Those who have the pleasure of having at least one dog companion will know that their faithful friend is always more than willing to eat. If you feel that your dog is always hungry, do not worry, you are not alone, and do not feel guilty because it is true, your dog always happens to be hungry. Dogs respond biologically to primitive survival instincts that make them eat as much as they can to prepare for a potential lack of food in the future. Having control over resources, food in this case, is a behavioural issue of canids. Food is not only a matter of biological demand, but also a question of power and survival of the fittest. If you regularly find yourself succumbing to a pair of bright round eyes, and sharing a piece of whatever it is that you are eating with your little and obedient dog, even when you know that he is not hungry, then you should know that, at that moment, he is the master and you are becoming part of his pack.
Dogs’ nutritional requirements are specific to a variety of factors that includes age, genetics, activity level, and health condition, among others. Despite the efforts of owners, vets, and dog food manufactures to find the adequate diet for the different stages of our pets’ lives, overfeeding is a highly frequent problem that goes unnoticed by most dog owners. It is usually detected during veterinarian consultation, where almost half of the dogs treated present some grade of overweight, a portion of them being frankly obese.
Overweight in dogs results from modern human lifestyle and the fact that we decide our dogs’ diets, i.e. our pets can only eat what we offer them. When canids had to hunt their own food, they chose the latter among the available nutritional resources thanks to their instincts. The large amounts of energy used obtaining their own food made obesity more than unlikely.
Furthermore, during the last decades, because most dog owners live in urban areas, on average pet dogs exercise less and eat more human food that their ancestors.
Like humans, dogs get fat when energy intake exceeds daily caloric output and fat deposits in specific parts of the body increase together with body mass and weight. These dogs are more likely to suffer not only orthopaedic complications and injuries as a result of an additional strain on joints and ligaments, but also cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes and other endocrine disorders. Excessive weight might also affect medical treatments and therapeutic procedures.
Every dog has a different metabolism and nutritional requirements, which can be affected by hormonal factors. Neutered and senior dogs are more prone to putting on more weight than what would be a healthy weight for them. Also, certain breeds have a genetic predisposition for obesity like the Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Cocker Spaniel, Rottweiler, Beagle and Basset Hound.
Nevertheless, an inadequate or unbalanced diet containing an excessive number of fat and a lack of exercise are the most common causes of this problem on all dogs.
Even when your dog’s veterinarian has the last word on this issue, a quick and simple check of fat deposits on the chest, back and hint quarters could help you assess if your dog is overweight.
By looking at the dog’s back while the latter is standing up, a defined waist should be noticed. Viewed from the side, the abdomen should be higher than the baseline of the ribcage instead of being at the same level or lower.
When the dog is standing up, you should be able to feel, without pushing, his pelvis bones just above the tail and ribs by moving your hand down from back to chest. A thin layer of fat over the ribs is ideal. However, a padding covering the ribs and pelvis bones should ring a bell and make you to set up a visit to the vet to confirm the diagnosis and check for overweight related complications.
Useful tips to keep your pooch at a healthy weight
- Set a fixed schedule for eating and limit the amount of food offered.
- If you are not at home during the day, an automatic feeder is a good option
- Do not leave food at your dog’s reach all day long
- Avoid high-calory treats, i.e. those that are rich in fat or sugar
- Choose fresh vegetables as treats, such as a carrots, lettuce, bananas or apples (removing the seeds)
- Ensure an adequate level of activity according to the dog’s breed requirements
- Ask about nutrition when you bring your dog to the veterinarian, and make adjustments to the diet if necessary
- Perform periodic weight checks on senior dogs because they are more prone to obesity and related diseases, such as diabetes.
- Do not give your dog human food, as it is too salty and could affect their kidney and liver function
- Remember that affection helps keep everybody healthy.