GSD Health: Obesity


by Chris Harriman

Obese Rommell

Studies show that as Americans continue to gain weight, so do their pets. Their obesity is just as dangerous to them as it is to humans. Like humans, dogs develop certain diseases when they are overweight. If not corrected, obesity can lead to more serious complications such as diabetes and heart disease so it’s important to make sure that your dog eats a healthy diet and receives plenty of exercise.

There are several reasons that your dog may be overweight or even obese.  The two most common are overfeeding and not enough exercise. Usually substantial weight gain is caused by well-meaning owners who tend to give out more treats than is healthy, or think that a couch potato dog is a happy dog.

Studies have found a strong correlation between owners’ weight gains and dogs’. Owners that are struggling with excess weigh project their hunger onto the dog and tend to give too much food or too many treats. After all, we know how hungry we feel and how much we suffer as we struggle to lose weight! We don’t want our “babies” to suffer too. And who can resist those sad eyes telling us though they just ate, they really ARE starving and need some of your pizza.

There are other reasons why your dog may be overweight. Certain health conditions such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease may cause your dog to gain weight. If your dog is overweight or has had a sudden weight gain (or loss), the first thing you should do is have your veterinarian do a full exam. This will help rule out any underlying health conditions.

As your dog ages, she may also begin to gain weight. Older dogs are not as active and their metabolism slows. Added weight on seniors is a concern because of the additional stress on old dog’s heart, hips and elbows. If your senior dog is putting on weight, you should switch her to a high quality food specifically formulated for seniors.

Obese Rommell & foster dad, Dan

Some breeds of dogs are especially prone to weight gain, like the Labrador Retriever. Some breeds, like the German Shepherd, are also prone to hip and elbow dysplasia along with other degenerative joint diseases. Since there is a strong correlation between overweight dogs and these disabling diseases, it is especially important to keep your dog slim and trim.

Fat dogs are also more at risk in surgery, more prone to injury, and have more stress on their heart, lungs, liver and kidneys. Allowing your dog to become or stay overweight brings with it numerous potential health concerns. Among those are:

  • hip dysplasia and other joint disorders
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol levels
  • thyroid problems
  • diabetes
  • respiratory disorders such as sleep apnea or a collapsed trachea
  • kidney problems
  • mammary and bladder cancers
  • heat intolerance and/or heat stroke
  • decreased immune function

If you are not sure if your dog is overweight, there is a very easy way to check. First take a look at your dog. A dog of normal weight should have an indentation at his waistline, whereas an overweight dog will not have a waistline. Look at him from the side. His tummy should slope upward as it gets closer to his tail. How much slope there is will also depend on the breed. Check out Purina’s Adult Body Condition Chart to see what an ideal weight looks like.

Next, flatten out your hand and run it over your dog’s rib cage. Using slight pressure, you should be able to count each rib. There should not be a thick layer of fat over his ribs nor should you be able to count your dog’s ribs just by looking at them. Also, feel the base of his tail where it meets the body. The bones should be easily detectable and not covered in fat.

obese dogs are at risk for many diseases which can lead to an early death

Obese dogs are at risk for many diseases.

If your dog is overweight, it’s time to make a plan to help him become healthy. First, visit your veterinarian to rule out health issues.

Next, take a look at what you are feeding him. If you are free feeding your dog, stop! Measure the food you put in your dog’s bowl. You may be feeding more than you think. Make sure you feed him smaller amounts twice a day instead of just one large meal. This will help keep your dog’s blood sugars more steady, and decrease the likelihood of gastric torsion, which is often called bloat. Feeding your dog a high quality dog food lets you cut down on the amount given each meal, as more of the food is used by the dog’s digestive system. 

Change your dog’s food slowly; mixing it with the food you’ve been currently feeding. If you’ve already been feeding your dog high quality food, remember to cut your dog’s food down a little at a time. Don’t cut it in ½ immediately but work towards that goal. It takes time to slim down and even if you don’t see immediate results, it will happen.

Rommel, still overweight but looking so much better!

Next, watch how many treats you’re giving your dog. Like humans, calories count and empty, sugar-laden calories can really add up quickly. Do you give your dog leftovers from you dinner? Save the pizza crusts because they love them as much as you do? Let your dog finish up the end of your nightly ice cream? Does he get a treat or two just for being such a good boy or performing that trick that you just love? If so, you may need to cut down a bit. Give your dog four small pieces of pizza crust instead of 3 entire ones. Buy small dog treats and break them into little pieces. Your dog won’t mind. Or try substituting pieces of carrots or other vegetables or fruit instead. (Don’t feed your dog grapes or raisins though, as they can cause kidney failure).

Dogs need exercise to keep them healthy. Rommell’s trim tummy lets him run and play which makes him happy!

Be aware that dogs are scavengers and when you cut down their food, they may suddenly start raiding the trash or counter surfing. This doesn’t mean they are starving though, so don’t go back to over-feeding them. Just move or cover the trash and keep food off the counters until this new behavior stops.

Rommel now slim and trim. He’s healthier and happier.

Most importantly, make sure your dog gets exercise daily. You can do this with long walks, play sessions, or strenuous training sessions. This will help keep muscles in shape and bodies functioning properly. Time alone in a yard is not sufficient. If your dog is overweight, start exercising him slowly.

Too much too soon can cause your dog injury and discomfort, so use moderation. Start with a few slow, short 15-minute walks daily. After your dog has adjusted, step the time up so you’re walking an hour a day.

It can be difficult to find time to walk your dog. Most people today are very busy, but taking time to walk with your dog will help you develop more of a bond, and keep him calmer and happier. As an added bonus, you’ll be in better shape and walking will help keep YOU healthier.   

If you can’t get out and walk with your dog, then find another activity that will help him get moving. Teach him to play ball in your back yard using two balls and have him run hard. Take him swimming if it’s warm enough or you have an indoor dog pool nearby. Take him to agility, Rally-O, or doggie dancing classes.

If your health doesn’t allow for you to do any activity with him, don’t give up! There are numerous people that walk dogs for a living that will come and walk your dog for you. Or purchase a tread-mill and slowly acclimate your dog to using it. Start first by having him just stand on it (you can use small treats at first to bribe him), then slowly walking on it (again using treats until he’s used to feeling the treadmill move beneath his feet), and eventually trotting along at a comfortable pace.

It takes time and commitment to help an overweight dog slim down. We over feed our dogs because we love them and want to make them happy. But an obese dog’s life expectancy is much shorter than a healthy, trim dog’s. If you want cuddles and kisses from your dog for many years, then be careful that you’re not killing him with kindness.

Rommell after losing 35 pounds, along with Dan, who helped him do it.

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