We live in modern times, and in western societies such as ours, obesity and weight gain are consistent problems. And not just for people.
36 million pets in the United States are obese, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. In dog population terms, that’s 55% of the dog population. The Association does a pet obesity survey each year, timed with National Pet Obesity Prevention Day (in October), where it asks pet owners to fill out a survey about their pet’s size, breed and eating habits.
Veterinarian Ernie Ward is a co-founder of the Association and he says that the focus on reward-based training has helped to contribute to the obesity problem. Simply put, owners are not adjusting their dog’s daily intake of food at mealtime to compensate for treats being given as a reward.
And once a dog is fully trained, the rewards seem to keep coming for sometimes very basic tasks. Like pooping, for example.
(Ask yourself: once your child is potty-trained, do you keep praising him/her each time they use the toilet? – even into their teenage and adult years?)
And I’ve found that delivering the news to a client that their dog could lose some weight can often be a reason for not being asked to return for another massage treatment. According to a recent article in The Boston Globe, I’m not alone. Vets that deliver the news that a pet is overweight may find that the owner becomes defensive or, worse, takes their business elsewhere!
However, when I am dealing with a dog with arthritis or other mobility disorder, I am looking for ways to relieve their pain. If they are carrying around extra weight, their sore joints and muscles are pulling double-duty. I remember a client with a Pug, for example, who was easily twice its normal body weight. Sure, the dog had arthritis, but it was so fat that it didn’t want to exercise and so weight loss was going to be a challenge and something the owner had to a) recognise and b) act on.
The Globe article also discusses the wide range of calorie content amongst commercial dog foods. People may change their dog’s food, but continue feeding the same number of cups per day. Weight gain is insidious and many people don’t recognise that their dog has put on weight until a vet or someone else points it out to them.
I do nutritional assessments for this reason. I ask questions about the dog’s lifestyle, exercise habits and eating. And I can run caloric calculations based on the dog food label to give advice on how much to feed.
There are many health professionals including your vet that have your dog’s best interest at heart. Don’t be afraid to ask if they think your dog is overweight and be humble enough to make changes.
P.S. When I take Daisy to her acupuncture treatments, my vet asks me to weigh her prior to each consultation. This keeps me very disciplined to ensure that Daisy remains in her ideal weight range.
Some full-service pet shops and veterinary practices are happy for you to drop in to use their scales. Why not make it a habit of walking your dog to these places for a weigh-in? It’s a new routine that will keep you focused on your dog’s weight in a more positive way.