Despite pet obesity being a potentially life-limiting condition, it seems pet owners are unaware of the gravity of the issue, with most (63%) feeling more important problems face their pets. What’s more, only one in three (37%) know how to check their pet’s weight, a mere 9% carry out the recommended monthly weight check and almost a third (30%) never check their pet’s weight (1)!
By far and away the biggest concern amongst vets is overfeeding leading to obesity. Primarily a problem of human behaviour and a mismatch between the amount of food and the amount of exercise, it is a condition which all breeders can help fight.
To help you educate new puppy owners here we discuss the benefits of achieving and maintaining healthy weight for dogs and tips on how to achieve it.
What is all the fuss about?
Canine obesity is a condition that leads to serious alterations in various bodily functions and limits the longevity of the animal. It is the most common nutrition-related canine disease in industrial countries, but the great news is it can be easy to correct. However the treatment of canine obesity is complicated by various problems, including a lack of awareness among owners, who often fail to recognise or minimise their animal's obesity. Without the total cooperation of owners, it will be impossible to obtain weight loss in the dog. The breeders influence is therefore incredibly important to help educate dog owners whenever possible.
It costs a lot to have an overweight dog!
What many people don’t realise is that additional bills can occur from medical emergencies and treatments linked to overfeeding. In fact feeding/treating pets with inappropriate food costs owners around £215 million a year and with an increase in obesity-related claims over the past few years, some pet insurers are considering cutting pay-outs for obese pets! Certain pet insurers already include clauses stating pets not in a ‘normal healthy state’ at the initial time of cover cannot later claim for related injury or illness(2).
Informing owners of the benefits of healthy weight
Weight gain and pet obesity are on the rise for our pets, in fact, a survey by the UK’s Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association found that 40 to 45% of cats and dogs respectively, as seen by UK vets, are overweight(3). Obesity increases the risk for serious health problems, including osteoarthritis, diabetes, heart and respiratory diseases, and many types of cancers. Overweight dogs are also at increased risk for complications during anaesthesia if they need to undergo surgery or other procedures and if a dog already has a health condition, obesity makes the problem that much harder to manage. Being overweight can also lower a dog’s energy level and hamper his or her ability to enjoy an active lifestyle. Although this is all important information it is better to avoid scaring people about the dangers of obesity and rather concentrate on the benefits of healthy weight. For example - if a dog is in optimal body condition he/she will have an increased chance of longevity and may fulfil his/her genetic potential.
And talking of longevity at Eukanuba we have been interested in trying to unlock some of the secrets of successful ageing in dogs and weight gain comes into this discussion. Along with a team of independent vets including Dr Penny Watson from Cambridge University and Professor Steve Dean, former chairman of the UK Kennel Club, Eukanuba are currently looking at the impact that appropriate care and diet have had on a very special group of Labrador Retrievers. Almost one-third (28%) of these Labradors achieved an exceptional age, reaching or exceeding 15.6 years or older. We have found that the longest lived Labradors that became exceptionally aged (≥15.6 years old), had a significantly slower rate of body fat mass accumulation over their first 13 years of life compared to Labradors that lived only to their expected average age of 12 or less. In other words to give dogs a better chance of living a long and healthy life requires good body condition.
What Causes Weight Gain?
Not a big surprise here but many dog owners need you to point this out to them. Put simply weight gain results when an animal eats more calories than it burns off during normal activities or exercise, however other factors can contribute to weight gain, including:
• Overfeeding or overeating
• Inactivity or low activity levels
• Reproductive status (intact versus neutered)
• Pre-existing diseases (e.g., hypothyroidism, diabetes mellitus, Cushing disease)
Certain dogs, especially smaller breeds, are more prone to being overweight or obese, as are many senior pets.
How to Assess Your Dog’s Weight
Regardless of what size or breed you have, you should be able to feel—but not see—its ribs. Being able to feel some ribs is a sign that your dog is at a healthy weight. Additionally, if a dog is at a healthy weight, they should have a distinct “waist” where the body narrows, just behind the rib cage and in front of the hindquarters, when viewed from above. When viewed from the side, a dog’s abdomen should appear to be slightly tucked up behind the rib cage. If a dog has fat deposits over its back and at the base of its tail, or if it lacks a waist or an abdominal tuck, chances are that it has a weight problem.
