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If only I couldn’t open the cabinet doors myself. It would make it easier for me to maintain my ideal weight, but alas, nobody controls my weight but me. But not so for dogs. We control when and what they eat. And so they should all be at the perfect weight, right?

But of course, we know that they are not. A shocking percentage of dogs and cats are problematically overweight, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. They report that in 2016, 59% of cats and 54 % of dogs in the U.S. were classified as overweight or obese. And the numbers are climbing: in 2009 9% of the dogs were obese, while the percentage rose to 20% in 2016.

I was reminded of this in Dr. Chris Zink’s great blog titled How to Make your Dog Live Longer. (Subtitle: It’s Easy.)  And simple. She reports that a study in 2019 found that dogs categorized by their veterinarians as overweight lived up to over two years less than ‘normal weight’ dogs. Based on the lifespans of over 50,000 dogs of twelve breeds presented to veterinary clinics, the authors of the study, (Salt, Morris, Wilson & Lund, 2019, J Vet Intern Med), found that being overweight decreased the life span of a dog from five months (male GSDs) to two and a half years (male Yorkies). Wow. That’s a lot.

Here’s a table from that research:

 

Veterinarians struggle to address this issue with their clients, so much so that it’s addressed in an article in Veterinary Practice News. Among other things, it suggests talking about a “healthy weight” versus labeling a dog as obese, addressing the costs of health-related diseases as the dog ages and teaching clients to do body condition scoring on their dog.

Here’s one example: (FYI, I’d say Maggie, a working sheepdog, is somewhere between #2 and #3, which is exactly where I think she’ll stay healthiest structurally.)

Here’s my question: What should the rest of us do about it? Not just for our dogs, but for the dogs we run into who are clearly overweight. Surely the general dog owning public is aware that being overweight is a health concern for their dog. But how do we, either trainers, behaviorists or friends, address this issue related to the dogs of others? It’s even more awkward for us than for veterinarians, and they clearly struggle as it is.

Certainly it is something that all dog trainers can address in dog training classes. I’m curious, if you are a trainer, do you talk about it? We always mentioned it in our classes: Be sure not to over feed your dog, portion out your dog’s daily servings and take training treats from that, and/or use low calorie healthy treats like cut up veggies etc, but I’m not sure that we talked about it often enough. We also mentioned that the suggested serving sizes on many bags of dog food are astoundingly generous. (If not ridiculous, just saying.) And of course, there’s always lots of exercise, but we know that diet has more of an effect on weight than exercise. I suspect that directly addressing life span would be extremely helpful, as in, “How would you like your dog to live another year and a half? And save money doing it?”

It seems to me that the trickiest circumstance is when one of our friend’s dog is obese, for no reason beyond over feeding. I’ve been in the position, and it’s rough. What does one say anyway? I’ve made little jokes (Hey Bud, looks like you’re on the “sea food diet” hey? You see food and you eat it?) But these attempts feel lame, and the fact is that some one’s fat dog is, well, some one else’s dog.

I’d love to hear any and all of your thoughts on this issue, from the perspective of an owner of an overweight dog (note my post in December 2019 that describes labradors with a modified gene sequence that makes them predisposed to gain weight), a trainer, vet or vet tech, or a concerned friend. We need a village here, cuz far too many dogs are dying far too early.

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Snow. Rain. Sun. Clouds. All pretty much as usual. All of us could skip the rain for sure, given its propensity to turn into ice. My absolutely least favorite part of winter is dealing with ice, not just for me, but far more for the dogs. Willie’s slip on ice is what led to his years of shoulder problems, and eventually to major surgery. But the longer day length is noticeable, and no matter the weather it always cheers us northerners up.

Here’s Maggie on one of those gorgeous, blue-sky days that we often get after a snow:

I’m loving her tail here:

This next one makes me smile, even though the focus is on the snow rather than Maggie.

Here’s to things that make us smile, where ever we find them.

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