White, H. Ellen, The Saturday Evening Post
WATCHING YOUR DOG’S WEIGHT
Serving as a judge at a children’s pet show, I once had the duty of granting a pudgy cocker spaniel the “fattest dog’ award. Although its young owner was pleased, I felt the award was a dubious honor, for obesity, the most common nutritional disease of dogs, can lead to heart, lung, kidney, and liver diseases, as well as to diabetes. Fat dogs have lower resistance to disease, increased surgical risk, and decreased reproduction; they are also prone to whelping problems, joint ailments, constipation, and flatulence.
An animal 10 to 15 percent above desirable weight is considered obese or overweight; an estimated 25 to 44 percent of dogs are in that category. Obesity, more common in females than in males, occurs most frequently in neutered animals of both sexes. Beagles, cocker spaniels, collies, dachshunds, and Labrador retrievers seem to win the fattest dog “honors’ most often.
Overweight occurs gradually; it may not be noticed immediately. To find out if your dog is too fat, check weight records with your veterinarian. (Dogs generally reach their desirable weight within the first year after maturity.) Or use the simple if the less accurate method of feeling the dog’s ribs, which ideally have a moderately thin layer of fat. If you cannot easily feel your dog’s ribs, the animal is probably overweight. Other signs include a protruding stomach, waddling, sluggishness, and fatty areas, or “pones,’ on either side of the tail or the head or above the hips.
Overfeeding is the most frequent cause of dog obesity. Humans have a tendency to overindulge their pets, but they are doing the animals no favor. In neutered pets, obesity or overweight may result either from decreased sexual activity or from a reaction to decreased sex hormones, which may depress food intake in non-neutered animals, according to some studies. Nonetheless, I would be the last to condemn neutering; a neutered animal should simply be fed less and exercised more.
Two brisk 15-minute walks daily will use one-sixth of a 30-pound dog’s energy need. If your animal is grossly overweight or has heart, respiratory, or joint problems, you should have it examined by a veterinarian before beginning an exercise program.
A high-fiber, low-fat diet will help your dog lose weight. The diet should provide 60 percent of the dog’s caloric requirement at its desirable weight–for example, 420 calories per day, divided into three or four small servings, for a dog that normally requires 720 calories a day at 20 pounds. Your veterinarian can provide a prescription diet proper for your dog.
For a homemade diet, try 1/4 pound lean ground beef, 1/2 cup cottage cheese (uncreamed), 2 cups carrots, canned solids, 1 1/2 teaspoons dicalcium phosphate, a balanced canine vitamin, and a mineral supplement. Cook the beef, drain off the fat, and cool. Add the remaining ingredients and mix. The yield is 1 3/4 pounds at 250 calories per pound.* And be sure to keep your dog out of the room while you are preparing and eating your own meals.
* Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, Lon D. Lewis and Mark L. Morris, Jr.
After the dog has reached desirable weight, return to feeding it the correct number of calories to maintain that weight. Weigh the animal weekly. Your dog may not like going on a diet any more than you do, and he won’t win the “fat-dog award,’ but he will be healthier as a result.