Don’t Let Them Get Obese!

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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 a long time. 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.

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.

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

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