In my experience one of the most common veterinary medical problems is obesity. It is however one of the simplest health problems to manage, as it can usually be controlled with diet and exercise. That said there are some cases where the condition stems from metabolic problems such as hypothyroidism, diabetes, or adrenal gland problems. An exam and consultation with your veterinarian, along with blood tests, can help determine if your pet has a metabolic problem as the root cause.
Since dogs are proportionally smaller than we are, what may seem be to us to be a slight weight gain will mean a great deal more for them. For instance, if a four pound Chihuahua is one pound overweight, it is the equivalent of 31.3 pounds for a 125 pound woman. For a golden retriever that is 70 pounds, a ten pound weight gain is the equivalent of 17.9 pounds for a 125 pound woman 1. It makes sense then that an equivalent weight loss could go a long way to improving his or her overall health. Also remember that what may seem like a "light snack" to you will translate into many calories for them, for instance, for a 20lb dog, one small cookie equals one hamburger or a whole chocolate bar1. Limiting snacks will then help maintain their weight closer to their ideal point.
You can monitor your pet's weight by learning how to body condition score them. Body condition scoring is based on a 1-5 scale. A body condition score of one means your pet is very thin, a score of three is ideal and a score of five means he or she is obese. To determine body condition score place your hands on your pet's ribs and feel for a fat pad. For a body condition score of one it is very easy to see the ribs and there is no fat pad. For a body condition score of two the bones are raised and there is little tissue over them. For a body condition score of three the ribs are visible but can be felt under a normal fat pad. With a condition score of four it is difficult to see or feel the ribs under the fat pad and for five the ribs can't be seen and you may not even be able to feel them under the fat pad1. If you have any questions as to whether your pet is overweight your veterinarian can give you an evaluation with a physical exam. At our clinic we include body condition scoring with every exam.
Exercising can also help maintain your pet's weight at healthy level. I suggest walking your dog at least once or twice a day, and this will help you as well as your pet. Walking is a low impact form of exercise that is easy to tailor to you and your pet's fitness level.
Please don't ignore this common health problem. Just as it can with you, controlling your pet's weight can add increased energy, enjoyment, and years to their life.
- Hills Pet Nutrition Website