TOUGH LOVE A dog’s pleading eyes might be hard to say no to, but overfeeding them leads to obesity, which can shorten their lives dramatically.
Ask The Vet
As his brown eyes look up at you, his pink tongue falling loosely from his mouth, he stares at every bite you take and you think, I’ll just give him a little bit. As you hand him that little bit of fat from your lamb chops into his mouth, his tail wags and you could swear you saw him smile. You are happy and so too is your little canine friend. All is well … but is it?
For argument’s sake let us fast-forward two years – that’s 730 days. Say you eat three meals a day – that works out at 2,190 meals. For how many of those meals has Rover been sitting beside your chair receiving ‘little’ bits from you? That is potentially a lot of lamb chop fat!
International nutritional studies show that obese animals live on average between 2.9 and 4.5 years less than lean healthy pets. Because there is such an increasing amount of pet obesity, we oftentimes benchmark our own pets against others we see around us and think ‘Oh no, my dog isn’t as fat as theirs, so my pet is just fine’.
What damage can feeding your dog little bits from the table really do in the long term? You may be right in arguing that the ‘odd’ tit-bit from the table will do no harm but, continuous overfeeding our pets will have potentially dramatic negative consequences on their health and life expectancy.
Although some diseases like hypothyroidism and some pharmaceuticals like steroids can cause obesity, the main reason for both humans and pets developing obesity is an imbalance between energy intake and expenditure. Excess dietary intake or inadequate energy utilisation (lack of exercise), or a combination of both, leads relatively quickly to an obese pet. Many, many canine illnesses and diseases result from or are made worse by overfeeding our dogs, particularly with ‘non-dog food’, and inadequate walks and physical activity.
I see these conditions all too often in my clinics. Among them are diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, hyperlipidemia (leading to a number of potential outcomes, including fatty liver syndrome, stroke, cardiac failure etc), arthritis, cardio-respiratory diseases, reproductive disorders, some cancers … the list goes on.
What to do?
So, what can we do?As a general rule (to which, as always, there will be exceptions) we need to treat pet nutrition as a balanced equation between energy intake and expenditure. Simply put, feeding a good quality dog food (at the right amount for the dog’s weight, breed and daily physical activity) will give your pet the best chance of avoiding one or more of the conditions mentioned above.
Also, it’s important to monitor our pet’s weight on a regular basis. I do a lot of this weight management in my clinics when pets come in for regular vaccinations, worming checks and so on. This helps me guide clients on their pets’ progress and offer advise that might help in this area.
Obesity is a growing concern in companion animals, and a trend that seems to mirror recent trends in human waistlines. Just as we must make healthier choices at meal times, we must make sure our pets don’t get overfed, especially with the wrong kind of food. And by getting out and moving, both owner and pet will be happier and live longer – a win, win.
Veterinarian Conal Finnerty MRCVS practises at Skeldale Vet Clinic on High Street, Ballinrobe. Follow the clinic on Facebook, or call 094 9541980 to make an appointment.