Dr. Mc’s Veterinary Tales

McFadden: Owners of obese pets loving them to death

drmc@mcmenagerie.comJune 21, 2014 

Would anyone be interested in starting a gym for dogs? Instead of tight shorts and weight lifting equipment, we could sponsor sequined collars and encourage exercises like the “biscuit stretch.”

In today’s world, the working dog is almost a thing of the past – the majority of our pets have only to fight their way out of bed in the morning to get to the food bowl. For many of them, grateful to get a daily walk, the widely promoted high protein foods are not necessary. An incessant bombardment of dog jerky and canine biscuits, table scraps and cocktail peanuts “rounds out” many a pet’s daily diet – and doesn’t do much for their health.

They waddle in. Some of the smallest breeds can still be carried in. A few you expect to see float in, sort of doggie balloons propped above toothpick legs like the carnival man’s balloon-on-a stick. The owner usually says, “Aw, shucks, Doc, we just love her (or him) so much.”

You’re going to love them to death.

Yes, dogs have problems like high cholesterol, fatty liver disease, pancreatitis, heart disease and joint degeneration (arthritis) related to obesity. The rise of diabetes mellitus or sugar diabetes in dogs and cats has alarmed veterinarians across the nation and is believed to be partly attributable to overweight conditions. Every pet that comes in for an exam is now recommended to receive a Body Condition Score (BCS), meant to sound an alarm if the pet is too heavy or, rarely, too thin.

So, let’s discuss fat. Fat is looking at your dog and not seeing the curvy indentation in front of the rear legs and hips that we call a “waist.” Fat is groping over your dogs’ chest searching in vain for a rib. Fat is obvious. Deciding on the correct weight for your dog is less obvious. I recommend to take a few pounds off and look at your dog. It can be that simple. One guideline is the ability to feel the ribs easily, with a thin layer of fat covering them.

How to take the pounds off? The secret will disappoint you: fewer calories, more exercise. On a weight reduction program your dog can lose up to 1 pound a week. Toy breeds may set a goal of 1 pound weight loss per month. Your veterinarian can guide you safely in this area. It is true that some dogs can suffer from thyroid gland disorders that predispose them toward obesity. Some medications can cause weight gain as a side effect. Older dogs may have health problems that preclude dieting. For these reasons dogs with severe weight problems or on medication should be examined first by their veterinarian.

One of my favorite success stories was watching a 45-pound dachshund make it to a healthy 22 pounds. She did require the aid of a balanced prescription reducing diet, but she came through with flying colors! She acted years younger, cavorting around, full of pep and energy. Her family was wonderfully supportive, despite an embarrassing incident. At the height of her diet, the owners of Greta entertained their minister at a small luncheon. Conversation flowed, congeniality reigned. Suddenly the jaws of the dieting dachshund leaped out, snatching the minister’s sandwich from his very lips. Just as quickly, she disappeared again. Shaken, the good man left soon after. Word has it she never repented.

Christine McFadden holds a license to practice veterinary medicine and surgery. She has cared for the family pets of Merced at Valley Animal Hospital for more than 30 years. Send questions or comments to drmc@mcmenagerie.com.

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