People aren’t the only ones who need to worry about a mid-life spare tire. Dogs can develop a middle-age spread, too. But it’s not just a matter of letting the collar out a few notches or buying a roomier dog bed – a recent study of chubby middle-aged dogs shows that trimming those extra pounds could actually add years to their lives.
Less Weight = More Years
Researchers examined the medical records of more than 50,700 middle-aged, spayed or neutered dogs, comparing the life spans of overweight pups against their normal-weight counterparts. Published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, the study found that dogs with ideal body weights lived up to 2.5 years longer.
The scientists compared 12 purebred breeds — representing five general sizes — including chihuahuas, Pomeranians, shih tzus, dachshunds, Yorkshire terriers, cocker spaniels, beagles, boxers, German shepherds, golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers and pit bull terriers. All overweight dogs, on average, lived shorter life spans than normal-weight dogs, ranging from 2.5 years shorter for Yorkshire terriers to just a few months less for German shepherds.
A Common Problem
In the United States, approximately 56 percent of dogs and 60 percent of cats are overweight or obese, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. A dog or cat is considered overweight if it’s 10 to 19 percent heavier than its ideal body weight. When that figure creeps up to 20 percent or more, the pet falls into the obese category.
Extra Pounds, Extra Health Risks
Obesity is considered a chronic inflammatory condition, contributing to changes in insulin resistance, metabolism and appetite control. Those few extra pounds can put your dog at risk of a range of diseases and conditions including cruciate ligament tears, arthritis, diabetes and even certain types of cancer.
Added weight can also contribute to respiratory, heart and kidney problems. Is it any wonder overweight pets may not live as long as leaner dogs and cats? Or that the international veterinary and human medical communities have recommended that obesity be classified as a disease?
Getting Back on Track
Helping your pet return to an ideal weight is one of the most loving things you can do to improve his or her health. As with people, it’s a matter of fewer calories in and more calories burned. Here are some simple steps you can take:
1. Talk to your veterinarian to determine what your pet really should weigh.
2. The doctor may recommend a specific diet and the daily amount your pet should be fed. Most weight-loss diets typically provide more protein and fiber and less calories and fats than maintenance diets. Feeding a high-fiber diet can also help your pet feel fuller and less inclined to beg.
3. Avoid the bottomless bowl syndrome. Instead of keeping your pet’s dish full all day, start using a measuring cup to make sure your dog or cat only gets what it needs.
4. Account for snacks. Every rawhide, table scrap and spoonful of peanut butter contains calories. If you can’t resist food treats, opt for healthier, lower calorie snacks such as sliced bananas, green beans or carrots. Make sure everyone in your family is onboard with the treat-reduction program.
5. Increase the physical activity. Leash walks, swimming, a game of fetch or even regular play dates at the dog park are fun ways to help your dog work out. If your pet is extremely overweight, talk to your veterinarian about how to gradually increase exercise so your pet doesn’t overdo it at first.
6. Weigh your pet regularly. A healthy goal for your pet is a 1-2 percent reduction in body weight per week.
7. Avoid the yo-yo syndrome. Once your dog loses weight, returning to its couch-surfing days will make it easier for the pounds to creep back. The positive changes you’ve made in terms of food control and exercise need to be a permanent part of your pet’s life.
Granted, weight loss can be a long, slow process. But when you think about it, every small weight loss — even if it’s just a half pound — could mean better health and more time with your dog. And what could be more motivating than that?