by: Dr. Cindy Krane

Dr. Krane, who regularly writes our vet column, was overwhelmed at work this month and so we went back into our archives to find this article she wrote in 2006.  So many dogs that come into rescue are extremely overweight, and unfortunately, many of our adopted dogs are overweight when they come to the Expo.  Rhonda Hovan, who is mentioned in the article Goldens, Cancer, and How You Can Help, claims that obesity is a major cause of cancer in dogs.  EGRR decided that this article is as appropriate now in 2010 as it was in 2006.

Obesity can be defined as an excess of body fat that is sufficient to result in impaired health or body function.  It is the most common nutritional disorder in dogs affecting 24-34% of canine companions.  VPI, the largest pet insurance company, estimates the number of obese pets to be higher at 40%.

Obesity occurs when there is an imbalance between energy intake and expenditures.  They excess energy taken in is stored as fat resulting in weight gain and change in body composition. Obesity is a multi factorial disease; influenced by age, sex, reproductive status, genetic predisposition and above all life style.

At 6-9 months of age veterinarians recommend that animals be spayed and neutered. At about the same time their rate of growth begins to decline. If the pets’ diet isn’t adjusted accordingly they will gain weight.  A similar metabolic slow down occurs at about seven years of age. Their caloric needs decrease by 20% due to a decrease in lean body mass associated with aging.  Hormonal imbalances due to thyroid, adrenal disease or diabetes mellitus may contribute to obesity. Retrievers like Labradors and Goldens as well as small breeds like Schnauzers and Chihuahuas are genetically predisposed to obesity.

Those contributing factors are outside of the pet owners’ control.  However several mitigating factors are within the pets owners’ control. Things like activity level, food intake, food composition, environment and lifestyles are well within the control of pets and their owners. Feeding free choice and loading on table scraps and treats coupled with a sedimentary lifestyle result on over weight and obese animals.

Alarmingly studies show obesity can shorten a pet’s life expectancy by up to 2 years.  To say the least it is linked to musculoskeletal problems, compromised immune function and abnormal glucose tolerance. The chances of respiratory and cardiovascular disease are significantly increased as are the risks for anesthetic and surgical complications.

To see if your Golden is over weight try this simple test; put your thumbs on top of their spines and gently run your fingers along their rib cage.  You should be able to feel ribs through the skin. It is some what subjective but if you have to press very hard to feel the ribs your golden is over weight.  If your suspect your Golden is over weight or obese schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.  The condition may be confirmed by weight and BCS.  BSC is a subjective assessment of body composition. Your vet may recommend blood tests to rule out genetic diseases including hypothyroidism, Cushing disease and diabetes before reaching a diagnosis of obesity. Furthermore hip dysplasia can be exacerbated by obesity so radiographs may be indicated.

 

Once the diagnosis has been made, a treatment plan needs to be developed. With the help of your veterinarian determine the desired amount of weight loss and the goal weight.  For some dogs they just need to cut back on the amount of food and for others a diet designed and intended for weight loss is indicated.  Ideally a diet composed of 5-10% (low) fat, 25% (lean, high quality) protein and 25-30% (high) fiber is best.  The calories should total about 60% of the dogs’ maintenance energy requirements to achieve weight loss. Low cal foods include egg white, cottage cheese, yogurt and canned pumpkin. Bear in mind portion control – feed appropriate amounts.   Divide the daily allowance into 2-3 meals so your Golden will feel more satiated. Treats and snacks should be limited to about 10% of calories but they should not be not completely banished. They play an important role in the human -golden bond. Healthy low cal snacks include unbuttered unsalted air popped popcorn, rice cakes, carrots, apple slices, green beans and melons.  A handful of kibble can be reserved and handed out as treats.

 

Your vet may recommend exercise as well as dietary modification. You can start with simple things like walking. Walking can increase caloric expenditures, stimulate metabolism and help maintain lean body mass. Swimming and playing fetch or running with pack at the doggie park are great forms of both exercise and fun. Be sure to check with your vet before engaging in strenuous exercise and be mindful of the weather and time of day. Exercising with your pet can strengthen the human animal bond.

 

Slentrol is a weight loss drug  available by prescription from your vet. While the exact mechanism of action is not completely understood it is thought to delay the absorption of fats from the intestinal tract and seems to increase the satiety signals.  Approximately 25% of dogs develop side effects including vomiting and diarrhea.  It should not to be used in young, breeding or pregnant dogs. It is not a substitute for exercise and dietary modification.

 

Your dog didn’t become obese over night, nor will he become thin over night. Expected weight loss is about 1% of body weight weekly; that averages less than a pound per week. Do not get discouraged.  While it takes lots of hard work on both of your parts success or failure depends primarily on you, the dog owner. Dogs cannot open the fridge for a midnight snack or order a Big Mac and fries at the drive thru.