Reprinted with permission from Hindy Pearson, Caring for a Senior Dog. Copyright September 30, 2015.
The path to tackling obesity in older dogs, is pretty much the same one you would take no matter what species we’re talking about. Good quality diet in the right amount, less junk, more exercise!
In a 2014 survey by The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), results show that 52.7% of all dogs in the U.S. are overweight or obese.
What’s even more disturbing is – 93% of dog owners (I prefer to call them guardians) thought their dog’s weight was normal.
The 2014 PDSA Animal Welfare Report states that 1 in 3 dogs in the U.K. is overweight, or obese.
My experience with an obese dog
When my husband and I adopted our dog Red, she hadn’t been well cared for in her previous home. She was around around 8 years old and so obese, her stomach literally touched the ground.
I wish I had a picture to show you, but they must be packed away in storage at the moment.
She couldn’t take more than a couple of steps without panting and having to sit.
She’s a small dog, with skinny little legs, and all that extra weight had to have been so uncomfortable for her.
I took her to the vet who recommended a diet food, and a plan to follow. I also started taking her out regularly, even if it was just a few steps, and some fresh air.
You could see the obvious changes, since she must have felt 100X better.
It breaks my heart when I see fat dogs, barely able to walk, panting with every step taken. I can only hope their vets say something, when they’re having their checkups.
Causes of obesity in older dogs
Ruling out metabolic disorders, or perhaps some medications, the causes, again, are the same in every species. It’s called too much food, too many treats, too little exercise.
It depends on what type of dog you have. We have a rough idea of the ideal weight for each breed. However, nowadays there are so many mixtures out there, the old charts may not be as helpful.
See your vet, and he/she will advise you on that magic number.
The benefits of being at a healthy weight
Longer life expectancy, not to mention a better quality of life.
What are the dangers associated with being overweight?
- Shorter life expectancy
- Poor quality of life
- Strain/damages joints and bones
- Developing arthritis, and makes existing arthritis even worse
- Harder to cope in the heat
- Hip dysplasia
- Respiratory disorders, and worsens existing ones
- Poor condition of coat and skin
- Greater risk during surgery
- Elevated blood pressure
- Spinal disc problems
- Liver, kidney and heart diseases
Added complications during surgery
Senior dogs are already at higher risk during surgery, and being overweight adds significantly to that risk.
All the extra fat makes it harder to get at what the vet is operating on, meaning your dog will be in surgery longer than he should be.
Also, most anesthetics are broken down by the liver, but a fatty liver will not be able to do that job as efficiently as a healthy one, so your dog will take longer to come out of the anesthesia.
Is it safe for senior dogs to lose weight?
A better question would be, is it safe for senior dogs to not lose weight?
How do I help my dog lose weight?
- Stop feeding him table scraps!!
- Enough with the unhealthy treats!!
- Better portion control
- Exercise (type and intensity will depend on the health and condition of your dog)
- See your vet, who will then most likely enrol you in their weight loss clinic. Most offices have them nowadays.
The first step is to have a consultation with your vet – it goes without saying, your dog needs to come along.
Your dog will be weighed, then a goal weight will be set.
After that, you will discuss a diet and exercise regime.
Please follow the recommended plan, and make sure everyone in your household, or involved in your dog’s care, understands that as well.
You don’t want someone sneaking him extra food or treats, when you’re not looking. That isn’t doing him any favours.
Your vet may recommend switching over to a different brand/type of food, that will help your dog feel fuller, without decreasing the amount, or simply suggest reducing the amount of what he’s currently eating.
If you will be switching brands, please do so gradually. Add the new food in small amounts to his existing food at each meal. Gradually increase the ratio of new to old, until he’s switched over. It should take about a week until he’s only eating the new food.
Some vets may recommend a raw diet.
Unfortunately many people misunderstand that a “treat” is just that – something to reward good behaviour, a little “something” after a walk. It is not a meal!!
You could use part of your dog’s meal, or buy good quality treats and give them sparingly.
Vegetables like raw carrot to munch on, cooked sweet potatoes, squash, apple can also be used as treats. Ask your vet about vegetables that are suitable for your dog’s specific needs.
We know exercise is another piece to the whole weight loss plan, but depending on the condition of your dog, the type, length, and frequency of exercise will differ.
Your vet will advise which form of exercise is safest.
Perhaps your dog would benefit from short walks, 2-3 times a day. If you live in a particularly hot climate, or when walking during the summer months, stick to earlier and later in the day.
Swimming is great exercise since it is low impact, and won’t stress joints. Your vet should know of the closest doggie pool.
Obesity in older dogs – the conclusion
I hope you can see how important it is for all dogs to be at a healthy weight.
If you’re wondering if your dog is overweight, take him to your vet and find out. If he does need to lose a bit of weight, the earlier you start, the better he will feel.
Hindy Pearson is dedicated to creating as complete a resource as she can, for people who share their lives with seniors. She is a Pet Care Consultant, offering in home consultations to people who are looking for behaviour and training advice. Hindy Pearson runs The Saffy Pearson Resource Centre, a mobile resource offering the same advice as her pet consultancy business, only this service is free when at various locations. Her dream is to open The Saffy Pearson Retirement Home for Abused and Abandoned Animals.