15 March 2010
Overview on Weight Part 1
As if weight isn't discussed enough in the human world, it can be a pretty hot topic in the dog one too. People seem to take their dog's weight personally. For some of us, it's insulting if someone says our dog is too fat or too thin. I can understand why. Dogs depend entirely on us for everything, and food is no exception. Which means their weight is most often a direct reflection of us. And since they do rely on us for food, it is up to us not to take it personally when we're told our dogs are too fat or too skinny. Being underweight or overweight is just as unhealthy for dogs as it is for humans, in some cases more so. But sometimes it is hard to tell if they are at the proper weight!
I want to talk a little about which breeds are most prone to obesity, which breeds should never get overweight, which breeds are meant to appear thin and which breeds require extra calories on average. I also want to use some examples of what a healthy weight looks like. Of course, every dog in its breed can be an exception. So my best advice is to know your dog and be honest in your evaluation. After all, your dog doesn't know if he's too fat or too skinny. All he knows is if he feels his best or not -- and an overweight or underweight dog is not feeling his best.
Obese Lab compared to healthy Lab
Overweight dogs are more likely to develop a variety of issues including:
-High blood pressure
-Decreased immune function
...and almost all of these will shorten the lifespan.
Breeds that are prone to obesity include but are not limited to:
Most of these breeds are prone to obesity due to a combination of healthy appetites and the way their bodies naturally store fat. I bet it also has to do with these dogs being pretty cute beggers that their owners simply can't say no to! But most dogs will eat when they aren't hungry at all. They eat for a variety of reasons including instincts to preserve, instincts to horde, and instincts to put anything that entices their noses into their mouths.
If you have a dog that seems like a bottomless pit, and is gaining excess weight because of it, don't buy into feeling sorry for him or think he must not be getting enough to eat. A lot of people feel that feeding their dog is a way to show love, which is also a misconception and a bad habit to form. Don't try to buy your dog's love by giving him a million options, either. Laying out a variety of treats that your dog can eat any time he wants or switching your dog's food every so often will usually create a finicky, picky eater, not to mention cause stomach upset.
We give food to our friends to express emotions. Pies for the new neighbors, dinners for those who are mourning, cakes for birthdays. But honestly, a walk with your dog or a training session would mean more to him emotionally than a cookie!
For some breeds, being overweight is especially a health hazard. Aside from the normal complications that can come along with extra weight, these breeds have certain physical characteristics that make being overweight very dangerous for them.
Breeds that are especially in danger if overweight include:
-Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
Dachshunds, Corgis and Bassets for example are "achondroplastic" or "dwarf" dogs, meaning they have the skeletal frame of a larger dog on short legs. They have elongated bodies and broad chests for their size. For these breeds, even being 5-10lbs overweight is a massive amount. Put simply, extra weight means extra stress on their already sometimes fragile backs and joints. Really, it is self explanatory to see why a dog of this stature should never be overweight. Most of these breeds are already prone to inter-vertebral disc disease (a spinal condition that can often lead to paralysis) and carrying extra pounds makes them much more likely to have problems with IVDD. Some breeds that aren't dwarfs are also at risk for IVDD including Beagles, Pomeranians, Cocker Spaniels, Bulldogs, Lhasa Apsos and Pekingese.
Not sure about all breeds, but I do know that for Dachshunds, 1 in 5 end up with IVDD and statistics show that being overweight is a contributing factor. Also, being muscular and in shape can help prevent and also heal the problem should it arise.
Pugs, Boston Terriers, Lhasa Apsos, Boxers and Pekingese for example are "brachycephalic" or short nosed breeds. Difficulty breathing is probably the most common health problem for breeds such as these. Heat stroke and hyperthermia can occur much quicker for a dog with a flat face than it can for a dog with a regular or long muzzle. Being overweight will certainly increase the risk of breathing complications and restrictions and will most definitely cause your dog to be much more uncomfortable than is necessary.
For dogs that are flat faced and have "cobby" bodies, (such as Pugs and Bulldogs) it is important to remember that you should still be able to see a waistline when looking at your dog from above and the ribs should be felt easily. Many adult dogs of breeds that are prone to weight gain will need to be fed lower calorie diets.
Here are some picture examples of overweight and healthy dogs.
Bulldog at the correct weight
Overweight Jack Russell Terrier
Healthy and fit Jack Russell Terrier
Morbidly obese Dachshund
Dachshund in ideal shape
Tomorrow I will go over underweight dogs, so check back!
(I do not take credit for any photos used in this post!)