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Charles Hurty, DVM, Grove Veterinary Clinic

Article originally published in the Oregon Coast Edition of Dog Gone News

Canine obesity is a major problem for our dog population in the United States.  It is estimated that 25-40% of the general population of dogs in the United States is either overweight or obese.  Canine patients are generally regarded as being clinically obese when their body weight is at least 15% above the ideal body weight.  This is a number that has continued to grow over the last several years, indicating that this troubling problem is becoming even more significant for our canine companions.

It is also well known that obesity will dramatically reduce the life expectancy of our canines and affect their quality of life.  Not only can obesity reduce a dog's activity level, but it can also predispose a dog to many serious medical problems, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, skin infections, back pain, and arthritis.  

Perhaps the most common clinical situation that occurs secondary to being overweight or obese is orthopedic (joint and spine) stress, inflammation, and injury.  Everyday in the clinic, I see dogs dealing with orthopedic issues that are caused by or exacerbated by their overweight body condition.  In order to re-establish a good quality of life for some of these patients, costly pain medications and joint supplements are prescribed.  Sometimes these weight-related joint problems, such as ACL tears, require surgical correction.  Many of these problems can be avoided and improved with weight reduction and dietary management.

Canine obesity can be caused by several different medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism or Cushing's disease.   It has also been established that some dog breeds are prone to developing weight problems; these breeds include beagles, basset hounds, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, cocker spaniels, dachshunds, and corgis.  More often than not obesity is a consequence of inappropriate feeding and/or a lack of enough exercise.

Approaching obesity and trying to get our dogs to lose weight is easier said than done.  It truly is a team effort.  It is important to discuss an appropriate plan with your veterinarian, and all members of the family need to invested in the process.  It is important to take a slow and steady approach toward making changes for weight loss.  Too rapid a weight loss can actually be dangerous, so making plans for gradual and healthy weight loss is important.  In addition to proper diet selection, a move towards increased exercise is also needed.  How much exercise and activity is needed can be determined by you and your veterinarian, as you work together in developing a health weight loss plan.

Since obesity is a major problem that can affect your dog's lifespan and quality of life, it is important to recognize this issue early and avoid facing this problem and its possible and probable sequelae.


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