smhipa1Obesity is one of the greatest causes of long term illness in dogs. Recent studies have shown that as many as 50% of dogs and 40% of cats are overweight. While these figures might not be as relevant here in Vanuatu, there are still a lot of obese dogs here!

Obesity can lead to life threatening conditions such as cardiovascular disease, liver disease and diabetes. Obesity also puts extra stress on your pet’s joints and is likely to exacerbate the signs of arthritis. If a dog is not treated for obesity it will begin to suffer complications causing a shorter lifespan and a reduction in their quality of life. The good news is that you can control your dog’s weight by controlling their diet and exercise regime. That should be simple enough – right? Well, not always. Most owners of overweight dogs know that obesity is detrimental to their health and wellbeing; however they find it hard to say ‘No’ to their pet and stick to a routine.

How can I tell if my dog is overweight or obese?

It is easy to tell your dog is overweight by looking at its physical condition. If you cannot feel their ribs or backbone and they are looking round- it’s a pretty clear picture. Another way is to look at their weight history at the vet. Most vets have scales and will have records of your dog’s weight over the years that give you an indication of weight gain.   If in doubt ask the vet. It is also a good idea to get a check-up to make sure there are no underlying medical conditions, such as hypothyroid, that could be the cause of your dog’s weight gain.

Your dog is overweight because it eats too much.

This is always true, whether you like it or not. The best way to get your dog to lose weight is to limit the amount of food they eat. Just like humans, the older we get the less active we tend to become. The older dog won’t need nearly as much food as it used to. Cut back on the portion size and feed them a couple of times a day instead of just the once. Avoid giving dogs treats- give them a nice pat instead. If you want to keep giving them treats, try healthy ones instead such as a chunk of apple or carrot. Some dogs love them! Once a week instead of a normal meal feed them a large meaty bone. It will keep them occupied for hours and is good for their teeth.

Never leave food out during the day

Dogs will eat till they drop. Never get into the habit of leaving bowls of dry food lying around or topping up the bowls before going to work. Feed them their portion of food. – If they don’t finish it after a certain time (say ½ hour) pick up the remaining food and put it away.

Exercise is a must!

Dogs will pile on the weight if they are sitting around at home all day and not getting enough exercise. Try and get into the habit of giving them at least ½ hour of exercise daily- For example going for a walk/ run on the beach, playing ball or swimming (which is particularly good for older dogs with arthritis). You’ll find that not only will the kilos fall off but they will be happier, healthier and you will enjoy them more. There is nothing more motivating than seeing your hard work pay off. Monitor your dog’s weight loss by weighing and recording their weight each week. An obese dog should lose between 1-2 % of its bodyweight each week. If it is not working it is time to adjust your strategy. Try changing your dog’s diet, taking them for more frequent and longer periods of exercise and providing them with smaller portions of food. Getting your dog to shed the kilos shouldn’t be a hard task. Remember to talk to your vet, be creative and above all be patient.

With Dr. Karin O’Connor from Port Vila Vet Clinic.