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The Health Impacts of Obesity on Dogs

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The Health Impacts of Obesity on Dogs

Posted by Juan Hernandez on
Updated at: February 09, 2021

Plenty of attention and research is given to the impacts of obesity on health, but we typically associate those conversations with the health of humans. What about animal obesity? 

According to new research from the University of Liverpool in the UK, the lifespan of obese dogs can be shortened by two and a half years when compared to ideal-weight dogs. The results of the study were published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, observing more than 50,000 dogs across a dozen different popular breeds by compiling the data of middle-aged dogs aged 5.5 to 9.5 years old which were seen by a vet between 1994 and 2015 in the United States. And considering most breeds have a life expectancy between 10 and 12 years, that’s cutting a pet’s life by as much as 25 percent in the most extreme cases.  

One of the biggest and perhaps most obvious challenges in treating obesity in dogs is that it can actually be tough for owners to spot. And of course, as their caretakers, they can also be very literally feeding the problem. 

"For many owners, giving food, particularly tasty table scraps and tidbits, is the way we show affection for our pets," said Alex German, a professor at the university. Statistically, this is normal behavior of ours. Fifty-four percent of dog and cat owners tend to give their pets food simply because they recognize them begging for it, and 22 percent will overfeed their pet because they feel it keeps them happy, according to Better Cities For Pets. 

"Owners are often unaware that their dog is overweight, and many may not realise the impact that it can have on their health," said German. “What they may not know is that if their beloved pet is too heavy, they are more likely to suffer from other problems such as joint disease, breathing issues, and certain types of cancer, as well as having a poorer quality of life. These health and well-being issues can significantly impact how long they live," he added.

According to the study, Yorkshire Terriers are most drastically affected when obese. Even though it’s tough to even imagine the tiny, furry, and lovable breed as overweight, they were found to die as much as 30 months earlier than regular-weight dogs of the same breed. Although they’re inconsistent in size overall, they are typically expected to only be about eight or nine inches at the shoulders and weigh less than 10 pounds with four to six pounds being the preferred size of this tiny breed, living anywhere from 13 to 16 years usually. 

On the opposite end of the scale in this study was the German Shepherd, who was found to be affected by obesity the least in comparison to healthy weight dogs of the same breed. They were found to have their lives shortened by an average of five months when overweight. Females of this breed are typically around 70 pounds while males can inch their way toward 90 pounds, typically falling short of that, usually living anywhere from nine to 13 years. 

And in between those ends of the spectrum were American cocker spaniels, beagles, dachshunds, boxers, and pit bulls, with researchers pointing out that “Even in the breeds for which the effect was least pronounced, such shortening is likely to be important because most owners would wish to ensure that their dog lives a long and healthy life.” 

Researchers warned that just like humans, dogs become more susceptible to cancer, high blood pressure, kidney problems, and heart complications when they are overweight and all of these complications can contribute directly to a shortened lifespan. And beyond that, quality of life is compromised as well, with obesity contributing to illnesses like arthritis being more agonizing in dogs, forcing their owners to put them down sooner, according to the researchers. 

“What they may not know is that, if their beloved pet is too heavy, they are more likely to suffer from other problems such as joint disease, breathing issues, and certain types of cancer, as well as having a poorer quality of life,” German added. “These health and well-being issues can significantly impact how long they live.”

So just like tackling obesity in people, owners are encouraged to apply the same obesity-fighting methods to helping their dogs reach a healthy weight; a healthy diet, exercise, and even being sure to weigh your dog regularly are all paramount. Simply restricting your dog’s calorie count will be effective, but of course, you never want to starve your pup. “Because we’re so used to seeing overweight dogs, many folks think a dog at his proper weight is too skinny, but as long as the hips and spine are not protruding, and no more than the last rib or two are slightly visible, he’s not too thin,” Mary Strauss told Whole Dog Journal. “If in doubt, ask your vet for an opinion, or go to an agility competition to see what fit dogs look like.”

Other tips for beating dog obesity include: 

-Feed your overweight dog more protein and fewer carbohydrates.

Dogs don’t need carbohydrates in the same way humans do, making protein a more effective part of their diet if you’re simply focusing on macronutrient count within your pet’s daily diet. 

-Avoid giving your dog high-fiber foods.

-Make your dog’s food.

“If you feed a homemade diet, use lean meats, low-fat dairy, and green vegetables in place of most grains and starches,” Straus suggests. “Remove the skin from poultry (except for breasts) and remove separable fat from meats. Avoid fatty meats such as lamb, pork, and high-fat beef, or cook them to remove most of the fat. It’s okay to include eggs in moderate amounts. You can also use these foods to replace up to 25 percent of commercial pet food, which will increase the total amount of protein and decrease carbohydrates in the diet.”

-Feed them the right fats. 

Recent studies of both people and dogs show omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA from fish oil promote weight loss and help dieters feel more satisfied.

-Reduce your pup’s portion sizes. 

Again, this is the simple, age-old philosophy of “calories in versus calories burned” for weight loss. 

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