It is a very sad fact that in the US today obesity is not an uncommon affliction. Another disturbing fact is that obesity not confined to the human population but has also spread to our pet population.
Let’s examine the case of our beloved Labradors. Obesity is the most common nutritional disorder found in companion animals today and our beloved Labradors are no exception. Obesity in dogs is usually the result of either excess dietary intake or inadequate energy utilization or both. As the caretakers of our companion animals we are in charge of both these factors. In other words, we must take total responsibility to the physical conditioning (weight/exercise) of our companion animals. In order to do this we must know some information regarding the breed of dogs we have and the requirements and purpose of that breed. If we own a mixed breed dog then we must attempt to figure this out to the best of our ability and if needed ask for help from someone who understands dog breeds and behaviors.
Labradors are known to have a love affair with food. They are opportunistic eaters who may consume anything if given the chance. The AKC Breed Standard calls for the following in the Labrador Retriever: “Size–The height at the withers for a dog is 22½ to 24½ inches; for a bitch is 21½ to 23½ inches. Any variance greater than ½ inch above or below these heights is a disqualification. Approximate weight of dogs and bitches in working condition: dogs 65 to 80 pounds; bitches 55 to 70 pounds”. www.akc.org
A pet is considered obese when he is 15-20% over his maximum weight for his breed. So if the normal weight for Labrador Retrievers is 60-75 lbs (27-34 kg), your dog’s weight should not be over 20% higher than the normal. You should be able to tell that your dog is obese by simply looking at him or her. However, we are often blinded by our love and do not always recognize reality by a simple visual examination. You can make sure your dog is within normal weight limits by placing your hands on your pet’s rib cage with your thumb on his back. If you cannot feel your dog’s ribs easily without pressing too hard, then your pet is obese. You will also notice that the abdominal area behind the rib cage is wider than the chest when viewed from either side or above.
The same health concerns that arise from obesity in people hold true for our dogs. Numerous studies have demonstrated that obesity can have detrimental effects on the health and longevity of companion animals. The problems to which obese companion animals may be predisposed include; orthopedic disease including back and joint pain and hip/elbow dysplasia, diabetes mellitus, abnormalities in circulation, cardio-respiratory disease, urinary disorders, reproductive disorders, dermatological disease and tumors.**
There are many of reasons why dogs gain weight. Dog owners should always remember that their dog’s health largely rests in their hands. Know your dog, regulate the amount of food during mealtime – divide the amount of food they should receive daily into several small meals per day –this will help with digestion and help them from feeling hungry. Extra snacks, treats, table scraps and high fat diets combine with lack of daily exercise and physical activity to contribute to your dog’s obesity. We must also consider the age and the physical health of our canine friends. Older dogs and dogs with orthopedic injuries need special attention paid to their diet in order to remain physically sound.
If you suspect that your canine friend has a weight problem consult your veterinarian and ask for suggestions on a weight reduction plan, proper diet/nutrition and exercise plans. Remember, weight loss cannot be achieved over night. Just be consistent and patient and soon you and your dog will reap the reward of improved health and physical conditioning.
One way of avoiding the obesity problem (as well as other problems) is by researching the breeds you are interested in before purchasing a puppy. Never make an impulse buy when getting a puppy. Reputable breeders will request a good deal of information from you and often require references. You will often be put on a waiting list for the next breeding. Patience will pay off when looking to add a new puppy to your family. If you are honest with yourself regarding your lifestyle and level of activity as well as training commitments you can choose a breed that is right for you and your family. Labradors are generally a versatile breed with a wonderful temperament however, you still need to make inquiries as to the breeding that interests you: what are the parents like, what activities are the parents involved in, what titles do the parents hold, what titles are in the rest of the pedigree, what level of energy are the parents and how much exercise do they require? If you can determine the breed and type of individual that is a good match for your lifestyle and that of your family, you will have gone a long way to beginning a wonderful and happy relationship with your new family member.
(**The Growing Problem of Obesity in Dogs and Cats by Alexander J. German)