I’m Not Fat, I’m Fluffy

Maryann Szalka

We all know that a Beardie’s coat can hide many things such as twigs, bugs, burrs, lumps and bumps. But check beneath that coat, and see if your dog is hiding something else like a few extra pounds. It is estimated that between 25 and 40 percent of dogs are overweight. Recent studies indicate that obesity can shorten a dog’s life span by three years! Overweight dogs are also more prone to injury, and are at greater risk during surgery, both from the surgery itself and the anesthesia. The following health concerns may occur as a result of obesity:

  • Heart and respiratory disease- heart and lungs must work extra hard and fat in the chest cavity and around the heart can decrease their efficiency
  • Diabetes- this condition is more common in obese animals
  • Liver disease- obese animals are prone to decreased liver function
  • Heat intolerance- the insulating properties of excessive fat make obese animals uncomfortable and unable to tolerate heat
  • Gastrointestinal disorders- pancreatitis, a painful and life threatening condition is often seen in obese dogs, also common are constipation and excess gas
  • Arthritis and degenerative joint disease- extra weight will worsen these conditions
  • High blood pressure
  • Reduced stamina
  • Increased reproductive problems
  • Diminished immune response — especially to salmonella and distemper infections
  • Increased skin and coat problems
  • Higher risk of urinary bladder and mammary cancers

How can you determine if your dog is overweight? Unfortunately, there is no ideal weight chart for dogs, since this varies by breed, and often quite widely within breeds.

Purina has a great visual chart that you can use as a reference just visit www.dogchow.com/products/popup_body_condition.aspx. Due to the profuse coat, it may be best to assess a Beardie when it’s wet! Otherwise, use these three simple steps:

  1. Place your hands on either side of the rib cage; can you easily feel the ribs?
  2. Is your dog’s abdomen tucked up when viewed from the side?
  3. When viewed from above, can you see a definite waist behind the ribs?

If you can’t feel ribs easily, your dog has no waist, and/or the abdomen sags, your dog is over weight. If this is the case, consult your veterinarian to determine is there is a medical condition that may be causing your dog’s weight gain. Excessive weight gain may be due to an underlying medical condition such as, diabetes, hypothyroidism, or hyperadrenocorticism. In addition, as your pet ages, its metabolism may slow down, causing the dog to require less food. Many sterilized pets gain weight due to a combination of hormone changes, lack of exercise and eating too many calories. According to Dr. Linda Aronson, “neutering or spaying, reduces a dog’s caloric needs and at the same time affects the satiety center in the hypothalamus so that they don’t know when they are full”.

Let’s assume your Beardie gets a clean bill of health, but is overweight. What can you do? Well, dogs gain weight for the same reasons that people do. Simply put, they eat more calories than they use. Any owner can control a pet’s weight by realizing that food is not a substitute for attention or a cure for guilt.

First, you can switch your dog’s food to a low calorie version, or you can just feed less of your current food. Cutting back the amount by 1/3 per feeding should result in weight loss within two weeks providing you are also exercising your dog. Consider feeding more often, since it takes energy to digest food. Dividing your dogs’ ration into 2 or 3 feedings will help and increasing fiber and water intake may also be necessary to satiate your dog. Two excellent sources of fiber are canned pumpkin and cooked green beans. It is also better to provide food as meals, rather than free feeding, especially in homes with multiple dogs. When feeding dry food, use a measuring cup to be sure you are feeding the correct portion. It’s also important to know that dry food contains about four times the calorie content volume for volume of canned food. You may want to isolate your dog when the family eats to help eliminate the temptation to feed snacks (extra calories) from the table.

Exercise has many benefits besides burning calories. It also strengthens the respiratory and circulatory system, keeps muscles toned and joints flexible, aids in digestion and lets the dog release energy and relieve boredom. Exercise increases metabolism and replaces fatty muscles with strong lean muscle, and this in turn speeds up metabolism making weight control even easier. Spending extra time playing with your dog, will give you both much more satisfaction and pleasure than that treat that was eaten in three seconds and forgotten. Need another reason? The increased activity may result in weight loss for the owner as well! Remember, simply putting the dog in the yard does not constitute exercise. Go for a vigorous walk, or play a game of fetch; but if you are both out of shape, please start out slowly.

Finally, you must enlist the support of your family. They need to understand that anything extra they give your dog can sabotage all your good efforts and undermine your dog’s health. If you must give treats consider some low calorie, high fiber treats such as rice cakes, apples, and carrots. Be sure to break your treats into tiny pieces, your dog may think it is getting more!

In summary, here is a plan to prevent/treat obesity in dogs.

  • Consult with your veterinarian, and treat any contributing disease factors
  • Choose the correct type and amount of food
  • Read labels (but note that pet food companies want to sell their product so their recommended serving size is usually far in excess of the needs of most dogs)
  • Weigh your dog regularly
  • Limit or eliminate treats and table food
  • Provide ample exercise
  • Enlist the help of family members

I would like to point out that being a little bit overweight is not that harmful, but over time it is likely that your dog will continue to gain weight. Remember, you are ultimately responsible for what your dog eats. Your dog can’t open the refrigerator, order a pizza, or drive to McDonalds. But then again, we are dealing with Beardies; so you may want to be sure that your counters are laden with low calorie snacks just in case you have an overweight “surfer. Better yet, make like Old Mother Hubbard and keep your counters bare and free from temptation. Your dog needs your help to lose weight and stay healthy; it is your responsibility to make sure they are not fat, but fluffy.