Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Are We Raising a Generation of Fat Dogs?

It seems like every other day there is a story on the news or an article in the paper warning us that we are slowly becoming an obese nation. Everywhere we go we are reminded about the number of calories in what we are eating and even popular fast food chains like McDonalds now offer up 'healthy alternatives'.

Now it seems like our 'fat culture' is slowly encroaching on other areas of our lives - our pets.

You'd be shocked at the number of dog owners who are completely unaware that obesity can actually be a problem in pets. In fact there are a number of people who might actually find a chubby canine or fat feline funny.

Unfortunately, obesity in pets is not a laughing matter and there are some serious health implications that can arise from raising an overweight dog.

What is Obesity?

Technically an overweight dog and an obese dog are two different things. To classify as obese, a dog must be 20% above its ideal body weight whereas an overweight dog needs only be 10-19% above their ideal weight.

When we give a dog more energy in their diet than they actually need, the energy is stored in the body. This energy can be stored as fatty tissue, which builds up around the internal organs. If our pets aren't given a chance to burn off this extra energy, the fatty tissue continues to grow and your pet's weight continues to increase!

Why is Obesity a Bad Thing?

Allowing fatty tissue to build up around the organs is definitely not great for your pet's health! It can increase the work load of the organs, from the heart to the liver - putting extra daily strain on these vital organs can lead to serious problems.

One of the more obvious issues is that an obese pet is carrying around much more weight than their body was designed for! This can put extra pressure on the joints leading to damage and possibly even medical conditions such as osteoarthritis - a degenerative joint disease.

What Can We Do?

Unfortunately there is only one reason for our pets' obesity problem. Us.

There are two aspects to the obesity problem, diet and physical activity. If our personal lives are busy, it can be difficult to find time to talk the dog out but just like us, they needto be active. If you aren't ensuring that your dog gets active, then all the energy they consume in their diet is just going to get stored in their bodies as fatty tissue.

In terms of diet, three major problems are:

  • Portion size
  • Diet quality
  • Treats and tidbits

Portion Size: Good quality dog foods are becoming increasingly enriched with nutrients and energy; this is great news for our pets and us! Unfortunately, it does mean you are going to have to take care when dishing up your pet's meal.

Because pet food is so energy rich compared to the dog's size, even a few extra grams can add to the calorie count. Over time, if we continue to over estimate portion sizes, those extra calories can certainly add up!

What to do: Make sure you refer to the manufacturers recommended portion guidelines on the back of your dog's food. It might be worth measuring out the portion exactly using an old measuring jug or cup and some kitchen scales. You can then mark a level on the jug that indicates one portion - making every following mealtime more accurate! Remember, dogs should be fed ideally twice a day.

Diet Quality: There is a huge variety of pet foods on the market, some of them a lot better quality than others. You can imagine poor quality foods, being like feeding your pet junk food each day - it might give them the energy they need, but it isn't going to do them much good in the long run.

What to do: Don't be afraid to spend a little extra on a good quality dog food. Look out for foods that are specific to your dog's breed or life stage (e.g. puppy, adult, senior). If your pet is overweight, there are plenty of weight control diets available.

Treats and Tidbits: We all think our pooches deserve a treat every now and again, and they do! But just be careful as to how many treats you are giving. Treats are exactly that, a treat! They are often filled with calories to make them really tasty, so they can quickly add to the daily calorie count.

Tidbits, are those little scraps of our food we give to our dog, just like treats, the occasional tidbit isn't going to hurt - but if your pet is clearing up your plate after every meal, again, the calories can mount up.

What to do: Restrict how many treats you give your dog and keep those tidbits to a minimum, try not to give in to those puppy dog eyes! If you have guests over, be sure to tell them not to feed your dog as he is watching his weight!

In Conclusion

Yes it is true, we may unwittingly be raising a generation of fat dogs, but if you watch what your pet eats and keep them active they will keep those extra pounds at bay.

Obesity really is a growing problem in our pets, it's not just dogs - cats are becoming chubbier too! So be sure to spread this advice and let's keep our pets fit and healthy!

This article was written by James Watts, a Bioveterinary Graduate who blogs about companion animal health, behaviour and nutrition over at

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