Man’s best friend also shares one of their biggest (no pun intended) health problems: obesity, and many of the complications that go along with it. However, if you help your overweight or obese dog lose weight, the result will be a happier, more energetic companion who is also more emotionally stable, according to a new study.
Obese dogs have a lower quality of life
It can be difficult to resist those sad eyes peering at you and not give your dog his favorite treats or to not toss the leftovers from dinner into your dog’s dish, but these and other habits can result in an overweight or obese companion, and a host of health problems to go along with it.
More than half of the pet population in the United States is overweight or obese, which puts companion animals nearly on par with their human counterparts. In fact, according to a new study from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 53 percent of adult dogs in the United States are overweight.
Losing weight has a positive impact on the quality of life of humans, so a team of scientists from the University of Liverpool (UL) in the United Kingdom decided to determine what effect weight loss would have on obese dogs.
Weight loss program for obese dogs
Fifty obese dogs of various breeds and genders were enrolled into the study by their owners at the Royal Canin Weight Management Clinic at UL. The owners completed a questionnaire before weight loss was attempted. Some of the factors scored included activity, pain, aggression, sociability, anxiety, happiness, mobility, and enthusiasm.
The weight loss program included feeding the dogs either a high-protein, high-fiber food or a high-protein, moderate-fiber food, along with exercise changes. To determine the amount of food to give to each dog, the investigators estimated the maintenance energy requirement (MER) using target weight and factors such as gender and presence of associated diseases.
Thirty of the dogs reached their target weight, and the average percentage lost was 24.4% (range, 10.0 to 43.5%) of their starting weight. All the owners completed a follow-up questionnaire after the target weight was reached. The results were evaluated based on the dogs’ vitality, emotional disturbance, and pain.
All the dogs that lost weight experience an improvement in quality of life, which was reflected in their higher vitality scores and lower scores for emotional disturbance and pain. The more body fat a dog lost, the greater was his or her improvement in vitality score.
Among the dogs that did not complete the weight loss program, vitality scores were lower and emotional disturbance scores were higher than in their now slimmer peers.
Dr. Alexander German from the University of Liverpool noted that “This research indicates that, for obese dogs, weight loss can be important for staying both healthy and happy.” (Note that Royal Canin funded the study and provided the dog food. Some of the authors also have ties with Royal Canin.)
Dog obesity is a people problem
According to Dr. Ernie Ward, founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, “Pet obesity is plainly a people problem, not a pet problem. The most important decision pet owners make each day regarding their pet’s health is what they choose to feed it.”
Health problems associated with overweight and obese dogs include osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, breathing problems, kidney disease, and a shortened life expectancy. Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Steve Budsberg, director of clinical research at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, has voiced concern about the impact of obesity on dogs and cats who have osteoarthritis.
“It is very frustrating to see how much pain and discomfort excess weight has on my patients,” he said in a recent APOP article. Budsberg pointed out that dogs do not open up the refrigerator door and help themselves to treats. “We enable our pets to get fat!” he said.
A major contributor to overweight and obese dogs is doggie treats. An October 2011 online poll by APOP found that 93% of dog and cat owners gave their companions treats. Twenty-six percent of the respondents said they gave treats to their pets three or more times a day.
Ward called treats the “silent saboteur of slimming down,” and urged pet owners to rethink their ideas of treats. He recommended fresh vegetables such as baby carrots, broccoli, string beans, and other crunchy vegetables.
Helping your overweight or obese dog to lose weight means you must change your habits. That includes feeding your dog less but good quality food, eliminating treats or providing low-calorie treats such as vegetables, counting calories, and making sure your dog gets adequate exercise.
Dogs should be checked out by a veterinarian before starting a weight loss program to make sure they do not have any medical conditions that may be contributing to excess weight (e.g., hypothyroid) or that should be addressed during the weight loss program.
“Obesity is a risk for many dogs, affecting not only their health, but also their quality of life,” noted Dr. German. If you have an obese dog, initiating a weight loss program for your pet could mean not only a healthier dog, but also a happier, more energetic one.
Association for Pet Obesity Prevention
German AJ, Holden SL, Wiseman-Orr ML et al. Quality of life is reduced in obese dogs but improves after successful weight loss. Veterinary Journal. Available online
Image: Courtesy PhotosPublicDomain.com