Both Mimi and Delphine were obese on intake, Mimi particularly. Their spay surgery has had to be postponed as a result. Why? Obesity poses an extra anesthetic risk because drug dosing becomes less accurate. (It is hard to estimate a patient's lean body mass for drug dosing if it is encased in a fat suit.) Furthermore, anesthesia is inherently suppressive to respiration and adding a constrictive jacket of fat only serves to make proper air exchange more challenging. And still further, surgery in the abdomen is hampered by the slippery nature of the extra fat as well as difficulty visualizing all the normal structures through the copious fat deposits.
Obesity results in other health risks as well. The over-weight animal has unneeded stress on joints, including the discs of the vertebrae, as well as ligaments and tendons. This extra stress leads to the progression of joint degeneration and creates more pain. Weight management alone decreases and can even eliminate the need for arthritis medications. The problem is compounded as joint pain leads to poorer mobility, which in turn leads to greater obesity.
Respiration is compromised by obesity. The obese pet has a good inch or two of fat forming a constricting jacket around the chest. This makes the pet less able to take deep breaths as more work is required to move the respiratory muscles. Areas of the lung cannot fully inflate, so coughing may result. The pet also overheats more easily.
As in humans, very overweight pets are more prone to developing diabetes, which can be both expensive and difficult to treat in an animal the size of a Newfoundland.
And lastly, but certainly not least, studies have shown obesity leads to shortened lifespan in dogs. In a study of Labrador retrievers, dogs kept lean lived an average of 2.5 years longer than their overweight counterparts.
How do you tell if your dog is obese? From the side, your pet should have a discernible waist with a bit of a tuck-up behind the ribcage. From above, the dog should not have a rounded or apple appearance. In other words, if your dog looks pregnant but you are sure that he is not, he is too fat. I like to rely on a hands-on assessment, particularly in long-haired beasts. The skin over the ribs should move back and forth freely. Press – you should be able to feel the ribs easily. If you have to press to make out individual ribs, there is too much fat. If you can barely feel ribs, the dog is obese. And if you can't feel ribs at all, that indicates severe morbid obesity (right, Mimi?) That's not just fluffy, that's flab!
Click on the chart to see in larger sizeWhat can you do about obesity? First, control food intake. Your dog can't hop into the car and run to the convenience store to grab a bag of chips. YOU control what and how much she eats. Use a measuring cup! It's important to be accurate about amount fed. There are "light" diets available. These are about 10 to 15% lower in calories than regular maintenance diets. (This is not an excuse to feed more!) There are also prescription diets available from your veterinarian which are even more restricted in calories and also contain ingredients to help burn fat and maintain muscle mass. Divide feedings into two or more meals per day. Not only does this help keep your dog less hungry, but there is a slight metabolic rise after eating that helps to use up a few extra calories. Controlling snacks is important. Limit snacks to low cal treats like air-popped popcorn, mini rice cakes, crunchy veggies, or even ice cubes (maybe add a little broth to the water before freezing to increase appeal.) Show affection by extra attention, pats, playtime, massage rather than feeding constantly.
Get moving! This increases fitness, burns calories, and increases metabolism. If your dog is very out of shape, like Mimi and Delphine, start with gentle exercise like walking. Gradually work up to more vigorous activity. Swimming is excellent since the water provides a lot of resistance but also support to avoid excess strain on joints. Walking with your dog provides health benefits for you, too.
Try using food puzzles (like Buster Cube or Canine Genius) to have your dog work for her food instead of gulping it all down in a nanosecond. She will feel more satisfied, both physically and mentally.
If Rover is having a lot of difficulty shedding excess weight, be sure to have him checked over by your veterinarian. Medical problems such as low thyroid can make it hard to get the pounds off, and need to be addressed.
Love your pet by keeping her trim. She will be happier, healthier, and live longer.