Ask The Vet – What’s the big deal?

Dr. Cheryl Burke, DVM, CCRP

We were in for our annual visit and our vet used the word “obese” to describe my 5-year-old Cocker Spaniel, Samantha. I think she is a little chubby, but obese? What’s the big deal with a few extra pounds? Submitted by: Denial in Dayton

Dear Denial: Let’s start with, “The scale doesn’t lie.” Samantha doesn’t have to fit in her jeans or buckle her belt, so pounds have a way of sneaking up on your girl. To be considered obese, she would have to exceed her ideal body weight by 30% or more. For example, your Cocker should weigh about 21 lbs. but instead, weighs maybe 27 or 28 lbs.

We know without a doubt that those extra pounds increase Samantha’s risk of heart disease, joint disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and a premature death. Sound Familiar?

Purina researchers clearly demonstrated that with genetics and gender-matched dogs, obesity alone shortened their lives by an average of 2.5 years! They similarly established increased rates of arthritis, heart disease, and cancer. The extra points do more than mechanically interfere with Samantha’s movement; they actually increase inflammation in the whole body, setting Samantha up for that terrible constellation of problems. When evaluating a debilitated, obese patient in our Canine Rehabilitation Center, I will often recommend aggressive weight loss as the most cost-effective treatment for an owner to pursue.

Action required: I am certain your veterinarian has suggested a baseline medical assessment, including a detailed history, thorough physical exam, and blood testing. It’s possible that there’s a medical or hormonal condition that’s affecting Samantha’s metabolism. Some examples would be hypothyroidism (low thyroid) and hyperadrenalcorticism (Cushing’s disease). Assuming that Samantha is medically sound, the plan to get her back to her healthy weight will surely involve diet and exercise.

Diet: “Less Active and “Lite” diets are designed to prevent weight gain and not to promote weight loss, and can be frustrating if you count on those diets to help your girl slim down. When faced with a dangerously overweight patient, I will often recommend a prescription diet to safely and quickly get the unwanted pounds off. Typically, I calculate the calorie needs for that pet’s ideal weight and reduce that calorie amount by another 20%. Any balanced diet can be given, but foods with high moisture content and low-calorie density are the most satisfying. Adding water and steamed vegetables such as string beans, lettuce, broccoli, and carrots to the bowl will increase the appeal of the diet food and help to satisfy a
hungry dog. Everyone in your household and your neighbors will need to be on Samantha’s team for her to succeed. Just one medium Milkbone per day adds 40-50 calories! Better to choose lower-calorie treats and break others in tiny pieces.
Research that special must-have treat and know the calorie count before you buy it.

Exercise: A dog should ideally have 30 minutes of exercise every day. This doesn’t mean standing on your deck throwing the ball for Samantha. If she hasn’t been walking on a regular basis, work up to the 30-minute mark by adding 5 minutes twice a week. This way, you can increase her walk by 20 minutes within 2.5 weeks.
The fall is the perfect time to enjoy walks with your dog. A 30-minute walk is good for Samantha’s people, too.

Accountability: Weigh Samantha monthly at your vet’s office and ask them to record it. Expect her to lose 1-2 pounds per month. When she
reaches her ideal weight, celebrate! You have helped add years of healthy life to your dog.
Samantha is a lucky girl!

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