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Overweight Dog in the White House, How About Yours?

Overweight dog in the White House, Bo

Several news sources have reported recently that Bo Obama, the White House dog, is overweight and is on a diet. Therefore, it seems like a good time to take stock of your own dog and ask yourself, "Is my dog overweight?"

If the answer is yes, what are you going to do about it? Here are some guidelines and suggestions.

Is your dog overweight?

The US News & World Report recently reported that Bo Obama, the presidential Portuguese water dog, is packing a few extra pounds. This revelation came to light during the recent first Kids State Dinner (actually a luncheon) when the president told the attendees that "I only have only one request for you, and that is try not to drop any scraps on the floor. Because Bo...is on a diet right now."

Perhaps Michelle Obama is behind the efforts to help Bo lose weight, especially given her role as a champion of childhood obesity. Addressing the problem of overweight and obese dogs may be a different challenge than overweight children. Or is it?

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), 53 percent of adult dogs are overweight, as noted in its 2012 survey. The main cause of this problem is pet parents: they overfeed their dogs. Period. Dogs do not drive themselves to the store, buy the food, and put it in their bowls. Pet parents do (whereas children can feed themselves), yet adults clearly have a role in both cases.

Hats off to the Obama family for recognizing that Bo is overweight, because many pet parents do not. According to Dr. Ernie Ward, APOP founder, "The most distressing finding in this year's study was the fact that more pet owners are unaware their pet is overweight. Twenty-two percent of dog owners ... characterized their pet as normal weight when it was actually overweight or obese."

Tips to identify a fat dog
Therefore, one of the first challenges to overcoming the dog overweight/obesity problem is getting pet parents to recognize the problem. To help with this challenge, here are some guidelines to recognizing an overweight or obese dog:

  • When standing over your dog, you should see some curves indicating a waistline (just after the ribs) and a gradual slope to the base of the tail. If your dog has a very hairy coat, run your hands along either side of your dog's spine to see the outline.
  • When viewing your dog from the side, he or she should have a slight tucked up area just in front of the back legs.
  • You should be able to feel your dog's ribs and backbone when you apply gentle pressure with your fingertips. If you can't, then your dog has too much body weight.

If you are still having difficulty understanding overweight and obesity in dogs, here are some relevant comparisons from APOP, according to Dr. Ward:

  • A Golden Retriever who weighs 95 pounds is like a 5'4" human female who weighs 184 pounds or a 5'9" male who weighs 214 pounds.
  • A Chihuahua who weighs 10 pounds is like a 5'4" human female who weighs 242 pounds or a 5'9" male who weighs 254 pounds

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When treats are no treat
Treats are considered to be a significant contributor to dog obesity. That's because the majority of pet parents (95% according to a recent APOP online poll) confess to giving their pets treats. Just over one-quarter admitted giving their pet treats three or more times a day.

You can readily see how many calories are in a box of cookies or a half pint of ice cream by reading the label, but how many calories are in your dog's biscuits or other treats?

Perhaps more than you know. Here are a few comparisons.

  • A premium pig ear, which contains about 231 calories, when given to a 40-pound dog is equivalent to a human adult eating 6 ounces of potato chips (about 840 calories).
  • When you give your 20-pound dog a typical dog biscuit (27 calories), the treat is equivalent to an adult human eating just one butter cookie (about 180 calories). Other treats you may give to your dog can have a significant impact on the canine's health.

If your dog is begging for food, try giving him a raw baby carrot, a piece of raw bell pepper, or a raw green bean. Then take him for a walk, play ball, groom him, or some other activity to take his mind--and yours--off food. Show your dog you care by giving him attention, not food.

Ward warns that "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." Obese and overweight dogs are prone to heart problems, diabetes, arthritis, and an earlier death.

President Obama has made an executive decision and declared that Bo is too fat and is on a diet. Regardless of your politics, this is a wise decision and action on his part.

People and Dogs Can Achieve Weight Loss Together

How about your dog? Is there an overweight dog in your house, and if so, what are you going to do about it?

Association for Pet Obesity Prevention
US News

Image: Wikimedia Commons