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Canine Obesity



• Canine obesity is a growing and common problem, with many studies suggesting that 40-50 per cent of dogs are overweight

• Over four fifths (81%) of chartered physiotherapists in animal therapy cite obesity as the number one danger facing dogs in the UK (Source: CSP, 2005)

• The main cause of canine obesity is overfeeding and insufficient exercise

• As in humans, being overweight is not only a cardiovascular danger, it also puts unnecessary strain on joints and ligaments. The same applies to man’s best friend. Overloading an animal’s joints, and compounding this with reduced exercise, can cause poor muscle tone and fitness leading to conditions such as soft tissue injuries and joint strain

• An overweight dog is more at risk if undergoing surgery; is susceptible to injury; and will experience stress on the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and joints. As the fat increases, so does the risk of developing cardiac, digestive and circulatory problems, diabetes, arthritis, fatigue, exercise and heat intolerance

• In overweight dogs, all body structures prematurely age and can lead to shortened lifespan.

Factors that increase your pet’s chances of being overweight:

• Breed – certain breeds are predisposed to obesity. These include Basset Hounds, Beagles, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Cocker Spaniels, Cairn Terriers, Dachshunds, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers and Shetland Sheepdogs

• Feeding and Lifestyle – food portion size, type of food fed and amount of exercise

• Hypothyroidism – a medical condition characterised by an under active thyroid more commonly associated with older dogs. Symptoms to look out for include: poor coat and skin, increased appetite and thirst, stiff joints and limbs, lameness or muscle pain. Report any signs to your vet who will advise on an appropriate course of treatment.

Checking your pet is overweight or obese:

Owners don’t always know how to check the correct weight of their dog. Dogs will vary in height, bone and muscle structure – so there is no ‘correct’ weight for a dog, whatever the breed. To check whether a dog is overweight, you need to examine the hips, the ribs and the neck.

• Checking the hips – run your hand over your dog’s hindquarters. You should feel the bumps of two pelvic bones without applying pressure

• Checking the ribs – place your thumbs on the dog’s back and run them along the backbone with your fingers over the ribs. If necessary, push into the fur to do this if it is thick. You should be able to feel the bumps of the ribs without applying any pressure. If you can’t feel the ribs, your dog is overweight

• Checking the neck – push your thumb and index finger into the flesh at side of the neck above the shoulder and pinch together. If your fingers are more than half an inch apart, your dog is overweight.

Other ways to check if your dog is overweight:

• When looking at your dog from the side, the abdomen should not be hanging down

• When looking at your dog from above, you should be able to see a waist behind the ribs

• With your dog standing on all fours, place your hands on each side of your dog’s chest. You should be able to feel the ribs. Your dog is too thin if you can see the ribs or they are protruding – and is overweight if you need to apply pressure to feel them.

Reducing the calories:

• If you think your dog is overweight, don’t do anything until you have discussed the matter with your vet. S/he will be able to provide you with a detailed feeding and exercise plan, if necessary

• If you are given a weight-reduction plan, be sure that you follow it! Weight loss should be a gradual process so it is important that you help your dog keep it up

• Ask your vet about regular follow-ups as you need to see if the plan is working. This may happen at set intervals until your dog reaches the desired weight.

To assist the weight-reduction plan:

• Seek advice from your vet on the kind of treats you can feed your dog whilst on the weight - reduction plan. Note: Begging for food or looking sad does not necessarily mean your dog is still hungry!

• Don’t add on extra calories by giving away high fat snacks, which you might be consuming. If you feel the need to share, make sure you reduce the amount that is fed in the next meal

• Keep food out of your dog’s sight and reach. Watch them around children who are eating and keep your dog away from bin bags to prevent stealing/raiding

• Make sure you follow the prescribed portion sizes for meals and treats and that everyone in the family is aware of the plan

• Don’t forget the exercise! Exercise and healthy eating go hand in hand. Ideally you want to build up an exercise programme that lasts between 20-60 minutes. If your breed of dog is particularly susceptible to weight gain, make sure they get enough exercise to burn off their food

• If you succeed in helping your dog reach an ideal weight, help keep it off. Talk to your vet about a maintenance programme.

Canine Fitness:

Different breeds develop at different rates. Each owner should seek fitness advice from their veterinary surgeon or chartered animal physiotherapist for their specific dog. When considering the type and extent of exercise to give your dog, it is worth considering the following points:

• Elderly or unfit dogs have very different activity requirements from adult busy working dogs and this should be considered when dogs of different ages are living together within one household

• Owners need to be aware that young dogs should not be over-exercised. Young dogs, until they’re skeletally mature, should not be taken for long walks or be chasing balls at full speed as they are not yet fully developed and are at high risk of muscle, ligament, tendon or bony injury

• Common canine health conditions can be divided into forelimb and hind limb problems. These can be associated with growth disorders or may result from overuse or traumatic injuries.

Common health problems:

• The forelimb carries most of the dog’s weight and therefore physiotherapists see many concussive injuries such as cartilage damage. In the hind limb, growth and overuse injuries often present together

• Hip dysplasia, the incidence of which is directly proportional to the increasing height and weight of a dog, has become very common

• Stifle injuries like cranial cruciate ligament strains are diagnosed frequently by veterinary surgeons. Some dogs are genetically predisposed to this injury due to the biomechanics (shape of) their hind limbs. Obesity and lack of fitness can also contribute to this condition by the joint carrying unnecessary weight and poor muscle tone supporting the joint, respectively. Turning at high speeds or going from high speed to stopping very rapidly i.e. slamming on the brakes or changing direction suddenly at full pace – for example, chasing a ball or stick at full speed, running down the stairs rapidly and having to change direction immediately at the bottom – are other risk factors.

Spotting a health problem:

The common symptoms dog-owners can look out for are a resting limb; sudden reluctance to jump in and out of the car or play with other dogs; less interaction with the family; less keen on walks or playtime; subdued behaviour or a reluctance to be touched or groomed.

Prevention is better than cure:

As with most things, prevention is often the key when it comes to good health. There are a number of measures owners can take when caring for a dog. Chartered physiotherapists advise the following:

• Lift young or old dogs in and out of cars or provide a ramp for access

• Transport dogs in a travel cage or behind a guard to keep them secure in the event of a road accident and to prevent accidents • Minimize the area of slippery floors in the home to prevent skidding and falling over

• Prevent your dog from charging up and down the stairs at great speed

• Provide regular exercise, controlled on lead initially for warm up followed by running off the lead. Ideally you want to build up an exercise programme that lasts between 20-60 minutes. Active games like ‘fetch’ or playing with other dogs are fine providing your dog is of the right age, size and shape, and is physically fit but do keep in mind the ways to minimize the risk of injury. A good alternative to land based fitness work is hydrotherapy. Contact your local veterinary surgeon or chartered animal physiotherapist for advice on the most appropriate form of exercise for your dog.

• Check claws don’t get too long as this can affect dogs’ activity

• Provide fresh water, as a good walk is thirsty work!

• Provide a soft, warm and dry place for them to rest.

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