How Heavy is Too Heavy (does obesity impact life expectancy in dogs)?

Today’s post is a little different. I want to bring you the tale of two dogs, in many ways so similar, yet one small difference ended up having a huge impact on their health and how long they lived.

 
 

I’d like to talk about Bailly and Max. They're to Yorkshire terriers from the same litter who were rehomed to different families by eight weeks of age.

If we start with Bailey, he was doted on and became part of the family from a very early age. He was fed the odd table scrap and actually soon learnt that by turning his nose up at his normal diet he generally got an extra little bit of something tasty. So often it was a bit of chicken, sometimes it was cheese, a bit of ham, and other times was the table scraps.

He just loved lying on the couch with his owner, just relaxing, and so was pretty lazy a lot of the time.

By 18 months of age, he was still very healthy, but he'd started to pile on the pounds and he put on a little bit of extra padding if you like. And that's exactly what the owner saw it as, that he was just a bit of a cuddly build. That it wasn't anything serious, nothing to worry about and no action needed to be taken because after all, he was still pretty healthy.

So that's Bailey, what's about Max?

Max went to a very active, very outdoorsy family. He was always running around. He's just loved getting stuck in and exploring the surrounding neighborhood. He didn't really actually get many treats, but he wasn't too bothered about food anyway. He ate what he was given and soon learned to accept that if he didn't eat what was down then nothing else was given. That was all he was going to get.

At 18 months he's lean, he's muscular, he's really athletic.

His owners do have a little bit of a problem. So when they take him out to the park, a lot of people are telling them that they must be starving poor Max because he looked so thin. His owners have asked the vet what they think or if there's a problem and their mind was put at ease.

The vet said that because so many people have overweight dogs, it can really skew our perception of what normal is. And you know, sure enough, when Max’s owners have a look at the dog that's on the end of the lead of these people they are too heavy. They soon learn not to take too much notice of these comments, however well-meaning.

So we're going to fast forward a few years now, and both Bailey and Max are really part of the family. they’re absolutely doted on, they’re adored by their owners and they're not just dogs, they're furry family members.

Max, he's fit as a fiddle and Bailey too, he seems pretty healthy. Both have kept they're early body condition. Early experience, early feeding and early condition is often what's with us for the rest of our lives. And our dogs are no different.

So Max is fits as a fiddle. Bailey as well seems pretty fit. He's not got too many issues. He has the odd minor thing that he needs to go and see his vet for. But nothing that needs any major treatment or ongoing treatment. He has actually slowly gained a little bit of weight as he’s gotten older. It doesn't seem like anything too much and his owner is not too worried because whenever he goes for his annual checkup or vaccinations, the vet says he's only, it's only a few pounds more than his ideal weight.

A few pounds doesn't sound like very much at all, does it?

This though, is how things end.

Bailey dies at thirteen and a half years of age. It's not a bad age, although he was pretty stiff by the time he got to those final few years.He coped pretty well with that stiffness and actually coped pretty well with the diabetes that he developed as well. He was very accepting of the twice-daily injections, and his owners did absolutely everything that they could.

Ultimately, things all got too much for his little body and at thirteen and a half years of age Bailey passed away.

Now Max on the other hand, at thirteen and a half years is still going strong. He's really fit. He's slowing down a little bit, but he's still very active, he's interested, he's still engaging really well with the family. Sure, he's sleeping a bit more but actually, there's no problems. Whenever he goes for his checks he seems to be fit as a fiddle.Eventually, he does succumb at the grand old age of sixteen years. Old age did eventually catch up with him but apart from the lost few weeks of his life he was a picture of health.

So, we've got two dogs that really are as similar as you could get, but there are huge differences in how long they lived. Bailey, who was overweight lived two and a half years less than his brother Max.

That may not sound very much, but if we think of that in human terms, that's a 10 to 15 year difference in life expectancy!

Now this is just a story. Bailey and Max don't exist. They are though a perfect representation of what being overweight can result in.

There's been amazing work done that has shown that overweight pets, overweight dogs and cats, live a shorter life and suffer from more diseases. Arthritis as a problem. Diabetes is a problem. Skin conditions are an increased problem in our overweight pets and that's just to name but a few issues.

With Yorkies, the difference in life expectancy can be two and a half years. In German Shepherds, at the other end of the spectrum, there's a potential six month difference in life expectancy. That's still around five years in human terms.

 
 

And this is all due to carrying “a little” more fat.

For Max and Bailey, the difference was only 3 pounds. That doesn’t sound like much but that would be similar to me carrying an extra 66 pounds, or nearly half of my healthy body weight being added to my back as fat!

One of the biggest things you can do to keep your pet healthy well into old age, and make sure you get to enjoy their company for as long as possible keep them a healthy body weight. Allowing them to become overweight is highly likely to compromise their health, shorten their lives or both.

Also, don’t think that you’d definitely know if your pet was a healthy weight or not. 3 out of 5 owners of fat pets think their furry family member is a healthy weight.

Make no mistake, fat kills and is the most common problem I see every day in my consult room.

Feed your pet the right amount. Exercise plays a role as well, but feeding the right amount is absolutely key. Feeding a good diet, avoiding lots of fatty foods and avoiding lots of treats. We can still give treats, but they shouldn't make up more than about 10% of daily calorie intake.

It's not rocket science (but it’s definitely not always easy either). We just need to concentrate on it. We especially need to think about our smaller breeds because very often people are thinking that they're really fussy dogs and the only way to get them to eat is to give them human food. In reality, a lot of the time these are tiny, tiny breed dogs and they really don't need to eat very much in the first place. What you're giving is more than likely to be adequate.

Obviously if you've got concerns that they're getting too thin, then talk to your vet about those problems. But in the vast majority of cases, they're not being fussy. They're simply eating everything that they need to and then you're effectively giving them chocolate at the end of the meal. So, of course, they're going to eat those things and that might make you think that they still hungry.

So make no mistake, fat does kill. It’s a really common problem. It's one that I see every day in my consult room, but all too often it's dismissed. If you could have your pet in your life for an extra two and a half years just by keeping them a healthy weight, isn't that something really worth concentrating on?