Obesity in dogs
The health issues that arise from obesity, or being overweight, can have seriously harmful consequences for a dog. Like in humans, carrying excess weight places undue strain on virtually every organ in the body, and these extra demands can result in disease, mental and physical debilitation and some cases, death. It is important that owners know the optimal weight for their dog and combines a healthy diet and exercise routine to maintain it.
Obesity in dogs is commonly caused by an imbalance of calories being consumed versus calories being burnt. Some medical conditions can cause weight gain, and veterinary advice should be sought out if a dog is still gaining weight when being restricted to the balanced diet and regular exercise. However, most dogs that are diagnosed overweight are typically that way because they have been over-indulged with high-calorie food and not enough exercise.
Older dogs are more at risk of becoming overweight or obese, as they lose the ability to exercise as frequently or with as much gusto as their younger years. Owners should be able to recognise an increase in weight and adjust their dogs eating habits to maintain a healthy weight. As both humans and dogs get older, our well-used joints and internal organs start to feel the wear and tear more. Allowing ourselves, or them, to start piling on the pounds at a time where mobility is diminishing leads to unnecessary health problems in the twilight years when we should all be enjoying them, and deservedly so.
Obesity in greyhounds
The Greyhound has very distinct physical features. They stand tall with a long, powerful necks and a muscular chest. They have a slender built with a flexible spine that leads onto a prominent tuck at their waist and strong hind legs. This breed has a unique body structure that, in the peak of physical fitness, can propel them along at speeds of 45 mph. However, as with all of natures' creatures, they are built in such a way for all vital parts to work cohesively together, providing a long life of well-being.
I want this article to help new and existing owners of greyhounds have a better understanding of how to feed their greys and maintain the optimum weight for a happy and healthy life. Ex-racers can be especially susceptible to gaining weight as they come off the racetrack and a rigid training schedule into a family home. New food and reduced exercise should be taken into consideration, and their weight monitored for a period of time.
Society, especially in my dog loving Great Britain, does not like to see a dog that appears to have been neglected. Greyhounds are supposed to have protruding bones in some places, and this can make owners that are unfamiliar with the greyhound appearance uneasy and feel that their poor pet is underweight. Certainly, when retired racers come off the track, they are at the ideal weight for their career, extremely lean and very little body fat.
These dogs train and compete like our Olympic athletes would so can afford to gain a few pounds in retirement, but any more could lead to an enormous strain on their bodies. They are sleek and slender and have hearts and joints to manage a physique of that type. If they gain too much weight, they will struggle to haul those excess pounds around, and even a simple task like rising from a lying position will take great effort and place undue strain on their bodies.
How to tell if your greyhound is overweight?
Some physical characteristics belonging to the greyhound might give the impression they are under nourished but are, in fact, this appearance is considered ideal for this breed. The tips of the hip bones should be slightly pronounced, and the outline of the ribs are just visible. This may seem extreme to some people but ensuring a grey is the right weight will provide a longer, happy life. I have been there with my own greyhound and saw him struggle with the extra kilos.
With Tipps, we weren't able to simply reduce the volume of his feed; he seemed to be genuinely hungry all the time and became slightly mischievous in his efforts to get more food. With a little research, my partner and I were able to find different food and treats to keep him happy and keep him healthy.
Greyhounds are just as likely to become obese as any other breed if they are overfed. There are some breeds it is thought that are more at risk of retaining fat decomposition but thankfully the greyhound is not one of them. Dogs are not able to buy food or open fridges, so it really is an owner's responsibility to control their body weight.
Ex-racers do tend to be more at risk as they swap charging around the race track to being in charge of the sofa. Most rehoming centres and greyhound trainers will advise keeping a greyhound’s weight within 2-5lbs of racing weight, dependant on the size of the dog. One point worth noting is that muscle mass is heavier than fat. If a greyhound loses weight rather than gains it after retirement but is otherwise happy, healthy and satisfied at mealtimes, it might not be a cause for concern as they lose their muscle mass and it is replaced by fat. A trip to the vets can put worries to rest.
Obesity health problems
Long term effects of obesity can include; Arthritis, osteoarthritis, heart disease and high blood pressure, kidney disease, diabetes, fatty tumours in the body and even cancer.
Breathing problems occur when excess fat in the chest restricts the lungs from expanding fully. In some cases, the excess fat in the abdomen pushes against the diaphragm, and this also results in less space in the chest area, restricting lung expansion. Compounding this problem is the fact that the additional weight means more demand on the lungs day-to-day.
Greyhounds love to run around, they were born to do it, but these health issues can make something that should be fun become extremely dangerous. Many will suffer from severe overheating as they are not able to expel the heat as quickly as they were built to do so.
While the long term effects are serious and can lead to fatal consequences, another consideration is the poor quality of life. Many dogs become exercise intolerant and lethargic. They could be uncomfortable or have painful joints due to the additional weight. Some may need to take medicine regularly, either in the form of a tablet or injection, and may not recover from an illness even when the extra weight has gone.
Losing excess weight is always a good thing but having been obese at some point can have a lasting negative impact on the body. Mentally, dogs can become bored if they are not exercising. Exercise for dogs does not just benefit them physically, it mentally challenges them too. Playtime is important for socialising and games are fun.
Even daily walks around the same route are an immense source of mental stimulation. A dog explores the world with their nose. Their scent sensors are so powerful they can sniff the ground and know who has been there in the past 24hrs, and they communicate via their urine. A walk is like discussing the neighbourhood gossip or reading the local newspaper. If this is all removed from them, boredom turns to depression and dogs can become very unhappy.
We all want the best for our dogs. Many owners think a high-calorie treat here and it is fine, but it could be causing lasting damage for a short moment of happiness. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention https://petobesityprevention.org/ are a great source of information, but the main thing is to know if your greyhound is overweight and if they are, how to get the weight back off.
How to get the weight off
Veterinarian Visit - Always check there are no medical issues that are causing the weight gain. All vets will have large scales for regular weigh ins. It's not easy getting a greyhound on your home scales!
Overfeeding - If it is known that overfeeding is occurring, PLEASE STOP IT. It is truly not being kind. It is ultimately bringing an early end to your dog's life, and the time they do have alive, could be uncomfortable and possibly miserable. Reduce portion size or switch to a low-calorie food until a better weight has been obtained. If you are unsure on what to feed your greyhound, speak to a greyhound nutritionist. I have recently started reading "Canine Nutrigenomics - The New Science Of Feeding Your Dog For Optimum Health" by W. Jean Dodds and Diana R. Laverdue and am finding it very informative and interesting. Watch out for my review blog coming soon!
Treat Management - All dogs love treats, and all owners love giving them. Whether as a reward for training or good behaviour or an after dinner "dessert" we like to indulge our dogs. There is nothing wrong with giving treats as long as they are part of a balanced diet and are not contributing to excess weight. I could eat chocolate morning, noon and night (very happily!) but the rest of my body would suffer from it and not only from gaining weight. Other effects of ingesting too much indulgent food include bad skin, high cholesterol and blood pressure, tooth decay and mood swings. Moderation is the key to treats and if you like to cook your own, check out my favourite treats recipes.
Exercise - Exercise is important to maintain weight or for losing weight. Weight management is all about balancing calories being taken into the body vs calories being burnt. Regular daily exercise will enable a dog to burn calories as well as provide mental stimulation, keeping a dog both healthy and happy. Some dogs may be restricted in some form and unable to exercise as much, maybe due to an injury, I would recommend "NO WALKS, NO WORRIES: MAINTAINING WELLBEING IN DOGS ON RESTRICTED EXERCISE" by Sian Ryan and Helen Zulch