The fattening of Fido

Obesity is a major problem for pet dogs

As owners go, so go their pets - or so it seems. Major studies over the past 20 years have highlighted the fattening of America and resulted in Presidential attention on prevention of obesity through public school gym programs and appointment of athlete-celebrities to make the point. It hasn't had much influence on people, and now dogs are in trouble.

People are less active than they were in the days when most worked at manual labor or exercised by splitting wood, hunting, hiking, or other physical exertion. Television, computers, and spectator sports have replaced action and high-calorie snacks have hastened the decline. Even with the emphasis on low-fat foods, we still eat too much - and feed our pets too much - for the amount of exercise in our daily lives.

Obesity in dogs is a serious medical problem. Fat dogs are more at risk in surgery, more prone to injury, and have more stress on heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and joints. Excess weight can worsen osteoarthritis, cause respiratory problems in hot weather and during exercise, lead to diabetes mellitis, and generally lessen the quality of life for a family pet.

An owner can control his pet's weight by realizing that food is not a substitute for attention or a cure for guilt and that firmness can and should be applied to the relationship. An owner who cannot resist Fluffy's soft, pleading eyes whenever food enters the vicinity is an owner contributing to Fluffy's obesity and may even be shortening her life. An owner who cannot rouse himself for a few hours each week to make sure that Singer gets enough exercise is an owner contributing to Singer's obesity and may even be shortening his life.

A guide to determine if Pal is malnourished

Purina researcher Dottie La Flamme DVM, PhD, designed a system that helps owners identify potential obesity in their pets. This nine-point grading system defines ideal condition as that in which the dog's ribs are easily felt and the waist and tuck-up (the belly area between ribcage and rear end) are discernible without being prominent. The dog in ideal condition has a thin layer of fat over the ribs.

Overweight dogs have increasing amounts of fat over the ribs and minimal or absent waist and tuck-up. Obese dogs have heavy fat over the ribs, along the spine, and around the tail. Morbidly fat dogs have protruding abdomens and fat deposits throughout their bodies.

Owners can examine their own dogs for a fat layer on the ribs and the visibility of a waist and tuck-up. Breed characteristics should be taken into account of course, as some breeds have more prominent ribs and tuck-ups when in optimum condition. In general, dogs with protruding bones and the appearance of muscle loss are too thin.

Owners can take the situation in hand right now to prevent obesity in their dogs. First, assess the dog's condition. If he appears underweight, take him to the veterinarian for a physical exam to determine the cause and extent of the problem. If he appears overweight, have him checked as well and examine both feeding and exercise programs.

Many dog food manufacturers sell low-calorie diets for dogs that are worth a look, and some companies sell prescription weight-loss diets through veterinary practices. However, caution is the rule when using these rations.

"Dogs and cats do lose weight on these diets if fed the proper amount and if the animal's metabolism can handle the increased grain protein and fiber provided by the diet," said Susan Gayle Wynn DVM in an article titled 'Weight problems in pets - do diet foods work' published on the Alternative Veterinary Medicine website ( "One common problem that we see is a gradual degeneration of coat quality. Many animals tend to stay overweight and develop dry, flaky skin."

Wynne said that a more dangerous problem can occur when a dog is kept on reduced fat diets for long periods.

"If they eat supplements of meat containing fat or even a maintenance pet food after becoming accustomed to low-fat diets, they may develop a potentially serious disease called pancreatitis," she wrote.

So what's a dog owner to do?


While exercise is vital in any program to prevent or dogs from becoming overweight or obese, some caution is necessary. Diving into a vigorous exercise program can tax underused muscles and, stress heart and lungs so start slowly and increase frequency and intensity of activities with care. An exercise program should begin with a visit to the veterinarian to assess general health and to set up an exercise program that will not stress the pet's heart or lungs or cause muscle strain or pain.

Short sessions of low or moderate activity (a walk around the block, a daily obedience routine, a regular obedience class, etc.) are a good way to start. Overweight dogs should be watched closely during exercise to make sure they do not have trouble breathing, especially in hot weather.

Remember, overweight and obesity don't happen overnight and cannot be corrected overnight.

Medical help

In January 2007, Pfizer Animal Health announced that the US Food and Drug Administration had approved their drug Slentrol, a brand name for dirlotapide, a drug that suppresses canine appetite and blocks fat absorption. The first drug for treatment of canine obesity, Slentrol may be prescribed by veterinarians for dogs that need more than a diet and exercise program to reduce their weight. More information about Slentrol) is available at

Norma Bennett Woolf

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