In one of my favorite television shows, the veterinary drama All Creatures Great and Small (1978-1980), Mrs. Pumphrey’s treasured Pekingese, Tricki-Woo, seemed to need a house call at least once each episode. The range of colorfully named maladies that Tricki-Woo suffered from — “Flop Bott,” “Pricky Paw,” and “Cracker Dog” among them — were usually traced back to one overriding factor. The Pekingese was obese, and Mrs. Pumphrey refused to follow the vet’s orders and alter the dog’s diet or stick to a regular exercise regimen.
We have all heard that childhood obesity, to say nothing of obesity in general, is a serious and growing problem in the United States. One attendant problem is that if dog owners are gaining and retaining weight, chances are that their dogs are as well. No matter whose research you’re reading, the findings are consistent: More than half of all dogs in America are overweight or obese. Today (Oct. 8) is National Pet Obesity Awareness Day, so Dogster offers five signs your dog might be obese, along with the possible consequences of inaction.
1. Can you feel your dog’s ribs?
This may seem inane, but it’s one of the simplest methods for discerning whether your dog is becoming obese. Touch your dog’s chest. Are you able to feel not only the ribs, but clearly discern the spaces between them? If you’re having to feel around, or apply pressure before making contact with a rib bone, your dog may be overweight. The rib-cage test is significant because the ribs shelter the lungs, and lungs need room to expand. That room is curtailed by the presence of excessive fatty tissue.
2. You dog has difficulty breathing and limited stamina
Dogs who are having consistent trouble breathing, or dogs who become tired quickly and after very little physical exertion, may be obese. Excessive panting is a related sign, one that indicates that your dog is having difficulty getting fresh, oxygenated blood to his vital systems. Cardiovascular and respiratory disorders are common in obese dogs. Over time, complications from long-term obesity result in conditions such as congestive heart failure.
3. Your dog has digestive problems and constipation
If your dog is having regular problems defecating and struggling with repeated bouts of constipation, obesity could be a major factor. Dogs who take in too many calories and burn off too few, particularly if they are eating rich or unusual foods, are at higher risk for developing dangerous conditions that affect the body’s ability to regulate and cleanse itself. These include pancreatitis, liver problems, and diabetes.
4. Your dog is moving gingerly
Obese dogs may move gingerly or assume resting positions with effort. Obesity in dogs is a contributing factor to bone and joint problems such as arthritis or hip dysplasia. As with congestive heart failure, there are certain dog breeds that are predisposed to suffering from hip dysplasia, and the severe arthritis that follows, as they age. An obese dog’s legs, back, and joints are placed under constant, unrelenting strain. In dogs already at risk, obesity only speeds the rate of musculoskeletal deterioration.
5. Your dog as a blocky body shape
Humans put entirely too much emphasis on imagined or unrealistic ideal body types enforced by popular media. Despite the wide range of frames and body types among dogs, there does tend to be a typical healthy body shape. Look at pictures of dogs in profile. Regardless of breed, you’ll notice a distinct upward slope from the base of the ribcage to the hips. The degree of that slope varies, but is usually noticeable. A blocky, endomorphic dog with no difference in girth from ribs to hips is likely to be dangerously overweight.
Combat canine obesity with consistent effort
Is your dog looking for easy ways to lose weight? Probably not, because he is a dog and will eat and do whatever you permit. Like Mrs. Pumphrey in All Creatures Great and Small, indulgent dog owners tend to pamper their dogs. Pampering includes overfeeding, too many treats, and too much sedentary hang time. An obese dog is not going lose significant weight in a week, no more than a person can. Weight loss is perhaps easier for a dog to manage, but dog owners have to be willing to commit.
Thankfully, we can be the discretionary and regulatory conscience for our dogs that we often have trouble being for ourselves. if you want a precise and exact regimen, consult with your veterinarian. The vet will take into account the variables, including breed/mix, age, and overall wellness. From there, you can work together to schedule the optimal number of meals, feeding times, and portion sizes to reach a more acceptable weight.
Regular exercise is also essential. This is nothing you haven’t heard before, and yet it remains just as vital. Many sources recommend a 15-minute walk twice daily. Don’t have the time? Engage a professional dog walker! Depending on the breed or mix of dog you have, the physical activities she enjoys may vary. Is your dog a tug-of-war fan? Does she like to play fetch? Does she enjoy swimming? There are countless ways to keep your dog active throughout her life, but consistency and routine are key.
It’s about quality of life
In All Creatures Great and Small, Tricki-Woo suffered because no matter how often the vet recommended smaller portions, less rich human food, and more exercise, Mrs. Pumphrey persisted in doing the opposite. Some dog breeds are prone to obesity — Basset Hound, Beagle, Bichon Frise, Bulldog, Chihuahua, Cocker Spaniel, Dachshund, Dalmatian, German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever, Newfoundland, Pug, Rottweiler, Saint Bernard, Shetland Sheepdog, and a variety of Terriers — but that doesn’t mean it’s inevitable.