Whole Dog Journal's Blog April 5, 2017

Don’t Let Them Get Obese!

Posted at 12:02AM - Comments: (15)

This blog post was originally published on June 28, 2012

More and more often, it seems, I see a super fat dog surrendered to the shelter. I always feel sorrier for these dogs than for the thin ones, because we can get a skeletal dog looking pretty healthy in a month’s time, but in the shelter environment, an obese dog may not be able to lose an ounce! Caged in a small run, being over-fed . . . the conditions are likely to make them even fatter! Plus, few people want the panting, exercise-intolerant, unattractive dogs; they end up lingering in our adoption kennels for alongtime. And few of them have ever experienced anything like what must feel, in comparison to their former soft lives, like total deprivation – hard time – in the shelter environment.

Under all that fat was a really pretty purebred Labrador.

One dog I’ve talked about before was this darling Labrador, who was surrendered to my local shelter weighing 110 pounds. By California law, she needed to be spayed before she could be adopted, but the surgery couldn’t be scheduled before she lost at least 20 or more pounds; surgery on such an obese dog takes a long time – the fat just floods into the incision and obscures the tissues that need to be cut and sutured – and is considered high risk.

The dog had been surrendered by her owner, who was going into long-term care and didn’t have any friends or relatives who could take her. Under all that fat was a super attractive, well-built Labrador, but it was hard to see. She had basically spent her whole life keeping this older man company on the couch, presumably eating fast food! She was understandably heartbroken, confused, and depressed at finding herself in a hard “cell.” I fostered her for a few weeks until we found a rescue group who would take her for the long-term rehabilitation she needed in order to get healthy and then spayed and rehomed.

I know that some dogs become obese as a result of a thyroid condition. I suspect that in this dog’s case, and in the case of many of the fat dogs we get at the shelter, it’s simple overfeeding and lack of exercise – the super-long, sharp toenails tell us that.

Not a purebred, but so fat and strong and untrained that no one has wanted to take him on.

More recently, this dog came into the shelter as a result of a similar situation. The dog’s owners had lost their home and were staying with relatives, and the dog is “too big” (and too loud and untrained) to be welcome in the relatives’ home. Again, under that fat, there is a good-looking dog. He’s smart and learns fast; he could be much more fit and well on his way to being well-trained in a month . . . but it’s going to take someone willing to look past his heft and ill manners, and with a shelter full of younger, cuter dogs, he’s a hard sell. He’s been at my shelter for the past three months with no takers.

None of us like to think about events that might cause us to have to rehome our dogs. But there are countless human tragedies that can make it a necessity. A healthy, fit, well-trained dog will have absolutely no problem finding a home, but a fat dog who can barely be handled by strangers might not be so lucky.

The bottom line: Obesity of this degree reduces the length and quality of the dog’s life. If your dog is fat, please take steps to reduce his or her weight. Ask your veterinarian’s receptionist for a long appointment, and ask your vet for a thorough exam and discussion about what can be done. And see our past articles on low-fat diets and weight loss:

Helping Your Dog Lose Weight

Healthy Low-Fat Diets For Dogs With Special Dietary Needs

Homemade Low-Fat Dog Food Diets

Comments (15)

I am glad that you mentioned thyroid. i rescued a beagle/basset mix a few years back and he was so fat his chest was almost on the ground and he barely had any legs. Since I just found him I took him to the community low cost vet for care while trying to locate his owners. All the vet said was he was obese and to get weight off of him. So I kept cutting his food and walking him (with difficulty). I felt like I was starving him and he lost only ounces in a couple of weeks and no owner contact. Finally, I gave up and took him to my usual vet and put the works to him including blood work/thyroid. Bingo! He was hypothyroid. Once he was put on his meds he melted into a handsome, svelte little man and, boy, could he run! Thanks for the post.

