Weight gain in dogs and cats is a huge problem today, and the number of obese dogs in the United States continues to rise at an alarming rate. According to a recent study done by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 53 percent of dogs are considered obese or overweight to some degree. This extra weight causes many preventable health issues to develop, especially as dogs age.
A very sudden weight gain, especially in an older dog, must be something that owners take seriously. Senior dogs have a higher than average tendency to put on extra weight, and in older pets, this is sometimes more likely to be caused by a health issue than it is in much younger dogs. The majority of weight gain happens slowly and gradually as a dog ages, and it often goes completely unnoticed by owners. Once a dog reaches 1-½ to 2 years old, it is no longer growing and most likely needs less food.
An older pet that carries extra weight has unnecessary strain on his or her body that could be alleviated by keeping them on the lean side, beginning from young adulthood. Some breeds like dachshunds, or other long, low breeds, have the potential for serious back and spinal problems, exacerbated by being even just a little overweight! Heavy dogs are also more prone to orthopedic problems and injuries, such as torn ACL tendons. These injuries can be extremely expensive to repair and have long recovery times that often need physical therapy.
So, what are some of the common problems that cause pets to put on weight? First of all, treats. We all know it’s difficult to ignore those imploring eyes watching you eat, but just a single slice of bacon, for an average dog, is comparable to a person eating four doughnuts. Table scraps and putting “toppers” of human food on your pet’s food can add a lot of extra calories. So what can you do instead of giving your dog so many treats? Try brushing or grooming them, petting them, going through all their tricks, taking them for a walk, or playing tug-of-war or fetch with them. In reality, your pet simply wants YOU, not a treat.
Did you know that a single, average-sized rawhide bone contains enough calories to compare to a person eating almost a dozen doughnuts in one sitting? Veterinarians want to ensure that the food you’re feeding your older, overweight dog has the proper nutrition for their age and any possible medical conditions. Vets strongly encourage pet owners to have older pets seen twice a year for senior exams, as that enables their vet to catch both medical and weight problems early.
Consider healthier treats for your dog, such as a slice of cucumber or a baby carrot. Even one or two pieces of their regular kibble can be a treat. The fact is, dogs can’t count and they only know you’re giving them something special. When you put extra “people” food on top of your dog’s food, they have such a keen sense of smell that they know there’s chicken there, and they don’t care whether it’s ½ ounce or an entire chicken breast.
Getting your dog more active can work wonders for his waistline. If your pet is sedentary or has problems with arthritis or pain while walking, consider taking three 10-minute walks a day instead of one long one.
Some other causes of weight gain in older pets, besides over-feeding and a sedentary lifestyle are stress, because like us, anxious dogs can overeat when they’re stressed or bored. Older dogs are often on medication, and some can cause weight gain, such as corticosteriods, anti-depressants and some anti-inflammatories. In addition, water retention can be caused by serious illness or medications. And, of course, some breeds are more prone to gaining weight than others, such as Labrador retrievers, beagles, bassett hounds, rottweilers, spaniels, Saint Bernards, bulldogs and dachshunds. But remember, any dog will put on weight given the wrong circumstances, diet, or health problems.
Do yourself and your pet a favor and get them on track to a longer and healthier life by keeping them at an ideal weight! Don’t hesitate to ask your veterinarian to help your pet lose weight and live a longer, healthier life.
Body Condition Score
At Village Park Animal Hospital, Dr. Carlson shows pet owners what a Body Condition Score is all about and how they can use this knowledge throughout the life of their pet. She uses the underwater treadmill to not only physically rehabilitate injured dogs but also as a tool for weight loss for overweight dogs, as water displaces some of their weight, lessening the load on their joints, making exercise easier. At Village Park Animal Hospital, they pay close attention to animals’ weight and lifestyles. Each spring, the hospital holds its “Biggest Loser: Pet Edition Contest,” where pet owners from all over the Coachella Valley are invited to weigh, measure and calculate the correct amount of calories to feed their pets, in order to reach a healthier weight and enjoy a better quality of life. The free contest is open to anyone.
Village Park Animal Hospital is located at 51-230 Eisenhower Dr. in La Quinta. Village Park Animal Hospital also offers grooming and boarding services for dogs and cats. (760) 564-3833 villageparkanimalhospital.com