Saturday, March 13, 2010

Obese Dogs

I got a call two days ago from our local Labrador Retriever rescue group. They had in their possession a 4-year-old chocolate female described as sweet, smart and overweight. We have four Labs at our house, so if I was to consider fostering this dog, I had to check with my housemate before adding a fifth. She didn't hesitate for a moment. "When can you pick her up?" was her response. So began a new journey in canine foster care.

Her new name is Nani (Hawaiian for beautiful). She is dark chocolate with amber eyes. She has a quiet demeanor, loves people and is blending quickly into the pack. She weighs 122 pounds. My guess is her ideal weight is 75-80 pounds, which makes her morbidly obese. Her brother, Murphy, is two inches taller than her at the shoulder. He weighs a very fit 90 pounds. Her girth (chest measurement just behind the front legs) is 42". Murphy's girth is 33". We have a long road ahead of us to get this girl healthy.

Are you killing your dog with food?
So why would anyone allow a dog to become as fat as Nani? Obesity is not invisible. It's pretty obvious by looking at her that she's really, really overweight. The why is unfathomable to me. So let's address the reasons to keep Fido fit. Fat dogs are more at risk during surgery and are more prone to injury than fit dogs. Extra weight puts stress on the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and joints. Arthritis and respiratory problems can be made worse by excessive weight. Pet parents need to understand that food is not a substitute for attention. A lazy owner - one who does not get his dog out daily for play, a leash walk, and interaction with the larger world - not only contributes to his dog's obesity but may well shorten his dog's life. It's neglect, plain and simple.

If your dog is overweight like Nani, where do you begin to get the excess weight off? Start with a visit to the vet for a general health assessment. While you're there, ask if you should change your dog's diet. Certainly cut down on your dog's food intake. Make sure the food you feed is healthy and that Fido gets no junk food. Some vegetables and fruits are great snacks for dogs. Try carrots, green beans, bits of apple and banana. Next, start slowly with a regimen of moderate activity. Ask your vet's advice about Fido's new exercise program. You want to make sure that it will not put stress on his heart or lungs or cause muscle strain. In general terms, a daily walk around the block is a great place to start. Keep a close eye on your dog to make sure he is not having trouble breathing, especially in hot weather. Slowly increase the length and pace of the walk. Enroll your canine friend in an obedience class. It's a great way to expand his world and gently increase his level of activity.

Dogs should have a waist. Between the ribcage and tail there should be an indent. Remember that Fido did not get fat overnight. Neither will he get fit overnight.

 Nani - approximately 40 lbs. overweight.

Murphy's waist.
He's at an angle, so you can only see the dent on his left side.

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