Posted by: Fordamutz | April 6, 2017 11:45 PM    Report this comment

Thanks for writing... I adopted a cat from an animal shelter, her induction picture was clearly a normal weight cat, the cat I took home couldn't use her back legs because they didn't reach the ground around her stomach due to the free feeding in the shelter. The Spay Certificate she came with... and the fee I paid... well... She absolutely wasn't spayed... 2 and 1/2 years later on a near starvation diet and she's still pudgy but she's running, jumping and playing with the other cats and she was finally thin enough to spay (and the vet did just a bit of kitty lipo in the process too)... I was really sorry to have to put this very super nice kitty through so much... but... the investment is totally worthwhile for me and the cat...

Posted by: lisas | April 6, 2017 9:32 PM    Report this comment

I eyeball waists every meal when I am fixing their food and amounts go slightly up or slightly down accordingly. If only i were as good at doing it for myself.

Posted by: gaildvinson | April 6, 2017 7:41 PM    Report this comment

Unknown, there aren't any vets willing to do a payment plan?

Posted by: beckys11 | April 6, 2017 5:38 PM    Report this comment

Here in Sheltie rescue, we often get dogs that are very overweight, and it's especially sad when they are young. We recently had a youngster (1.5 yo) returned to us more than 10 pounds overweight after adopters had him for 8 months. For a Sheltie, that's a LOT! Because he was overfed as a puppy, he may always tend to put on weight. When his new adopters welcomed him recently, he was slim and trim again (6 months in foster) and had a waistline, but we worry that he'll bounce right back to obesity if they don't follow our stern directions about how much food and exercise he must have. We often hear adopters say, "But he looks so hungry." They need to remember that dogs do what works - they gaze adoringly and they get food. It's up to us to deny them what they don't need. Northern Va Sheltie Rescue

Posted by: MHeisel | April 6, 2017 5:00 PM    Report this comment

nothing about obesity, but I am curious as to what you think is the mix of the brindle dog. I have a rescue that looks very similar and when people ask me what breed she is, I either give them my best guess or reply, "your guess is as good as mine". thanks!

Posted by: kelev52 | April 6, 2017 10:48 AM    Report this comment

I have a rottie with bad hips. Too much weight is dangerous for him, and if he does get fat (as he has once, before I knew how to properly care for a rottie, then again, when we fostered a stray mommy with a litter) I have to be careful how much I exercise him because too much hurts. We recently got a third dog, a young GSD, and he's not a gobbler....at mealtime, he eats a couple mouthfuls, goes to play with his ball or his "baby" (a stuffed hedgehog)...comes back a few minutes later, eats a few more mouthfuls...goes for tummy rubs...etc. He can make dinner last through the next morning. Which is bad, because both my rottie and my aforementioned mommy (we kept her) are pigs and will eat whatever they can find.
So yeah, it's a challenge. We're trying to figure out the best way to make sure the GSD gets enough food, and the other two scavengers from eating his.

Posted by: Mik1of3 | April 6, 2017 10:28 AM    Report this comment

i agree with Ruth C - over-kind owners struggle with the begging. I have a hard time with my husband - our GSP and ESS are over-eaters. Husband swears I am starving them to death but a level measuring cup of a high quality food two times a day is all they need to be the right weight. GSPs run thin and should look thin - but hubby thinks I am a food Nazi. I was out of town for 10 days and hubby overfed them. Came home to no waist line ESS and neck roll GSP. GRRRR....

Posted by: BusyVP | April 6, 2017 10:03 AM    Report this comment

Dogs like your golden retriever pictured above and others, such as labs, LOVE to eat. Many dogs are not overly food motivated, but these guys often are. If they are free fed, they will eat and eat. Just because they are fat does not mean that their owners don't care and feed them everything - it just might mean they feel their dog would be unhappy if they couldn't eat all day long (and the dogs back this up :) We need to educate people that a fat dog IS an unhappy dog, and that much like children, they don't know what is best for them.

Posted by: C Ruth | September 17, 2012 2:23 PM    Report this comment

My Mom adopted a Corgi dog from the shelter that was really overweight. He had trouble walking and we felt so bad for him, and he was only six! On recommendation from our vet, she did two walks a day with him and put him on a reduced calorie Ultra dog food made by Natural Balance, and today he looks like a different dog. It doesn't take a lot of effort or cash to help these poor overweight pups, and it's cheaper to get him a high-quality low cal food than have him get diabetes and pay for meds, etc.

