How to Diagnose Obesity in Labrador Retrievers
It is estimated that up to 30% of the general dog population, and 45% of dogs 5 -11 years old, are heavier than their ideal weight. This is not just a matter of appearance for the dog, but it affects its health and the length of its life. Dogs that are overweight or obese have shorter lifespans than those of an ideal weight, by as much as 18 months, and are more prone diseases, such as diabetes, arthritis, heart and lung problems, high blood pressure, and certain cancers. If you are concerned about the weight of your Labrador retriever, you should learn how to assess its weight, take it to the vet for assessment, and change its lifestyle if it is indeed overweight.
Assessing Your Labrador's Weight
1. Concern yourself with your dog's weight. Obesity is considered an entirely preventable disease, and as a pet parent in charge of the can opener or the shopping, the responsibility to keep their pet a healthy weight falls squarely on your shoulders. The first step in doing this is to recognize that you need to be proactive about your dog's weight.
- This does not mean that you are a horrible pet parent if your Labrador is over weight. It simply means that you now need to prioritize keeping your pet at a healthy weight, in the same way that you prioritize taking it to the vet for annual exams and keeping it safe from harm.
2. Assess your dog's body shape. The first skill to learn is observing your Labrador's body shape. When viewed from the side, the dog should have a tucked up abdomen from behind the ribs to the back legs, so that it has an evident elegant waistline. Dogs that are barrel shaped, or have a flat underline, are overweight.
- Likewise, when viewed from above, the dog should have a waistline that goes in behind the ribs and in front of the pelvis. Again, dogs with parallel sides, or that bulge outward, are overweight.
3. Body score your dog. The essence of body scoring is to feel for prominent landmarks on the dog's body (such as ribs, backbone, or pelvic bones) and rate the amount of fat that covers them. If you understand how to do it correctly, you can use this to check the amount of fat cover on your dog's body and decide whether the dog is overweight.
- The idea is to use your fingertips and run them along the dog's spine and over the ribs to see how well (or not) you can feel their bones. The ideal is to be able to detect individual bones (such as the bumps of the spine) but without the bones staring out through the coat.
- The scale either runs 1 - 5 (1 being emaciated and 5 being grossly obese), with 3 being the perfect amount of body cover, or 1 - 9, with 4.5 being perfect.
- To appreciate the perfect cover over the ribs, run the fingertips of one hand over the knuckles of the other, and that sort of bump-bump is the feeling you should get over the ribs.
- If you need to press hard to identify individual bones or you still can't locate bones, then the dog is overweight.
Getting a Veterinary Diagnosis of Obesity
1. Take your dog to the veterinarian. If you think that your dog's weight is getting out of control, address the problem immediately. Schedule a specific exam with your veterinarian just to deal with this issue.
- Your dog's annual exam is also a good time to assess and discuss its weight. This is especially true if you think your Lab is just slightly overweight and the issue doesn't require a lot of time or attention.
2. Watch how your veterinarian body scores your Labrador. Your veterinarian uses the same methods you do, body scoring, to assess whether or not your dog is at its ideal weight. However, they have the advantage of having seen countless dogs during their working life and knowing what is a healthy weight and what isn't.
- Your vet also has the advantage of judging dispassionately without emotion blurring decisions.
- In addition the vet will weigh the dog, as a reference.
3. Discuss changes you can make to your dog's lifestyle and eating habits. Your veterinarian can be a great resource for ideas about how to lower your dog's weight. The veterinarian may have suggestions for foods to feed the dog and about how to get your dog more physically active.
- Because different dogs have different physical ability levels, based on their breed, age, and physical status, talk to your vet about what kinds of exercise would be good for your dog. Labradors, for example, are big dogs that can do a lot of physical exercise when they are young, but your dog may have physical issues that limit its ability to do certain types of strenuous activity.
- Your veterinarian will be a good resource for information about feeding your dog because he or she understands the balance between getting enough calories in your dog to keep it active and happy, and still having it lose weight.
4. Learn what the ideal weight is for your specific dog. Obesity is defined as being 20% over the top end of the normal range of weight. This extra weight represents an excess of fat. However, tables listing the desired weights for different breeds are of limited use for predicting what any individual dog should weigh. Instead, discuss your dog's ideal weight with its veterinarian, as he or she will have a better idea of what the dog's weight should be based on its actual frame.
- For example the 'average' weight for a Labrador is quoted at 55 - 70 lbs. It might be tempting for someone with a heavy female Labrador that weighs 69 lbs to think their dog is OK, whereas when her small body frame and the fact she is female is taken into account, she is actually overweight.
- These average weights can lull an owner into a false sense of security, whereas the owner should be judging the dog's condition based on the amount of fat cover over the dog's ribs and the shape of the dog.
Keeping Your Labrador at a Healthy Weight
1. Understand why your dog is overweight. This will help you to understand what you need to change in order to help the dog lose weight. In its simplest terms, obesity is caused when a Labrador eats more calories than they burn, and the excess energy is laid down as body fat. In order to stop this from happening, the dog either needs to take in fewer calories, burn off more calories, or a combination of the two.
- Some factors do have an impact, such as neutering, but this is due to a slight slowing of the metabolism rather than a predestination that a desexed dog is going to be fat. A neutered dog still has the ability to be at an ideal weight, it may just take further adjustments to diet and exercise.
2. Don't cave in to begging. The Labrador represents a particular challenge because they are very fond of eating and don't seem to recognize when their stomachs are full. Thus, the Labrador owner cannot rely on their dog's own appetite control to govern how much to feed. It is not safe to assume a begging Labrador is hungry, no matter how convincing their appeal, because they will do a good impression of being starving even if they have just eaten.
- A Labrador owner must be doubly vigilant of their pet's waistline so as to recognize a problem early while it easiest to remedy.
3. Make exercise a part of your daily routine. Your dog needs to burn off more calories than it is taking in. This will allow the dog to lose some of the weight it has put on. Exercise it every day, several times a day.
- When choosing what type of exercise to do with the dog, take into account your dog's physical fitness and its build.
- This exercise could be as simple as getting in the routine of walking it in the morning before you go to work and walking it again when you return from work.
- If your dog has a lot of stamina and the physical build for more exercise, consider taking it hiking or taking it along when you go for a run. This can also be something that you build up to together!
4. Feed your dog less calories and a healthy, lean food. Clearly, if your dog is overweight it needs to be fed less. This could mean continuing to feed it the same food, but just cutting down on the amount you are give it. It could also mean changing its food to a type that is designed to help it lose weight. Whatever you decide to do, it's best to consult with your veterinarian before making changes to your dog's diet and the amount you feed it.
- If you are considering changing the type of food you are feeding your dog, remember that you need to make adjustments gradually. An abrupt change in food could put your dog's digestive system into shock and cause illness. Instead, gradually incorporate the new food into the old food over the course of a week or two, so that by the end your dog is completely on the new food.
5. Keep track of your dog's weight. Once you have determined the Labrador needs to lose weight, you will use weight as a guide to determine whether a diet and exercise regime is successful. If you do not have a scale that your Labrador fits on at home, consider measuring its waist with a tape measure and using that to determine if it is losing weight.
- Weigh or measure your Labrador once a week and write the measurement down for reference.
- When measuring the dog, pick a landmark on their coat (such as a distinctive patch of hairs) to locate the measuring tape in the same spot each time.