We have all had it drilled into our heads over the years the dangers of letting ourselves get too heavy. But how much do we know about the perils of letting our dogs get overweight?
Dachshund owners don’t have to be told about the risk of IVDD (Intervertebral Disk Disease), Some studies show that overweight dogs increase their risk of serious joint complications by 29%! Arthritis and hip dysphasia are also common in overweight dogs. Muscles, tendons, and ligaments can also be deteriorated prematurely due to the stress of carrying extra weight. The anterior crucial element ligament in a dog’s knees is very prone to strains or tears. This can not only be extremely painful for the dog, but it often requires an expensive surgery to repair.
Many other ailments can be traced back to a few extra pounds on a small dog. One of the most common effects of obesity in dogs is diabetes. Being overweight causes the body to produce more insulin to accommodate the extra body tissue. Eventually the body needs more insulin than it can produce and the result is diabetes. Life expectancy of a diabetic dog is on average just three years.
The list of other life threatening ailments made worse by allowing your dog to become overweight is long and frightening. Heart disease, high blood pressure, difficulty breathing, decreased stamina, heat intolerance, decreased liver function, increased surgical and anesthetic risks, digestive disorders, decreased immune function, skin and hair problems, increased risk of cancer, and decreased quality and length of life is more than enough to cause us “doggie parents” to have nightmares.
We have rescued several senior, obese dogs over the years. A few of them lost their life-long families because their weight made them cranky and they struck out at a toddler. Others came to our sanctuary with severe back problems and decreased ability to exercise to reduce their weight. So it becomes a vicious cycle. They get fat and ill, they get grumpy or mean, they don’t want to move around, their vet care expenses go through the roof, and they find themselves in a situation that not only threatens their lives, but threatens their connections to their families.
I’ve had people tell me over the years that their dog won’t eat dog food. They feel forced to feed a dog from their table, and the dog suffers drastically. My experience with dogs is that their instinct to survive will force them to eat at some point. If an overweight dog doesn’t like the dog food you offer them, it will not hurt them to fast for a day or two as long as they are still hydrating.
We have, of course, made accommodations for senior dogs, dogs with infected teeth, or malnourished dogs. These dogs may need some creative answers to get their nutrition. It is not beyond me to scramble eggs or feed baby food to a dog in these situations. But these are exceptions to the rule.
Our responsibilities to our dogs are comprehensive. We are the ones that determine what they eat, how much they eat, and how much exercise and medical care they get. All dog owners have felt the pain of losing a dog they loved. Our grief is often complicated with thoughts of “What else could I have done for this beloved member of my family?” Often the answer to that question is there is nothing else you could have done. But if your dog is overweight, if you can’t see a waistline on your dog from the top view, or if your dog shows signs of some of the illnesses caused from or complicated by being a little too plump, now is the time to take action.
A dog on a diet doesn’t really understand that it is getting less food. You can still give your dog a treat everyday, just break it into smaller pieces. They still feel they got the treat, you still feel like you are spoiling them, and they consume less calories. Most dogs would be thrilled with a little extra exercise in the form of added walks with Mom or Dad, toys that produce added activity, a dip in the pool for some fun water aerobics, etc. You know your dog, and you know what kind of activities it will participate in.
The answer to an obese dog is not a simple, fast solution. But the benefits to the dog, to you, and the entire family from reversing a dangerous trend of weigh gain, are more than worth the effort.