In common with the well-known epidemic of human obesity in the UK, obesity in dogs appears to be spiralling out of control, and owners do not appear to be aware of the seriousness of the problem. There has been an estimated 400% increase in obesity in dogs over the past 25 years and up to 59% of dogs visiting veterinary practices are considered to be overweight!
Labradors have a particular and frustrating propensity for weight gain. No doubt there is an element of genetics in this, relating to their ability to gain weight. However, there is also that voracious appetite! In Championvet.com surgeries, our personal observation if that most Labs appear to have insatiable appetites, with the others being rather quite picky. We don’t see many with a happy medium….
Labradors are hugely successful pets, representing more puppies born in the UK than any other breed. Many people like to neuter their pets, and the reduction in sex hormones decreases the calorie requirement by up to a third. So, we have a breed with a keen appetite, propensity for weight gain, and often neutered! And then there’s those big brown “go on, give me a snack” eyes…..what chance do we stand? In a recent study, only 30% of owners with overweight dogs recognised that their dog was overweight!
Our job as vets is therefore to try to educate their owners if their Lab is overweight and then to give them the tools and information to deal with it. Sure, a few dogs might be suffering with hormonal conditions or joint stiffness perpetuating weight gain, and we test for those. However, quite simply, most labs, just like us, require fewer calories and more exercise to shift that flab and keep in down. Dogs don’t do self discipline so it’s up to us as owners.
Obesity in Labradors can both initiate and perpetuate the following conditions: orthopaedic problems such as hip and elbow disease; diabetes; skin disease and allergies; reduced immunity; diabetes; heart and lung disease; reproductive and birthing problems and increased risk of anaesthetic complications. It’s quite a sobering list for those who love the breed.
At Championvet.com our vets have tried and tested protocols to help owners help their dogs regain their correct bodyweight, whilst dealing with any of the problems above. Most importantly of all, we first must ensure that ALL family members understand the risks of obesity and are committed to effective weight loss. Without this, one rogue “tit-bitter” can stymie the whole plan! Our protocol then involves initial assessment of the patient and ruling out any concurrent disease using clinical examinations and blood/urine tests. We settle on an effective feeding regime, often using a specialised weight reduction pet food and put in place a suitable exercise regime, whilst controlling any arthritic pain. Finally we insist on regular monitoring of various body measurements and bodyweight, when we can measure progress and make small adjustments. Very rarely do we require the new appetite suppressing drugs which are now available.
As vets with many combined years of experience, we have found that most weight loss programmes fail when an inappropriate food continues to be fed and regular monitoring by veterinary professionals is not undertaken. It need not be expensive: feeding a lab with a weight reduction diet will commonly cost about £1 a day and in our clinics weight monitoring checks are usually free!
So, if you think your Lab might be overweight, visit your vet and ask advice. There could be a honed athletic hiding in there!
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