Ask Leo About Dogs – Dog Obesity and Weight Loss
Like my owners, their friends, and most Americans, my New Year’s resolution for 2012 is to lose the extra weight. I am a cocker spaniel and although I’m supposed to weigh 25 pounds, when I went to the vet in December I was completely mortified to see the scale say 35! And then I went and ate all sorts of holiday cookies, table scraps, and special treats I got from Santa Paws. I’m so ashamed, Leo! My favorite place to hang out is underneath my family’s bed, and I’m now too fat to fit under there! Do you have any recommendations for how I can lose the weight and get my body back in 2012?
I’m so sorry to hear of your weight problem! You are definitely not alone: in the US 43 million dogs – 55 % of us -- are overweight or obese. This is a much more serious problem than not being able to fit into your favorite hiding place. Overweight and obese dogs face many of the same problems that overweight people do: arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, kidney disease, and joint injury. And also like people, all of these health problems quickly add up to reduced life expectancy – sometimes up to 2.5 years less for dogs. Since the average dog in America lives to around 10, being overweight is potentially taking away a whole quarter of your time with your family.
Muffin, I’m sure you’ve seen the sorts of crazy stuff dogs and their owners do to try to lose weight. They sell dog diet programs at the major chain pet stores. These come with diet food, vitamins, and weight loss books. There are even dog weight loss drugs on the market. They say it works by blocking the absorption of extra fat and making you think you are full sooner.
In case you’re about to go beg your Mom to take you to the vet to get a prescription, I’ve got the same advice as that crazy blonde lady who used to be on TV –- stop the insanity! Think for a minute. This is the same type of quick fix Americans try to use for themselves. And obviously fad diets, prescription drugs, and even weight loss surgery are not working for them – 68% of American adults are overweight or obese. It makes sense that these people who mindlessly feed themselves and do not exercise also do the same to their dogs. They claim we look “hungry” or “sad” so they feel compelled to share some popcorn or omelet with us. But Muffin, you and I both know that dogs and humans have been BFFs for at least 12,000 years – that’s a long time for our ancestors to hang around the cave and practice the “sad” or “hungry” looks that resulted in some yummy scraps being thrown their way.
But it’s not all bad, Muffin! While your family might have a hard time keeping themselves thin, for you, it could not be easier! You have the biggest weight loss advantage ever going for you – without those darned opposable thumbs; you can’t make any midnight runs to the refrigerator, or sneak just one more cookie out of the treat jar. Nope, like all of us dogs, what you eat completely depends on what your humans give you. That is how you got fat, and that is how you can get your cute little cocker spaniel body back.
The simplest thing your family should do is cut down on the amount you are given in your bowl at regular feeding times. They should NOT pay attention to what it says on the back of the dog food bag. While growing puppies need to eat those amounts, remember that with adult dogs you are just trying to maintain body weight – or in your case, lose it. Think about it, Muffin – just like manufacturers of human food, dog food makers are trying to make your family buy more of their product! So of course they want you to finish a bag of food sooner.
Muffin, I’ve never been overweight myself because my Mom believes my weight is the single most important factor in my health (besides giving me high quality food, which I’ll discuss in an upcoming column.) In fact, when we moved to California and she started bringing me to work, I put on a few pounds. She found out that this was because the other people in her office were feeding me treats, and even human food, when she wasn’t looking! She figured there was really no way to be sure they wouldn’t continue to feed me behind her back, so she just cut back on my dog food. Now I weigh 65 pounds and I eat just 1 cup of food for breakfast and 1 cup of food for dinner. They actually measure out my food with a kitchen measuring cup. Because I only get 2 cups of dog food, my Dad, who likes to share, can still give me treats and even bits of human food sometimes. Everyone is happy. Also, I get lots of regular walks – my family shoots for half an hour to an hour every day. This helps keep my weight in check.
One more trick: just like people, you can tell if you’re at a healthy weight by seeing how easy it is to feel your ribs. If you can’t feel them at all, even when you poke and prod, you’re overweight. If you can see them, you’re too skinny. But if your mom can put her hands on you and feel them easily, you’re good to go,
Good luck Muffin! I know you can do it – or rather, I know your people can do it because really, this one is up to them.
For more statistics on dog obesity, see the web page of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, www.petobesityprevention.com
Leo is a Los Angeles-based goldendoodle who answers questions about dogs and their owners. Find his past columns on thedoggiedish.com, and email him with any new questions at: email@example.com
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