Is your Havanese getting wider, bigger and perhaps hard or flabbier? Do you know how to check to see if your dog is gaining too much weight? It takes more than just a cursory view. You may not think you are over feeding but if they are packing on the pounds, well, perhaps it’s an area you should explore.
Just as with humans, the primary cause of dog obesity is too much food and too little exercise. Some people feel that Havanese are lap dogs (I do not) and do not need exercise, but ALL dogs need exercise regardless of breed.
Obesity presents cardiovascular, muscular-skeletal and digestive dangers to your pet's health while also increasing the risk of diabetes, arthritis, fatigue and heat intolerance. In all overweight dogs, the body structure ages prematurely and can reduce their lifespan.
Physically Checking Your Havanese for Excessive Weight Gain
By monitoring changes in your dog’s body, you can identify additional pounds early and trim down the diet as well as the dog. Here are a few areas to check:
- Run your hand over your pet's hips. You should feel the bumps of two pelvic bones without applying pressure.
- Place your thumbs on your pet's back and run them along the backbone with your fingers over the ribs. You should be able to feel the bumps of the ribs without applying any pressure. If you can see the ribs or they are protruding, your pet is too thin.
- Push your thumb and index finger into the flesh at the side of the neck above the shoulder and pinch together. Your fingers should not be more than a half inch apart.
- When you look at your pet from the side, the abdomen should not be hanging down or taut and round. This means they are adding too much weight for their structure.
- When looking at your pet from above, you should be able to see a waist behind the ribs.
The following health conditions can also contribute to obesity:
• Pituitary gland and brain diseases
• Adult onset diabetes
• Cushing's disease
What are the Health Risks Caused by Obesity
Obesity can be a big concern for your pet, as it can lead to a long list of other health problems. The more excess weight a dog has to carry, the more stress is placed on his body. If you think your Havanese may be overweight, then you'll both want and need to make certain that you're aware of the health risks caused by obesity.
Obesity causes the body to increase insulin secretion because the body of an overweight dog has an increased blood glucose level. If your dog's body cannot produce enough insulin, diabetes develops; if the need for insulin increases over a long-term period, the cells in the dog's pancreas can "give out," which is what actually causes diabetes.
Damage to joints, bones, and ligaments: Because overweight dogs have to carry more weight, they are prone to joint, bone, and ligament problems. About 25% of obese dogs end up developing some kind of serious joint complication. Arthritis and hip dysplasia are two conditions that will drastically worsen and progress in overweight dogs. Some dogs may experience knee concerns, when the patella becomes unstable, which is usually caused by a torn ligament, and some dogs may experience a slipped disc, or inter-vertebral disc disease (common amongst dogs with longer spines, such as Dachshunds).
Heart disease and increased blood pressure: Similar to obese people, overweight dogs tend to suffer hypertension (increased blood pressure) because the heart has to work harder in order to pump blood to the excess tissue. Long-term, this can lead to congenital heart failure.
Other common conditions that develop from obesity include difficulty in breathing, decreased stamina, constipation, intestinal gas, heat intolerance, increased oil production to the skin and coat, decreased liver function, and an overall decreased immune function.
Dogs who are severely overweight can suffer increased anesthetic risks due to heart and lung deficiency. It is not uncommon for obese dogs to suffer a cardiac arrest because their heart cannot serve enough oxygen to the blood and tissues, the need for which is increased during a surgical operation.
Female dogs can suffer problems when giving birth, particularly problems with breathing.
The main concern that anyone with an obese dog should be worried about is a general decrease in the quality and the length of their life. Overweight dogs tend to be more irritable due to being in pain, hot, or just plain uncomfortable and, due to decreased stamina, overweight dogs tend to exercise less, which increases the obesity risks further. Typically, if other things are equal, dogs that are obese tend to die at a younger age than dogs that have an optimum weight level.
Making Changes to Reduce Obesity Risk
The first step is to consult your Veterinarian. Then you may want to seek a canine nutritionist. What is written on your bag of dog food can be confusing and even misleading. It might be the right amount of food for a given dog in a given state of health with an assumed amount of daily exercise but that doesn’t necessarily come close to your dog on this day. You may be feeding your dog what is on the chart but more times than not, it’s much more than he or she needs.
A nutritionist and your vet should be able to provide you with a detailed feeding and exercise plan if necessary. Ask about regular follow-ups to ensure the plan is working. Here are other things to help reduce weight gain:
* Don't misinterpret an empty bowl as an empty stomach. Even if your Havanese cleans their plate, make sure you are controlling portions appropriately. Do not free feed. If they do not eat within 10 minutes, pick it up and put it down much later. Free feeding also contributes to pickiness. You want your Havanese excited about their food and eating their bowl clean. If they are not, you ‘may’ be feeding them too much.
* Make time for extended exercise. Playtime alone or outside is not enough. Schedule a play session or a long walk to help keep your pet's muscles toned. Swimming in summer is an excellent form of exercise. Playing run-like-hell with another like-minded Havanese is an explosion of energy expelled and great fun to watch. If it’s raining, a great game of retrieve with physical rewards (hugs and love) instead of treats will help them get moving. Plus, during the spring and summer months, taking a long walk to look at gardens, architecture and wildlife can be great fun for both you and your Havanese and will help you with your own weight as well.
* Pay attention to the fat and calorie content in the food you buy. Fats are an energy source, but excess fat adds pounds quickly. Similarly, look for low calorie diets that offer the same quality ingredients found in higher calorie foods.
If you are training your Havanese, do not feed them the night of class or if you must, remember to reduce the amount of food given by the amount of treats you are giving. If you think they are starving despite them not being thin, this may be how you yourself think about food. Many of us use it for comfort and think of it as love but too much is not necessarily a good thing.
To promote your own health along with the health of your Havanese, explore ways in which you and your dog can exercise together and eat more wisely. You may feel more comfortable about helping your Havanese if you are on a plan as well.
In our own particular case we had to learn tough love. Once a bowl of food has been eaten, it’s done. As hard as it is to do, we know that ignoring the plaintive, pathetic look and tiny whine is the right thing to do, as is, in Risa and Shoshi’s case, ignoring their more direct approach of using an under the breath growl to get attention focused on them, and then the blatant tongue out of the mouth slow licking the lips gesture that you have to be an idiot to fail to interpret. Then we have our little Treasure. You have to understand the strengths and weaknesses of all of our dogs to appreciate Treasure, who isn’t quite 10 lbs, intimidating another dog off their own food bowl because she wants it and she’s already eaten her own food all up! Imagine if you will, Treasure sidling up to Terra and slowly insinuating her head into Terra’s bowl and nudging the 70lb. Golden Retriever out of her way. The only thing that prevents this blatant steal is big bad daddy alpha swooping in and scooping up Treasure under one arm while she wiggles, squirms and tries her very best to get loose all the while telling her daddy in plain dog that “I have to get back to THE FOOD, DADDY!”
So if you are concerned about the risks of dog obesity or feel your dog is overweight, do talk to your veterinarian right away. Your dog's nutrition is the key to ensuring he lives a long, active life, and the key to that is in your hands.
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