Over the past decade, the waistline of most Canadians has increased – dramatically. Man’s best friend is following suit. The number of overweight dogs is increasing and most dog owners are unaware of the problem. They view their overweight dog as being a normal weight. A recent survey of 1000 veterinarians says that 45% of the dogs in their care are overweight or obese.
Dogs gain weight for the same reasons humans do – too many calories and too little exercise. Pet owners can unknowingly over feed their dogs by as much as 25% more calories a day. Many owners don’t know how much they should feed their dog and if they do they don’t measure the amount they provide. In such a case a measuring cup is a valuable tool. However, treats take most of the blame for excess calories. Approximately 90% of dog owners give their pets treats. Experts say treats should account for no more than 10% of the dogs’ total calories. Give a dog an extra chew or cookie a day and at 50 calories each this can add up to a weight gain of 1-2 lb a year. For comparison, a pig ear given to a 40 lb dog is like humans drinking six 12oz colas and giving a 10 lb dog a small dog bone is like feeding them 2 donuts. Rarely do we stop with one treat. Treats are usually given out of guilt, for example when we’ve left our dog home alone all day. In the dog world, they would rather have more interaction and attention than a treat.
Pet obesity is a big health threat and will reduce life expectancy. The risks of excess weight include pancreatitis, cancer, arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, hip dysplagia, heart disease, kidney disease and respiratory disease. As well, modern day treats are rewiring the dogs’ behavioural responses and creating cravings that are beyond what’s normal in many pets. Attending to your dogs’ weight issue will help them live longer and decrease pain and suffering. When fed a calorie restricted diet a medium sized dog could increase their life expectancy by 2.5 years. An added benefit is a decreased vet bill.
To improve your dogs’ diet, reduce calories, especially calories from treats. If you give treats to your dog look for ones without omega-6 fatty acids (such as vegetable and corn oil) as they increase risk of inflammation and disease. To increase the nutritive quality of a dog’s diet, buy dog foods with meat listed witin the first few ingredients, containing 75% insoluble and 25% soluble fibre. A prebiotic added to pet food can improve gut health although more research is needed as to appropriate amounts.
Don’t forget exercise, since it is also important for weight loss in dogs. Since overweight pets are less mobile and less willing to play, you will need to start slow. A good activity is swimming. A 20 minute swim is the same as a 5-km hike without the stress on the hips and knees.