Dogs often seem to be a lot like humans in the weight department — fighting a desperate, frequently unsuccessful battle against obesity, while at the same time unable to control their voracious appetite for food. It’s not uncommon to see dogs that are so hefty they can barely waddle around. It’s sad, because you know that the extra weight just isn’t good for their health.
And now a study has confirmed the obvious: fat dogs are less healthy and tend to die much earlier than thin, fit dogs. The research looked at data collected over two decades that related to more than 50,000 dogs from 12 of the most popular dog breeds. For every breed, the data showed that obesity reduced life span, and for some breeds the impact was truly breathtaking. According to the study, for example, overweight Yorkshire Terriers tend to die two and a half years younger than Yorkies who maintain an ideal weight. Fat dogs also are far more likely to develop joint issues and breathing problems, and are more susceptible to certain types of cancers. As a result, obese canines have a less satisfying quality of life than dogs that stay in fighting trim. How can a dog truly be a dog if it can’t take off after a squirrel or run to fetch a ball?
We’ve dealt with weight issues in our dogs and seen first-hand the impact that extra pounds can have. Our first Lab, Dusty, had an immense appetite and would eat whatever was put in front of her and drool for more. She put on weight, of course, and then we noticed her noticeably limping. The connection was clear and confirmed by our vet. We put Dusty on a diet and made sure she got lots of exercise, and when the extra pounds disappeared, so did the limping. From then on, we just had to steel ourselves to not react to her plaintive, expectant eyes and drooling whenever she saw humans eating something. It was clear that Dusty’s weight problem was our responsibility, not hers — she couldn’t help herself, and we needed to be the ones who exercised control.
It’s tough, because dog owners feel that giving food treats and table scraps to their dogs is a nice way to pay back their pets for their love and companionship. But having discipline is crucial, because overfeeding a dog clearly is doing her no favors. What’s more important: the instant gratification of food that is wolfed down now, or making sure that your beloved pooch stays healthy, so that your special relationship endures for another year or two?