Posted by: sarahbarah987 | August 16, 2012 12:55 PM    Report this comment

Many years ago I adopted an 8 year old American Eskimo bitch from my friend whose husband rescued her from certain euthanasia. He was the gardener for an elderly lady who had to retire to a nursing home and relinquish her beloved "Prissy" to whom she had fed table scraps for 8 years and obviously never exercised. Prissy should have weighed about 25lb. When I received her she weighed about 40lb and could barely walk. The elderly lady's family did not want the dog and said she had an "attitude", whatever that meant. My friend and her husband started getting Prissy into some kind of healthier state and since they already had their own animal family (and I didn't)...enter me into the picture. I loved her at first sight, an obese, waddling, sad-looking soul. We started out slowly with short walks (house to curb, house to corner, around the block and eventually joyous runs in the nearby park.) I switched her diet to a high-grade kibble supplemented with pureed pumpkin to fill it out. Oh, and we changed her name to Zippy. Somewhat ironic, but with the hope of a healthier and more exuberant life made it was inspiring to both of us. Zippy thrived and it was a joy to watch her come back to life as she shed the extra pounds and regained her energy. Her eyes brightened, her coat began to glisten (although she stank terribly at first as she released toxins from her fat body) and she became a great and sweet companion.
I am always saddened by the sight of an overweight animal. They do not have the choice of diet and exercise. We control that. They must rely on us and I believe we have the responsibility to make their lives as healthy and happy as possible. I thank Zippy for teaching me so much about love and trust.

Posted by: Becky and Buddy | July 3, 2012 8:01 PM    Report this comment

I adopted a 10 year old 106 pound dog with lots of other health issues caused by the excess weight. It took 9 months to get her down to a healthy 65 pounds and quite a bit longer to get the rest of her body to heal and her coat to come back. No one wanted her when I got her - she was huge and we had had to shave off her matted coat. After I'd had her for a while everyone wanted her - she appeared in several fund raising rescue calendar pictures. When she died, she was the beautiful dog she should always have been.

I become very angry with people who abuse their critters with excess weight. I understand sometimes there are underlying health issues but most of the time it's just over indulgent, lazy owners!

Posted by: ThrpyDogTeam | July 3, 2012 10:13 AM    Report this comment

Great piece. I have a dog who is very overweight . I was fostering him an decided to adopt due to his age and condition. The vet never said anything about a "condition" so I thought I could get his weight under control with proper diet and a bit of exercise. Shortly after adopting him we decided there was something else going on. However, my husband lost his job and we cannot afford the vet care he needs. This is not an isolated problem. Many people face this problem. I have called many clinics and no one is willing to provide us with help. I continue to monitor his diet and keep him moving as much as possible. I do fear, however, that his life will be shortened as a result.
Thanks for informing people so they can get help before it is too late.

Posted by: Unknown | July 3, 2012 9:59 AM    Report this comment

Great piece. I have a dog who is very overweight . I was fostering him an decided to adopt due to his age and condition. The vet never said anything about a "condition" so I thought I could get his weight under control with proper diet and a bit of exercise. Shortly after adopting him we decided there was something else going on. However, my husband lost his job and we cannot afford the vet care he needs. This is not an isolated problem. Many people face this problem. I have called many clinics and no one is willing to provide us with help. I continue to monitor his diet and keep him moving as much as possible. I do fear, however, that his life will be shortened as a result.
Thanks for informing people so they can get help before it is too late.

Posted by: Unknown | July 3, 2012 9:59 AM    Report this comment

Great piece. I have a dog who is very overweight . I was fostering him an decided to adopt due to his age and condition. The vet never said anything about a "condition" so I thought I could get his weight under control with proper diet and a bit of exercise. Shortly after adopting him we decided there was something else going on. However, my husband lost his job and we cannot afford the vet care he needs. This is not an isolated problem. Many people face this problem. I have called many clinics and no one is willing to provide us with help. I continue to monitor his diet and keep him moving as much as possible. I do fear, however, that his life will be shortened as a result.
Thanks for informing people so they can get help before it is too late.

Posted by: Unknown | July 3, 2012 9:59 AM    Report this comment

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