Vets and many breeders typically use a measurement called a body condition scale or body condition score to assess whether a pet is underweight, overweight, or just right. Ask your Eukanuba breeder team for your own Eukanuba body condition score chart, it can help you to discuss healthy body weight with new puppy owners, helping them to visualise what the perfect adult body condition looks like.
Know What You Feed
Treats and other ‘tidbits’ are major culprits for excess weight gain. Irrespective of whether you feed a commercially prepared food or a home prepared diet (raw or cooked), it is important to be aware of how much a dog is eating each day. For owners with an overweight dog it may be useful to track how much a dog eats by keeping a “food diary.” Everyone in the family should write down how much he or she feeds the dog when fed. And remember treats count; so highlight that they should remember to include rewards given during training sessions or when encouraging a pet to take medication etc. Help owners understand that treats are not supplementary but form part of the pet's daily food intake. If exercise is reduced then food intake should, in turn, be compensated.
Another problem is owners not following feeding guidelines, something cited as the single biggest contributor to weight gain for all pets. More ‘titbits’ should generally mean smaller main meals to compensate. Currently, two in three (68%) pet owners do not follow professional guidelines when deciding portion size, with 30% taking a cavalier approach relying purely on instinct.
It’s also important to feed a dog the right food for his or her age, and size. For example, an adult dog should not be fed a formula for puppy growth. Feeding “people” food to dogs can not only contribute to weight gain but also cause other medical problems. Some foods that are perfectly healthy for people, like grapes or onions, can be toxic to dogs. Even foods that aren’t toxic can contribute to stomach problems, food allergies, or other problems for pets. Additionally, feeding table food to a pet that is already receiving a nutritionally balanced pet food changes the “balance” of that pet’s diet.
“It’s in his breed”
Breed is an obesity risk factor in the canine species. For example, here in the United Kingdom the Labrador Retriever, the Cairn Terrier, the Collie, the Basset Hound, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and the Cocker Spaniel have been cited as being more heavily afflicted. Conversely, some breeds - sight-hounds and sheepdogs - appear to be more resistant. In one study in Germany, German Shepherds, Poodles and Boxers were frequently obese. It is therefore necessary to qualify this idea of breed predisposition, even though many vets do state that they encounter more obese Labrador Retrievers than obese sight-hounds. It is important to note of course that obesity can still be a problem for many other breeds.
A Note on Exercise
As you already know exercise is an essential part of a dog’s everyday life so highlight the importance of regular age and health status appropriate exercise. A vigorous daily walk is an excellent place to start for many dogs. As a breeder we’re sure you’re already doing this but it’s an important piece of information to share with new puppy owners.
Top ten tips to share to help new dog owners avoid the Battle of the Bulge:
- Avoid feeding human food to your dog. Keep in mind that because many dogs are significantly smaller than we are even a little ‘treat’ can have a big effect. A 5kg dog weighs one fifteenth of an average size man (at 75kg). So, one slice of bacon for them is like a man eating four slices of bacon! Instead when you treat your dog, give healthy treats such as Eukanuba Healthy Treats.
- Don’t allow your dog to have unrestricted access to food, its own or another pet’s!
- Make sure all family members are on the same page when it comes to feeding and treating your dog(s).
- Weigh food and increase meals! Weigh your dog’s daily food allowance and split meals into 3-4 per day. Little and often is best (just like for us humans).
- Make eating challenging and fun. Hide food in various locations so your dog has to search for it.
- Change the location of the feeding tray, encouraging your dog(s) to search for the food. You can also use slow-down feeding bowls. Use a food dispensing toy like a treat ball/cat food ball for kibbles, which stimulates play and exercise.
- Make sure your dog(s) gets plenty of regular age and health appropriate exercise. Minimum of 30 minutes per day.
- Take a walk on the Lighter side of life and try Eukanuba Weight Control to help prevent weight gain. A great diets to help prevent weight gain in the first place. Think of it as offering a “skimmed” milk version rather than the “full fat” variety. Particularly useful for dogs with the potential to gain weight easily i.e. Labradors.
- For dogs that need to lose weight try feeding Eukanuba Restricted Calorie. A specialised diet designed to help dogs lose weight safely.
- And finally, ultimately dogs will be dogs and some things they do are out of our hands. By feeding them a fully balanced Eukanuba diet they can be sure to provide them with the healthy food they need.
1, 2 , 3 Pet Obesity: Five years on. Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association 2014