Epidemic Canine Obesity: Killing Them With Kindness

November 6, 2012 by · 2 Comments 

Fat dog ObesityEveryday I see it, the pudgy dog whose owner just loves them to death literally. There is an epidemic in this country with obesity and that includes our dogs. Obesity in dogs, as in humans, leads to several health problems such as diabetes, respiratory issues, skin conditions and most important from my perspective on canine movement is osteoarthritis. Yes, osteoarthritis can be caused by canine obesity. Your dog being overweight puts more stress, strain, and ultimately more inflammation on joints and leads to destruction of the cartilage. So these owners with the little pudgy dogs that can’t help themselves and just have to feed that cute little face are killing them with their kindness.

What is very interesting is owner’s perception of their dog being overweight versus what we as veterinarians perceive as overweight. It is a sensitive subject for owners that their dog is fat. A British study published last year shows “Although a high proportion of owners claimed to have discussed the dog’s weight with their veterinarian, some discrepancies were apparent between owner perception of animal weight and the veterinarian’s evaluation of body condition score. Owner disagreement was significantly greater for the veterinarian-defined overweight dogs (P=0·005). Owners often provide personal narratives to account for their dog’s weight status.” The study concluded that verbal communication should not be the only information given to an owner of an overweight dog.

There have been several other studies recently in regards to the prevention and/or the decrease in progression of arthritis in dogs that were fed restricted calorie diets. A diet of only 25% reduction in calories has shown to decrease the incidence of arthritis in elbows, hips, and shoulders of dogs and it was noted in one study that it increased the average age of the dogs by almost 2 years!

Talk to your vet, talk to a canine nutritionist about how to feed your dog appropriately. Realize that the dog food companies are trying to sell you food and that the amounts on the bag that they recommend feeding are only estimates and of course they are on the high side for most dogs because the more your dog eats the more food you will buy. If your dog is already overweight do not treat him like a human and feed a diet high in fiber that will just produce gas. I know that those of you that have tried the store bought “diet” foods have experienced the problem with high fiber diets and your dog really is the one to blame for clearing a room. The first order of business is to talk to your vet, have an exam and possibly some blood tests to be sure your dog does not have an underlying condition causing him to be overweight; however in my experience it usually is the amount and quality of food being fed.

The best steps to take (after the visit to the vet) for the overweight dog is to go to a diet that is species appropriate which means for your dog a carnivorous or meat based diet with no grain. Similar to people some dogs have a problem with grain and especially gluten and no not celiac disease but rather grains being pro-inflammatory, meaning it promotes inflammation. Increased inflammation in the body can lead to weight gain, similar to people that have a puffy appearance. It makes it very difficult to lose weight. It is best to feed your dog a meat based, grain free diet and count the calories. Use the following formula for an estimate of what your dog requires for calories per day Calories = 132 x (body weight in kilograms) X 0.75

For example the daily energy requirements of a 20 lb dog -

Convert pounds to kilograms ( 1 lbs = 0.454 kg)
20 lbs x 0.454 = 9.08 kg

Determine the metabolic body weight (kg0.75)
9.08 x .75 = 6.81

Multiply metabolic body weight by 132 (for the average dog)
6.81 x 132 = 898.92 or 900 kcal per day

So a 20 lb dog needs only 900 kcal per day total. To do a reducing diet you need to reduce the calories by 25% which is 75% of the total 900 X .75 = 675 kcal per day.

You can calculate an estimate of calories of the food you are feeding by using University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine formula of 3.5 kcal per gram of protein and carbohydrates and 8.5 kcal per gram of fat. Just use the percentages found on the side of the bag and weigh a cup of the food to determine how many calories are in each cup. You will find some interesting results and that maybe, just maybe, you have been overfeeding your dog.

Remember a thin dog is a healthy dog and a long lived dog, one that is not as likely to have arthritis or other diseases. So the next time you go to give that begging fat face a treat just because he wants it; realize he doesn’t know what you know – he doesn’t know you are killing him :-)

Another great article with even more specifics – Pet Food Calorie Mis-Information

A dog food calculator – Dog Food Calculator

About Dr Daniel Beatty
An Infopreneur with a Veterinary Medicine degree.