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Expanding pooches

Lifestyle — Posted 07/07/13

A growing trend of fatter dogs is mirroring the rising rate of human obesity and spawning a range of canine weight loss programs.

If you type ‘overweight dogs’ into Google, it retrieves pages and pages of results covering canine exercise tips, dog food recommendations, portion advice, weighing methods and nutritional information. Overweight dogs is a ballooning trend and as animals can’t choose what food is placed in front of them - and don’t have the thumbs to pop the top off an ice cream tub - a high responsibility is placed on their owners when they become overweight.

Obesity is one of the most common health problems in Australian dogs and can lead to a range of health issues including arthritis, diabetes and heart disease. Feeding your dog the wrong type or quantity of food, overindulging in snacks and treats and not providing opportunities for regular exercise are some of the common roads that lead to overweight dogs.

In Australia, obesity in humans has become the single biggest threat to public health. Over five million Australians are obese and it has overtaken smoking as the leading cause of premature death. ‘An epidemiological study of environmental factors associated with canine obesity’, a study published in the ‘Journal of Small Animal Practice’, found a link between the likelihood of obese people owning and caring for an overweight dog. The study identified owner age, income, exercise levels and frequency of snacks as risk factors associated with canine obesity.

The prevalence of canine obesity has paved the way for a new industry to develop to help combat the mounting issue. Weight loss dog centres and canine fitness classes are springing up around the globe and typically involve an initial consultation to determine the severity of the weight gain before tailoring a treatment plan.

While underlying health conditions can be a contributing factor to obesity, when otherwise healthy dogs gain excess weight it generally comes down to consuming far more calories than they are burning.

If your dog is overweight it is likely to be apparent just by looking at them. From above, dogs in a healthy weight range should have a distinct waist, between the end of the rib cage and the start of the hind quarters. If you apply light pressure over your dog’s back and sides, you should be able to feel the spine and rib cage under your hand. Looking from the side, the area behind your dog’s ribs should be smaller than the chest, although this may vary as a guide depending on the breed.

Tips for keeping your dog’s weight in check:

- Treats can be useful, especially in training, just be sure to pick healthy options and dish them out sparingly – make sure they don’t make up more than 10% of your dog’s daily food intake

- Choose the correct type and quantity of food for your dog’s breed and age

- Routinely weigh your dog - it’s easy to miss gradual weight gain

- Ensure there are no underlying medical conditions contributing to obesity – make sure your dog is examined by a vet

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