The Serious Impact of Excess Weight on Your Dog's Health & What To Do About It
Canine obesity should be considered an epidemic with approximately 1 in 5 household dogs being reported as overweight or obese. Take a look at the Body Condition Score below to see what over weight actually looks like.
The implications on quality of life and health are vast, including a shortened lifespan, an increased risk and severity of osteoarthritis, impaired immune function and kidney disease.
ARTHRITIS, INJURY AND PAIN
In a study of Labrador Retrievers, one half of the group was fed as much food as they wanted for three years, and the other half was fed an energy restricted diet (25% less food than the other group).
The Labradors on a restricted diet had a reduced risk of osteoarthritis and orthopedic disorders. The dogs were x-rayed at 30, 42, 54, 78 and 104 weeks old. Even at only 30 weeks old, the dogs in the limit-fed group had fewer incidences of hip dysplasia than the control fed dogs. At the age of two, 66% of the control fed dogs had hip dysplasia but it was only present in 29% of the limit-fed dogs. This may be the result of reduced body weight or decreased growth rate, but it cannot be debated that limited feeding reduces the risk of hip dysplasia.
Even if being over weight isn’t the cause of a dog’s osteoarthritis, it will certainly increase the severity: Between the ages of 3 and 5, the number of dogs in each group with osteoarthritis of the hips did not change, but the severity did. The body weight of the limit fed dogs was 25% less and the severity of their osteoarthritis increased much less than that of the control fed dogs’ disease.
In addition to the effects on arthritis, obese dogs are also more likely to experience orthopedic injuries due to increased joint stress. For example, torn cruciate ligaments are three times more prevalent in dogs with a BCS of 4.5 – 5, than in dogs with a BCS of 1 – 3.5.
IT’S NOT TOO LATE
Weight loss in overweight/obese dogs can also significantly decrease symptoms of osteoarthritis in the hips. A study of 16 dogs displayed better function of their hind legs and an improved gait after a BCS reduction to 4-5, from 6-8. We can assume there was also a decrease in pain and discomfort.
Among the numerous non-orthopedic related issues faced by obese dogs, is impaired immune and kidney function. Another study comparing a group of obese dogs to lean dogs, demonstrated that in the early stages of obesity, several structural changes to the kidneys occur. These changes are likely the precursors for kidney disease caused by long-term obesity.
Imagine losing your best friend 1.8 years earlier than necessary?
The most serious impact that obesity has on canine health is an overall reduction in longevity. Of the dogs in the Labrador study the energy-restricted dogs had less body fat and lived 1.8 years longer than the limit-fed dogs. That’s huge.
LOSING WEIGHT SAFELY
Given the number of serious diseases and illnesses that stem from, or are exacerbated by obesity, one can conclude that obesity is one of the largest threats to health faced by domestic dogs. And considering the pain associated with orthopedic injury and osteoarthritis, we can determine that obesity is also a threat to quality of life.
If you need advice about your dog’s weight, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Remember that the best way to help your dog lose weight is to feed the correct number of calories for his/her ideal weight. Resist the urge to run your dog hard in an effort to shed weight, as this can lead to injury, and sadly, a slow recovery process is yet another challenge faced by obese dogs. We also believe that as with humans, the best nutrition for canine weight loss is a fresh, bioavailable, whole-food diet. And we can help with that too!