It is a shame, but perhaps not a surprise, that many of the UK’s dogs are classes as overweight, and nearly 1 on 5 are considered to be obese. Overindulgence, lack of exercise, and inappropriate nutrition are just some of the causes, which all reflect similar trends in us humans.
The big difference is that we are able to control and correct this trend in our pets in a much simpler way than our own conditions. Obesity can not only lead to a poorer quality of life, with symptoms such as joint & spinal stain, irritability, and gastrointestinal problems, but it has been shown to reduce life expectancy in dogs by up to 2 years.
Due to their evolution from wild, hunting & scavenging animals, dogs have developed to eat when and wherever they get the opportunity, so they are genetically preconditioned to over consume. However, in the wild this is often preceded by prolonged periods of fasting and intensive exercise to find the next meal. Nothing can completely substitute sufficient, regular exercise as a way to control weight in our domestic pets however, energy intake is equally important as energy expenditure, and so what and how we feed our pets is crucial.
One of the most obvious causes of over-feeding is in the offering of fatty or sweet snacks. Whether it is during training, as a treat before bedtime, or just an indulgence to make us feel like better owners, snacks can contribute as much as 30% to the total daily energy requirement. Traditional treats such as pig’s ears and novelty-shaped soft snacks are packed with calories and often provide little or no nutritional benefit. Low calorie alternatives, such as dried fish skin, can provide a healthy option without compromising on flavour and acceptance, as well as providing a source of omega-3 essential fats. Alternatively, most dogs will freely accept pieces of fresh fruit or vegetables, although onions and dried fruits should be avoided as they can be potentially poisonous.
Whether it be a wet or dry food, when selecting a complete diet the calorie content and feeding level should be carefully considered, and adjusted according to the dog’s body condition. Also, the carbohydrate content and type can have a significant effect on the metabolism. In moderation carbs provide benefits such as texture, flavour and aroma however, excessive levels are simply converted into fat and stored within the body.
Also, carbs that are digested very rapidly produce spikes in blood sugar levels which in turn stimulate the pancreas to excrete spikes of insulin to regulate the concentration. Continually feeding a diet with high levels of highly digestible carbohydrate eventually causes such stress on the pancreas that it can completely stop the production of insulin, thereby creating a condition known as Type II diabetes, symptoms of which include tiredness and lethargy, thereby leading to even less activity. A sensible approach to preventing these situations would be to select a diet with moderate levels of carbohydrate (<50% of the total), and to ensure that it contains carbs which are digested more slowly, such as beet pulp or peas.