In veterinary practice, as in life, there are certain subjects that tend to make people squirm. Telling a client that his or her pet is overweight is one of these sticky situations. When it comes time to talk tough about obesity and pets, the biggest hurdle is usually pet owner denial.
It is important for pet owners to understand that letting their pets pack on pounds is putting them at risk for serious medical issues that can shorten and decrease the quality of their lives. For instance, excess weight on a pet’s frame can strain the joints (including the spine), and can also lead to conditions like diabetes and congestive heart failure.
More than half of all pets in this country are overweight, and a quarter of them can be clinically identified as obese; so getting comfortable with tackling this touchy subject is an absolute necessity.
Worried your dog might be more than just “big-boned?” A simple way to tell is to perform this basic three-step check.
The first thing you’ll want to do is feel your dog’s ribs. A dog at a healthy weight will have a small covering of fat over the ribs, but each bone should still be distinct. If you can’t find or easily feel your dog’s ribs, the pet is carrying too much weight.
Next, you’ll want to stand over the dog and look down at his or her back. This is the best way to gauge the size of their middle. The waist should be narrower than the ribs and the hips; if it’s not clearly defined, your pet is likely carrying extra weight.
The last thing you’ll want to do is walk to the side of your dog and observe the area behind the ribs. The abdomen should go up at an angle. This is called the abdominal tuck. Remember that a deep-chested dog is going to have a more noticeable tuck than other breeds, but no matter what type of dog you have, his or her stomach should never be flat. A bulging belly is a pretty distinct sign it’s time to lose weight.
If your dog doesn’t pass this three-point inspection, and you’re thinking about putting him or her onto a weight-loss program, your first step is to schedule a consult with your vet. It is important to rule out any underlying medical conditions that could be causing the weight gain, so you’ll want your vet to do a full work up. If it turns out the problem is simply that your dog has been bingeing on too many biscuits, your vet can help design a weight loss plan that will address the pet’s specific nutritional needs.
If your pet does pass the pudge test – congratulations! Stick to regular exercise and a little vigilance in the kitchen and you’ll have no problem keeping the bulge at bay.