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What is obesity?

In man obesity is defined according to strict tables involving weight and height measurements. With dogs obesity is less precisely defined because of the diversity of body size and build. Consider a Whippet compared with a St Bernard or a Chihuahua and a Great Dane!

Therefore diagnosis is more subjective than with man. We can all readily spot the grossly obese dog belonging to another. Few of us would ever accept that our own dog was even a little overweight!.

Pedigree animals are somewhat easier in that each breed has an optimum weight and simply weighing the dog will often establish whether it is obese.

With mixed breeds it is much more difficult.

Vets classify fat dogs as overweight, heavy, obese, and grossly obese. Categorizing any dog depends sometimes on skin thickness measurements as in man but more usually on examination to determine whether individual ribs can be palpated. Overweight dogs have a slight excess of fat covering the ribs and have a discernible waist. If there is a heavy fat cover over the ribs and noticeable fat deposits in the lumbar region and at the base of the tail this would be classified as a heavy dog. When the ribs cannot be felt at all, there is a lot of fat over them and there is no waist the dog is OBESE. Grossly obese describes the dog with massive fat deposits present over the thorax, the spine and the base of the tail. The waist is absent and there is usually a sagging abdomen with obvious abdominal distention.

If my dog is overweight will his behavior have changed at all?

Many obese dogs are greedy. They will bolt their food and then ask for more. They will beg for food at family mealtimes. It will be noted that their activity is seriously reduced, they sleep instead of play and frequently will only walk for short distances. Other signs are difficulty in negotiating steps and stairs. They will often pant if forced to exercise more than absolutely necessary.

What is the cause of obesity?

Simple obesity is the accumulation of excess energy which is stored as fat. In other words the dog is receiving more calories then he needs for body maintenance and energy expenditure. There are many other causes of obesity such as glandular imbalances. Some breeds such as Labradors, Spaniels and Dachshunds tend to run to fat very easily.

I had my dog neutered. Do you think this is what caused the problem?

There is some indication that neutering can increase the probability of obesity in later life. However it should be remembered that service dogs, e.g. Guide Dogs for the Blind, Hearing Dogs for the Deaf, Dogs for the Disabled, are all neutered but strict dietary control ensures that these animals are not obese.

I am sure my dog is not obese because he only eats a small quantity of food every day.

Obesity often develops insidiously. We think we are feeding our dogs only a small quantity of food but forget the odd sweet biscuit, the peppermint cream, the drink of milky tea when he goes to bed. We also forget that in comparison with us, if he happens to be a Papillon he is only a fraction of our weight so one sweet biscuit a day to him is probably equivalent to two or three packets a day to us.

What can I do?

To be told that a much loved pet is seriously overweight and can suffer health problems is always an initial shock. Compare the dog's weight with that when he was 12-24 months old. Weight should not have increased.

Positive thinking is imperative. Enlist the help of all members of the family. If you had been told your dog was suffering from a heart disease or kidney trouble you would know instinctively that this was serious. Obesity is just as serious and does require the cooperation of everyone in contact with the pet.

Weight will not come off overnight. Just like us it is a hard and often initially unrewarding struggle. Be prepared to be patient and to persevere. Write down everything he gets in a day. Often you will be surprised at the sabotage that goes on, bread put out for the birds, the odd tidbit from an indulgent friend or neighbor. You have to be vigilant.

Once weight returns to an acceptable level you will be surprised at the years that seem to have been shed. It really is worth persevering.

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