Pets: How to help your fat dog
At least 25% are obese, but lean canines live longer -- and are friskier for you.
It's official: The obesity epidemic has gone to the dogs. A recent report on pet nutrition from the National Academy of Sciences has declared at least a quarter of dogs obese -- that's 20% or more over ideal weight.
If you really love your dog, get tough, experts say. An overweight dog is more likely to have arthritis, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, respiratory problems, pancreatitis, weakened immunity, anesthesia and surgical complications, and, most important, a shorter life.
Disorders related to obesity are the fourth leading cause of death for dogs, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
In fact, restricting calories can stretch a dog's life an amazing 15%
, shows a landmark study of Labrador retrievers. Labs fed 25% fewer calories -- 1,350 daily calories as adults -- lived an average 13 years, nearly two years longer than littermate Labs fed 1,750 calories. The leaner dogs were friskier, looked younger and had less cancer, osteoarthritis and liver disease. The overfed dogs showed earlier signs of disease and aging: graying muzzles, impaired gaits and reduced activity.
One problem: Owners don't realize their dogs are fat. In a study, 80% of a group of 200 dogs were judged obese by professionals. But 72% of the owners insisted their dog was just the right weight or even underweight.
How can you tell whether your dog is fat? The best way: Compare his shape with pictures of dogs of ideal weight, says veterinary nutrition expert Rebecca L. Remillard, of Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston. A svelte dog has a visible "waist."
Next, run your hands over the dog's ribs. If they're covered with a slight excess of fat and not easily felt, the dog is likely overweight. If the ribs are difficult or impossible to feel through the fat, it is likely obese.
Much obesity can be blamed on the overfeeding of fatty dog foods and high-calorie treats, says Francis Kallfelz of Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine, who contributed to the National Academy of Sciences report.
He cites three other reasons for canine corpulence:
* With age, metabolism slows. Look for a middle-age spread after age 5.
* Spayed and castrated dogs tend to gain more weight than non-neutered dogs because of slightly lower metabolism, so feed less.
* Some dogs are just born with "fat genes" and need monitoring to stay slim.
If you notice your dog getting fat, immediately cut calories and increase activity. Preventing obesity is easier than correcting it. And new research shows that even moderate weight gain can harm your dog's health.
EatSmart columnist Jean Carper is researching a book on how to keep your dog health
Calories in popular treats
115: Milk-Bone, large
45: T Bonz
37: Purina One Beef Jerky Strips
30: Beggin' Strips
19: Nutro Max Mini Bones
13: Alpo Variety Snaps
10: Milk-Bone Original Dog Treats
For calories in 200 dog food varieties, visit jeancarper.com.
What dog food labels mean
Low-calorie, light or lite
Dry food: no more than 310 calories per 3.5 ounces (100 grams, about 1 cup).
Wet (canned) food: no more than 90 calories per 3.5 ounces (100 grams, about 1/2 cup).
Low-fat or lean
Dry food: no more than 9% fat.
Wet (canned) food: no more than 4% fat.
Reduced-calorie, less calories, reduced-fat, less fat
Less than another food, as shown by comparison on label. Example: "10% less fat than Joe's Regular Dog Food."
Source: Nestle Purina PetCare Co.
10 tips for dog weight loss
1. Control access to food. Feed at specific times and leave food out for 20 minutes, then take away whatever isn't eaten. Also, feed three or four smaller meals daily: Dogs that can eat 24 hours a day or that get one daily meal are more likely to be overweight.
2. Know the exact amounts you feed. Use standard measuring cups to scoop out dry food, and count cans of wet food. Also, keep track of snacks and "people food."
3. Adjust serving sizes to fit your dog. Feeding guidelines on packages are typically high. It's safe to cut back 15% to 25%, experts say
4. Know what you're buying. Dogs tend to overeat high-fat foods. Check labels for "low-fat," "low-calorie," "light" or "lean." Canned food typically has more fat than dry.
5. Cut back on, or cut out, treats. Habitual treating ups a dog's odds of obesity by 50%, a new study says. Don't feed from the table. Give low-cal carrots, pieces of apple and air-popped popcorn. Break big treats into pieces.
6. No crash diets. These don't give permanent results.
7. Increase activity. In a study, a dog's odds of obesity dropped 10% for each added hour of exercise a week.
8. Add bulk. Specially formulated high-fiber dog foods can produce a feeling of fullness and reduce your dog's calorie intake, causing weight loss.
9. If your dog is overweight, cut what it eats by 25%. That should bring a slow, steady weight loss. Research shows dogs do best when they lose slightly more than 1% of body weight a week -- just 3 or 4 ounces for a 20-pound dog.
10. If your dog is obese (needs to lose 20% or more), see a vet. A vet can figure caloric needs and may prescribe a special weight-loss food. Be patient: It can take 18 months for an obese dog to safely regain a normal figure.