The subject of weight is a difficult one for us as professionals to speak about, but it is an incredibly important one. I’d like to address this difficult subject and help you to understand why the single most important thing you can do for your dog is to keep them at an ideal weight.
What is the ideal weight?
The ideal weight for your dog is much skinnier than you realise! And for many breeds, they need to look positively underweight.
You want to be able to clearly feel their ribs and they need to have a depression at their waist. Different breeds will look a little different, but the ability to easily feel the ribs and see the waist indentation are good markers across breeds.
Here is a chart that beautifully illustrates what the difference between ideal and overweight looks like in a Labrador.
My dog is happy, why does it matter?
Weight is a major contributing factor to many disease processes in your dog.
Arthritis is the biggest one. Studies have shown that amongst dogs, arthritis is shockingly common and underdiagnosed. In total, 20% of dogs over one year of age are diagnosed, and we estimate that more than 80% of senior dogs suffer from arthritis.
Your dog’s weight will have a big impact on their lifespan – dogs that are portion fed throughout their lives live an average of three years longer, and are diagnosed with fewer diseases than dogs that are free fed. Think about that; a healthier, longer life with your dog just by portion feeding.
So from those statistics, together with years of experience in improving the quality of life of older dogs, I can tell you without a doubt that your dog is not happier when they are a little overweight. You might be, but your dog is not!
Your dog will feel uncomfortable in their skin to start with, and over time will become less and less able to move, less able to stand up, sit down, lie down. Walking will become painful. They won’t be able to get onto or off your bed anymore, and at some point, your dog will be in so much pain that they won’t be able to do any of the things they love doing – the things that bring them joy and get them excited!
In rehab, we have a saying:
Fat = Pain.
I know this sounds harsh. I truly understand that, from personal experience. But it is the truth. The more we understand the body, the clearer it becomes to us that yes indeed, fat causes, increases and amplifies pain.
The processes behind this are complicated and hard even for me to understand, but at the basic level, the tissue or ingredients that make up fat in your dog’s body will increase the amount of inflammation present in the body. That means that the pain of any small injury or slightly inflamed joint will be so much greater and last longer for the slightly overweight dog than for the dog at an ideal weight.
Inflammation in our bodies is a good thing; it is the first step to healing. But it is a very brief and painful part of the healing process. When inflammation continues past the normal period, it leads to a lack of healing and excessive pain, and becomes very debilitating. When your dog cannot move around freely, he is simply not happy.
Overweight means two things really; first, your dog is very likely to develop arthritis, and second, when they do, it will be more painful and progress faster than if the dog were at an ideal body weight.
The pyramid of pain management
In the veterinary and rehabilitation profession, we have a pyramid chart that guides us on how to manage and treat pain systematically and comprehensively. At the very base of the pyramid is weight management, because just doing this one thing – just by managing weight – we can decrease your dog’s pain and improve their mobility massively. It is our starting point, and it should be yours too.
What is next?
I would highly encourage you to speak to your veterinarian about your dog’s weight. Don’t think of a little plumpness with affection and indulgence, because overweight for a dog is not the same as overweight for us. Have an honest conversation with your vet if you think you have been mismanaging this aspect of your dog’s health. Allow your veterinarian to help you come up with a weight loss plan.
If your dog is significantly overweight and has a long way to go, enlist the help of a Vetrehabber to provide your dog with weekly exercise sessions in a low-impact and joint protective environment. This will help them lose weight more effectively and in a way that is pain free. Swimming is a great tool for getting their heart rate up and keeping their joints safe and protected!
Truly, you will be doing your dog a favour.