulated amounts of food and treats are being given.
Exercise is the next step for keeping weight off our animals. If a pet is severely overweight, or hasn’t exercised regularly, then an exercise program should be custom tailored by a veterinarian to ensure they are healthy enough to decrease the likelihood of injury. In general, dogs need to walk, run, jump, and swim much more than they presently do. Just think of the free, roaming, farm dog, and you’ll have a good vision of what appropriate daily exercise should be.
How can we tell if our animals are overweight? There are some simple guidelines for pet guardians to follow. First of all, a guardian should be able to feel the ribs when applying moderate pressure across the rib cage. This indicates that the layer of fat between the ribs and the skin is not too thick. Pinching the entire thickness of skin that lies across the rib cage is a clear indication of how much subcutaneous fat is present. Dogs should have a waistline that is visible when looking directly down at their backs from above. The waist is an indentation, directly behind the rib cage, revealing a wider rib cage and a slimmer torso.
Read the label on the food bag. Feel your dog’s ribs. Take them for a long walk. And you will be a more-informed caretaker, on your way to keeping your dog more healthy and fit.
Dr. Annette Richmond is a doctor of veterinary medicine, earning her degree from UC Davis in 1997. She is also a certified veterinary acupuncturist, and is currently being certified as a canine rehabilitation practitioner. She opened Natural Veterinary Therapy in 2007. Natural Veterinary Therapy is located at 510 Lighthouse Avenue in Pacific Grove. Let us help your animal heal from within. Call 655-0501 or visit www.naturalveterinarytherapy.com.