Obesity is the most common form of malnutrition in our companion animals in North America. According to the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, 54% of dogs and 58% of cats are significantly overweight or obese. People often do not recognize what a healthy weight should look like on their dog or cat and often think that “pudgy” is cute. Just think, how many cute Pugs, Labs or Beagles do you know that are a “tad” roly poly? As we all know, obesity leads to many long-term health problems, including diabetes, osteoarthritis, cruciate ligament tears and certain cancers.
Even knowing the benefits of a healthy weight, it is often hard for people to stop feeding their pets table food, scraps and dog cookies because “they are loved”, “they look at me with those big eyes”, “they went out for a pee” etc. We give food as freely as head pats these days. Unfortunately we are loving our pets the wrong way.
When they were first seen at Snelgrove Vet Services in March 2018, Dakota and Hailey’s owners were aware that they were a bit of the heavy side and were rightfully concerned. They were particularly concerned about lovely Dakota. They were worried that her hips were bothering her because “when they went for a walk, she would lay down and not want to move”. After an examination, it was easy to see that her hips and legs were not an issue. Her issue was her extra weight.
Dakota, a spayed female, yellow Labrador Retriever was, at that time, 4 years old. She weighed 45.2 kg (99.44 lbs) and had a Body Condition Score of 4.5/5 (with 1 being extremely underweight and 5 being extremely overweight) which indicated that she was quite heavy indeed.
(A BCS is a subjective measurement used to determine the body type of a patient based on several different visual/palpable parameters. Is there a definite “tuck-in at the waist? Does the belly droop or is it tucked up? Are the ribs easily seen? Are the ribs felt but not seen? Are ribs not felt at all? Etc. Regardless of the chart used, the ideal BCS for healthy animal is usually half of the upper number on the chart – I.e 2.5 or 3 out of 5 would be ideal in Dakota’s case)
Labrador retrievers are well known for being the “vacuum cleaners” of the canine world. Most will keep eating until they are physically sick to their stomachs. There have been numerous cases of Labs eating ENTIRE Thanksgiving turkeys and then eating a whole pie for dessert, when left unattended. People often laugh about their overzealous appetites but most people don’t realize that there is actually a genetic reason for them to be like this. Labs carry a gene deletion on their POMC gene which causes them to be genetically prone to weight gain because their brains do not receive the signal that their stomach is full after eating a meal. This then leads to a dog that is extremely food motivated, perpetually hungry and as a result, owners usually feed way too much food and offer way too many treats. An increase in body weight, and body fat is inevitable.
(There is actually a good side to this gene deletion, believe it or not. Labs, as a result, are extremely easy to train when using food as a reward. It has been proven that Labrador retrievers in the service dog sector have an 86% occurrence of this defective gene which makes them so successful throughout their training. Food = success.)
Back in early 2018, Dakota and her sister Hailey were eating a popular GRAIN-FREE pet food from a pet store. Their mom thought she was doing the best for them, and why wouldn’t she? There are so many marketing campaigns about dogs being “true carnivores” and not needing grains in their diets etc. Even pet store employees recommend these foods as grains are thought of as fillers and allergy-triggers. In truth, most dogs benefit from grains and these grain-free diets are thought to cause other health issues not being discussed here. Grain-free foods are higher in protein and by necessity are therefore higher in fat than diets that have a good ratio of protein, carbohydrates and fat. This trend towards GRAIN-FREE diets, is leading our pets toward obesity faster than ever before.
Dakota was eating a high fat food and being a lab, she loved to eat endless amounts of other food and treats. Her mom and dad readily admit that they gave both dogs “heaping scoops of dog food”, sweet potato treats, cheese, gourmet dog treats and pigs ears regularly. Upon further questioning, mom and dad realized that, since they left at different times for work, they were each giving cookies to say goodbye to the girls every morning and each giving cookies when they came home at night. Too many calories were going in and not enough calories were being burned off.
Extra calories add up over time as we all know. And we all know that exercise helps to burn off some of the excess calories but often we just don’t feel like exercising, especially if we’ve had a long day, a hard day or the weather is crummy. Dogs aren’t any different, but it’s up to us to feed them correctly and exercise them properly. They can’t feed themselves in our houses, they can’t portion control their food/treats, and they can’t take themselves for long, brisk walks/runs. That’s up to the humans in their lives to do that for them.
And Dakota’s mom and dad did JUST that. After speaking with our staff over several months, they absolutely rose to the occasion with our complimentary Project Slim Down counselling and weigh-ins. We had them transition to a weight loss food (with grains), measure their food every time and completely reduce treats to 1/day.
Our regular weigh-ins started showing wonderful progress. By October 2018, Dakota was down to 41.4 kg (91.8 lbs) and by November, she was down to 39.8 kg (87.5 lbs). In January 2019, she was down to 37.7 kg (82.9 lbs) and by March she was 35.5 kg – a FULL 10 kg less than she was a year earlier. She was then able to go for long walks again without stopping!!!
She didn’t stop there. By June of this year, she had reached 34.5 kg (75.9 lbs) and by our last recorded weight this summer, she was down to 33.2 kg (73 lbs).
Dakota has been an absolute success story for our clinic. Her owners have done such an amazing job with recognizing the issue with her weight, being totally on board with helping her lose the weight and being completely committed to changing her life for the better.
But we can’t forget about sweet Hailey!
Hailey, their other spayed female, yellow Labrador retriever, is year younger than her sister and is a smaller dog all around, but even she was heavy at 34.5 kg (75.9 lbs) in early 2018 with a BSC of 4/5.
By October 2018, with the new weight loss food, the measured amounts of food and treats, Hailey had also dropped a lot of weight and she weighed in at 33 kg (72 lbs). Hailey’s weight wasn’t as big of a concern to us as her older sister’s, but her mom and dad knew she could be slimmer. They persevered and as of March 2019, they got her down to a fantastic weight of 29.6 kg (65.1 lbs) which she has maintained since then.
We couldn’t be prouder of our yellow Lab sisters and their owners. They have done a fantastic job helping these girls to live a healthier, more active life. Congrats to all of them!!