Recent surveys on obesity in dogs have shown that between one third and a half of all dogs visiting veterinary practices are overweight. Even more worryingly, 92% of pet owners did not see obesity as a lifethreatening risk. One report has suggested that overweight dogs could live up to two years less than dogs that are maintained within their ideal weight range.
As well as a loss of ‘general quality of life’, obese dogs suffer from similar problems to overweight humans including diabetes, arthritis and heart disease. Managing these health issues is a significant extra cost to the dog owner, particularly as their dogs get older. It is therefore imperative to understand why an increasing number of dogs are overweight and what veterinary surgeons and owners can do to significantly reduce the problem.
In simple terms, just like humans, overweight dogs are consuming too many calories each day compared with their exercise levels to burn calories off. However, the situation is much more complex for dog owners and simply feeding less of their current dog food and exercising the dog more may not be a realistic solution. For example, significantly reducing the amount fed of a ‘normal’ dog food may compromise the essential vitamin and mineral content of the daily feed intake. This can lead to poor skin and coat condition, impaired normal physiological functions e.g. poor gut health, and also psychological problems with increased hunger levels.
The first challenge for a dog owner is to recognise if their dog is overweight. This can be more difficult than it seems because the simple weight of the dog may not be a good indicator as even for pedigree breeds the recognised weight range may be very large. For example, the Kennel Club’s breed standard for Bullmastiff males is 50-59 kg and with a height range of 64-69cm. However, knowing the actual weight of your dog is very useful for monitoring future weight loss. Most veterinary practices have a set of scales to weigh your dog and a lot of practices run weight loss clinics where you can weigh your dog on a regular basis and monitor its progress to a target weight. Some pet shops also have weigh scales that you can use. Failing that you can weigh yourself on the bathroom scales, then pick up your dog and weigh yourselves together. The difference in weight is the weight of the dog.
How To Body Condition Score Your Dog
The best way to determine if your dog is overweight is to use the body condition scoring system recommended by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA). Along with weighing your dog, this is the method used by most veterinary practices to determine if your dog is overweight taking into account the breed characteristics, height and overall proportion of your dog. The pictures below will show you how your dog should look AND feel to your fingers.
If your dog scores 6 or 7 then you should consider how you might change your dog’s food and exercise regime to bring his weight back to a sensible level. If the score is eight or nine or you are at all concerned about the health and well-being of your dog then definitely make an appointment with your practice to have him checked over. You can then discuss with your vet the best actions to take to safely lose weight over a period of time.
All dog foods should have a feeding table on the packaging to give you an idea of how much food to give your dog taking into account the size and exercise level your dog gets. This level of food should provide all the nutrition that your dog needs in a carefully balanced diet. However, this is where things start to go wrong! Most owners cannot resist giving their dog treats- which are often very high in calories, scraps from the table -often with fatty bits we as humans do not like, and biscuits – very high in starch and sugar, as rewards for doing something well. Or just for looking mournful!
Treats, scraps and biscuits add significantly to your dog’s calorie intake and must be controlled. Unfortunately, the obvious solution of reducing the main dog food in the diet to reduce the calories does not work because you are completely unbalancing the diet. The best solution is to reduce your dog’s normal feed by say twenty kibbles a day and use these as the treat/reward thus keeping the diet balanced for vitamins, minerals etc.
Over the last two years the veterinary surgeons and nutrition team at VetSpec have been working with internationally recognised canine nutrition consultants to develop a totally new approach to feeding dogs that are, or tend to become, overweight. The result of all this research and development are two new products specifically formulated to address all of the issues that make feeding this type of dog such a challenge.
These new VetSpec Super Premium Dog Foods are available through veterinary practices and leading retail outlets. They are registered under the name “SuperLite” indicating the fact they contain 20% less calories than ‘normal quality dog food’. There is a special formula for Senior dogs and one for all other dogs.
VetSpec SuperLite Low-Calorie Formula
A Super Premium Complete Dog Food containing 20% less calories than ‘normal quality dog food’. It contains an outstanding veterinary specification supplement that ensures dogs receive the optimum vitamin and mineral balance which is so important when they are under a weight management programme. As outlined above simply reducing the quantity of ‘normal quality dog food’ to lose weight risks giving the dog an unbalanced/deficient diet creating other potential health issues.
The vitamin/mineral balance of the supplements included in the SuperLite Formula are enhanced by the inclusion of organic mineral complexes and the special building blocks of proteins which are often deficient in dog foods.
VetSpec SuperLite Low-Calorie Formula also addresses the complex issues of maintaining a highquality protein intake, especially important in a weight management programme. It contains 50% locally sourced chicken as a single source of protein. This high-quality protein ensures that as the dog loses weight slowly, the muscles and organs in the body maintain their integrity. A single source of protein is also important for gut health as constantly changing meat sources can lead to loose stools. SuperLite Formula contains special prebiotic fibres and herbal sources to maintain gut health in dogs with a sensitive stomach.
The formula is cereal-grain-free, wheat gluten free, non-GM and contains no colours, preservatives or artificial flavours. This minimises the risk of potential allergies and gives owners the security of full traceability of all ingredients.
When VetSpec SuperLite Low-Calorie Formula is fed at the recommended levels the dog will slowly lose weight at between 1% and 1.5% per week. So for a typical 25kg dog this relates to 250-375g per week although the rate of weight loss will slow as the dog reaches the target weight. SuperLite Formula achieves this by restricting the calorie intake to 75% of the Metabolizable Energy(ME) required by a dog at rest. Importantly the volume of SuperLite food needed to achieve this is the same as VetSpec Healthy Dog Formula which has 20% more calories. The reduction in energy density achieved by innovative formulation and manufacturing techniques ensures that the dog does not feel as hungry as with traditional weight loss products.
As an adult dog ages, lean body mass declines, resulting in a decreased Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)and total energy requirement. The total daily energy needs of an average-sized 7-year-old dog may decrease by as much as 20% when compared with its needs as a young adult. As the dog ages, if the food intake does not decrease proportionately with decreasing energy needs, weight gain results. Added to this, older dogs tend to be less exercise tolerant and therefore burn less calories during work. They also tend to develop issues with joint mobility particularly if they become overweight.
VetSpec SuperLite Senior
VetSpec SuperLite Senior has been developed to take care of all these challenges faced by older dogs. It consists of VetSpec SuperLite Formula but with the addition of VetSpec Omega-3 Joint Mobility Supplement so it is rich in DHA and EPA (Omega 3s), glucosamine and chondroitin to optimise joint mobility. There is therefore no need to buy additional and expensive joint supplements for the elderly dog.
Clinical trials at Bishopton Veterinary Group in North Yorkshire have confirmed the effectiveness of the VetSpec SuperLite products.
A recently published study by Thes et al (2016) determined the ME intake of 586 pet dogs. Interestingly the study found that pet dogs have a lower ME requirement than that of kennel dogs and the high incidence of dog obesity that we are seeing amongst the current pet dog population is an indication that the mean ME intake requirement on ‘normal quality dog food’ packaging may be too high for this type of dog. The new range of VetSpec Super Premium dog foods takes into account all of this latest international research to ensure that dogs are fed correctly.