A fat dog is no laughing matter

I just returned from walking my dogs. We passed another Labrador who was, without exaggeration, at least 75 pounds overweight. Seeing his stomach practically touching the ground and hearing him pant every few steps broke my heart. His person appeared very caring, but letting his dog get that overweight is not love, it’s abuse, in my opinion. It is our responsibility as dog owners to keep our dogs healthy and fit.

According to The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), an estimated 93 million US dogs and cats are overweight or obese. That means that over half the nation’s dogs and cats are now overweight. This cost pets years of their lives and owners millions of dollars.

APOP reports the following as the primary risks of excess weight in pets:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Heart and Respiratory Disease
  • Cranial Cruciate Ligament Injury
  • Kidney Disease
  • Many Forms of Cancer
  • Decreased life expectancy (up to 2.5 years)

How do you know if your dog is overweight?

Apparently, this is not often an easy discussion for veterinarians to have with clients. Loving dog owners often take it personally and are offended when told their dog is overweight

I’m not a veterinarian, but my personal suggestion: If you can’t see a waistline on your pet, they’re overweight. And if you can’t feel ribs (as suggested by Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM: "With gentle fingertip pressure, you should be able to feel your pet's ribs easily. If you can only feel cushioned body wall, your pet is carrying too much weight"), you probably can’t see a waistline.

One of the reasons that seeing the overweight Lab broke my heart was because I knew his life would be shortened due to obesity. In addition, he clearly wasn’t in good enough shape to enjoy many activities with his person.

Pet weight translator

It’s important to realize that five pounds in a large breed dog could be the equivalent to 10 pounds in a human. Five pounds in a small breed dog could be equal to 20 pounds in a human adult. APOP calculates that a 12 pound Yorkie is the same as an average female weighing 218 pounds, and a 14 pound cat is equivalent to a 237 pound man.

Did you consider that a 90 pound female Labrador retriever is equal to a 186 pound 5’ 4” female or 217 pound 5’ 9” male, or a fluffy feline that weighs 15 pounds (DSH) is equal to a 218 pound 5’ 4” female or 254 pound 5’ 9” male?

Causes of pet obesity

Similar to people, the main causes are a poor diet and overeating. Unlike human adults, dogs are not responsible for their obesity, their people are.

If I left out a five pound food for my dogs, I’m quite certain that they would eat all the food in front of them, even after they were full. I give them enough high quality food for them to be satisfied, feed twice a day (as free feeding is another cause of obesity), and keep their amounts consistent.

We train daily, so the amount of treats they receive during training are deducted from their mealtime kibble.

How to keep Fido fit

Go for quality walks together. If you have a solid recall, find places to hike off leash together. The smells are stimulating for your dog, and the exercise will benefit both of you.

Lisa Spector

Lisa Spector is a concert pianist, Juilliard graduate, and canine music expert. She is Co-founder of Through a Dog's Ear, the first music clinically demonstrated to calm the canine nervous system. Their new Canine Noise Phobia series is a breakthrough treatment and prevention program for canine noise sensitivities. Lisa shares her home and her heart with her two "career change" Labrador Retrievers from Guide Dogs for the Blind, Sanchez and Gina.

  1. 10 years ago
    Christine J.

    Wonderful article. One of my dogs was seriously overweight. He is incredibly cute (no that's not just me being biased; he has such a sweet face people still think he's a puppy and he's now 14) and as most people equate food with love, it was hard to not feed him treats. I put everyone on notice that his health needed to improve, I ignored those big brown eyes, and when I wanted to show him love, I took him for a walk. He lost 10 kgs and the difference is amazing. He no longer shows any signs of arthritis, his patella has stopped subluxating (popping out), his coat is glossy, he runs around like a dog half his age. I was very proud when the vet said she'd like to show us both to stubborn owners who just wouldn't slim down their pets. It's now been two years and he's still at the right weight and having a wonderful life. It can be done; it just takes commitment.

  2. 10 years ago
    Diane L.

    It is also entirely possible that an obese pet suffers from hypo-thyroidism. When a pet is fed as advised by their veterinarian and still becomes obese, that may be the case. It works the other way around as well, and I've had two cats that were HYPER-thyroid and needed medication. One cat did well, the other did not. She (the one that did not) had always been healthy and a good weight until she was about 15. Then she got bone skinny, no matter how much she was fed and how often, how high a quality. She had food available 24/7 and still was thin, but very healthy and active "otherwise", still wanted to hunt and was good at it. She was given "thyroid tablets" orally and they didn't do much, so it resulted in a pharmacy "compounded" version that was administered via "oral syringe" in her ears. She lived another 2 years.

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