Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Is Your Dog Overweight?

Sadly, many owners will not recognise an overweight dog. With so many dogs being rather plump, anyone admiring an overweight dog they may see out and about will assume that's what they are supposed to look like, or even compare their dog to others of the same breed who may also be overweight - and simply not realise that dogs should have waists. With a short coated breed, and even some longer coated breeds, you should be able to see toned muscles on that waist, and thigh muscles usually show up nicely too.

I am not immune from this - I worked so hard with Fred to teach him right from wrong that he was having a lot of training treats. While his hip dysplasia was being diagnosed we had to restrict his exercise at certain times and the weight piled on. It took me a long time to recognise how much he'd gained.

Checking your dog's weight

To check if your dog is the right weight you can weigh them at the vets, and check the chart in the surgery if they are a purebreed, or check with the vet, but this is only a guide. A proper check should be done weekly, as this will give you a chance to decrease or increase your dog's food to keep that perfect figure.

The first test is to look at your dog from above. Your dog should have a distinct waist behind the ribs, not be straight up and down, or worse, bulging out.

This photo brought it home to me, how sausage shaped Fred was!

This is him now, not a perfect photo, but you can see both back legs and a much more slimline shape.

Run your fingers lightly over your dog's ribs. If you can't feel them, that's because there is a layer of fat covering them. If you have to press to find them, there's that layer of fat again. If you have to dig in to find them, things are more serious.

With some breeds such as sighthounds (Greyhounds, some lurchers, Salukis, Whippets etc) you should be able to see some of the ribs as well. Any dog, after a good run and breathing heavily, should show some ribs as their lungs inflate.

Also check your dog from the side. After the ribs, the abdomen should slope upwards, towards the pelvis. Scamp here was slightly cuddlier than I like my dogs because he didn't belong to me at the time, so he has now lost a little bit of weight, but you can see the slope upwards.

Where to go for help

If you have any worries about your dog after these quick checks, first, speak to your vet as they are best placed to advise on weight issues. If they confirm your dog needs to lose weight, they may recommend you use food that they supply, plus raising the amount of exercise your dog has (ask them for their recommendations). The food is your choice, but you may prefer to contact a canine nutritionist (yes they do exist) as they will have more experience and training than a vet.

'Light' or 'Senior' foods that you get in the supermarket are designed for weight maintenance, not weight loss so won't help very much. To get a proper low calorie food you will need a specialist pet shop (Fred lost his weight eating Nature Diet's Fish variety and Burn's High Oats). The amount to feed on most (but not all) dog food is a very loose guide. I recommend feeding 10-20% less than they recommend - for your dog's ideal weight - not the weight they are. If you check your dog's body condition every week you will be able to adjust as necessary.

If you find it hard to manage the extra exercise your dog needs, consider geting a dog walker to help you, or ask me about my 'Fat Camp' for dogs. Under veterinary supervision, I can provide a good level of exercise and other activities for your dog, while ensuring they are not overfed. This will kick start your dog's diet and hopefully make it easier for you if you've had to reduce the amount of food you feed, as I can be the bad guy.

If you think your dog is getting taller, congratulations! That belly is shrinking letting you see more air underneath him!