If you have an overweight dog or cat you know how stressful it can be to help your beloved pet lose and maintain a healthy weight. It is estimated that 53% of dogs and 55% of cats are considered obese. Most of us are aware of the human health implications of obesity and it’s even more stressful on your pet. Here’s why:
Obesity is a catalyst for heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and increased inflammation in the body. Excess weight puts strain and stress on joints and all musculoskeletal structures of the body. When an animal is overweight the body has to adapt to the heavier load and this causes muscular imbalance and extra tension in muscles. This added load makes muscles, tendons and ligament’s susceptible to tearing. It also continually creates trigger points which are collections of microscopic tearing in the tissue which become inflamed and ischemic. These points which are located in muscles, tendons and ligaments are very sensitive and can create pain and dysfunction.
Obesity is also a contributing factor of arthritis as the added weight is too much for the joints to bear. When there is joint damage or injury, the animal becomes less mobile because the weight restricts movement. This lack of movement adds stress to the joint. Joints need to move in order to stay healthy. This movement pumps nutrition into the joint and stimulates the production of synovial fluid which is crucial for joint health. Imagine the difference in movement of a lean gazelle and 3 ton hippopotamus…you get the point.
Stress on any musculoskeletal structure will create discomfort and pain especially when left untreated. When pain is left to spiral out of control, it becomes a vicious cycle and prevents healing.
As pet parents it’s our job to facilitate an environment of homeostasis or balance for their bodies. This sometimes calls for firm action. Left to their own devices, a child will eat a pound of treats- so will an animal. Dogs are naturally scavengers so we need to be proactive with feeding controls.
We are not nutritional experts and it’s certainly not our scope of practice, but we can offer a few tips:
- Obtain a complete medical checkup for your dog to rule out medical reasons for the obesity and or musculoskeletal injury that is the primary cause of your dog’s lack of mobility.
- Give your dog a structured meal time and have them work for their food. Place the food in puzzle toys, hide the food or do obedience training with their meal as their positive reinforcement reward.
- Blend healthy low calorie vegetables in your dog’s food.
- Ideally feed your dog a diet free of grains which contain carbohydrates which are difficult for your dog to break down.
- Watch the treats! These are generally the hidden culprit of all weight loss programs. If you must use treats, consider low calorie vegetables or grain free treats.
- Exercise, exercise, exercise. Always remember this rule: In order for your pet to lose weight they must expend more calories than they take in! Exercise utilizes the consumed calories.
Again, a medical evaluation is highly recommended before having your dog start any exercise plan. I recommend seeing professionals who specialize in exercise therapy and rehabilitation, nutrition and weight loss and orthopedic evaluations. Other than normal safe exercises like low impact walks, you may want to consider controlled exercise with a canine physical therapist or underwater treadmill by a supervised professional.
Many people ask, “What if my dog is too obese and/or too sore to exercise?” Well this is where the power of massage and bodywork comes into play. Massage will help your dog recover from these activities. An obese dog will get tired and sore much quicker than a dog at an ideal weight. An obese dog may feel like they just ran a marathon after a short walk around the block. Massage will soothe the muscles, provide joint mobility nourishing the joints and will make your dog want to continue their activity. A professional massage will relieve trigger points and myofascial restriction and a professional can also teach pet parents simple at home techniques to keep their dog moving and exercising.
Eat well, keep moving and be happy-a good plan of action for all of us!