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Overview of Canine Obesity

Obesity is defined as the excessive accumulation of body fat. Between 25 and 40 percent of dogs are considered obese or are likely to become obese. It is the most common nutrition-related health condition in dogs in our society.

The primary causes of obesity are overeating and lack of exercise. When regular caloric intake exceeds the energy burned, the excess is stored as fat. As little as an extra 1 percent caloric intake can result in a 25 percent increase over ideal body weight by middle age.

Most owners don’t recognize that their dogs are overweight until they take them to the veterinarian for another reason. Most pets begin slowly gaining weight and only a historical review of body weight reveals the insidious nature of this condition.

Dogs that are overweight may experience difficulty breathing or walking or they may be unable to tolerate heat or exercise.

Diagnosis of Obesity in Dogs

Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests to determine overall health and to provide recommendations for weight loss.

Diagnostic tests may include:

  • A thorough veterinary examination, including an accurate measure of body weight and an assessment of body condition score. A historical review of changes in your dog’s body weight is often helpful in establishing a pattern of weight gain and may help identify a particular event or change in environment that relates to the increase in body weight.
  • Routine blood work including a complete blood cell count, serum profile and urinalysis are necessary to determine if there is an underlying disease. If the results of these tests indicate a problem, additional tests are warranted to specifically identify the condition before starting a weight loss program.
  • Assessment of your dog’s current daily intake of all food, treats, snacks, table foods and exercise schedule is important in the development of a successful weight loss program. Clearly if the calculated caloric intake exceeds the calculated daily energy requirement of the dog at an ideal body weight, then excessive caloric intake is the cause of the obesity.

Treatment of Obesity in Dogs

Treatment of any concurrent or underlying disease that affects obesity is recommended.

Lower your dog’s daily caloric intake by changing the dog food product (there are several diets formulated for weight loss) or the amount fed daily.
Increasing fiber or water intake may sometimes be necessary to satiate your dog.
Increase exercise activity. To enhance exercise, a variety of leashes and toys are available.

Home Care

Weight loss should be a family effort. All members of the family must admit the animal is overweight and commit to a weight loss program. It may be helpful to maintain a log of intake (food and treats) and weight to monitor progress. It might be most effective if one person takes charge of feeding your dog, but all members can help exercise him.

To achieve significant weight loss, the diet must be changed to a therapeutic veterinary diet specifically designed for weight loss. Simply feeding less of your dog’s regular food is rarely, if ever, successful. Owners must be willing to measure exactly the amount of food offered and minimize treats. If treats are necessary, offer low calorie snacks such as air popped popcorn or a piece of vegetable (such as a carrot).

Re-check visits are essential every 4 to 6 weeks to monitor the weight loss since adjustments to the feeding plan are often needed. As your dog approaches ideal body weight, caloric intake must be reduced further to maintain weight loss.

Most dogs require an 8 to 12 month weight loss plan to reach their ideal weight. Most dogs do achieve ideal or near ideal body weight when the owner and family members are committed to improving the pet’s health. Most owners continue feeding the weight loss diet, only at a higher food dose, to maintain their pet’s ideal weight.

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