A healthy weight has been shown to increase a dog's life expectancy by an average of approximately 2 years! Two years may not sound like a lot, but if you think about it, that is the difference between your dog living to 12 years old instead of 10, or 14 instead of 12. I think most would agree that is pretty significant! Not only does keeping your dog a healthy weight increase their longevity it also goes a long ways to preventing many other health conditions as well. Obesity has been shown to increase the risk of insulin resistance, can lead to thyroid imbalance, it has been shown to cause negative effects on the kidneys and increase urinary incontinence. Obesity can have a profound effect of the respiratory system, it is an important risk factor for tracheal collapse in small dogs and has been shown to increase the effects of heatstroke in dogs. Obesity is also a major risk factor for orthopedic conditions in dogs. Studies have shown body weight to be a predisposing factor in humeral condylar fracture, cranial cruciate ligament rupture and intervertebral disc disease.
It really is a simple thing, that can go a really long ways to keeping your dog happy, healthy and living longer. So why aren't more people keeping their dogs at an ideal weight? An estimated 52% of dogs are overweight or obese. I think a lot of people don't see that their dogs are overweight. We are so used to seeing pudgy dogs, that it is the norm. The best way to tell if your dog is a healthy weight is to get your hands on them. You should be able to feel your dogs ribs with the PALM of your hand without pressing. What should you be feeling with the palm of your hand? If you make a fist with your one hand and rub the palm of your hand over your closed fist that is similar to what you should feel on your dogs ribcage. To ensure your dog is not too thin, there should not be a noticeable dip in between the two hip bones on your dogs lower back.
So what can you do if your dog is overweight? I suggest decreasing their daily food intake by about 10% until you feel they are at an ideal weight (ribs easily felt with your palm). Once they are at an ideal weight add 5% back to their diet and keep a close eye on them. The reason you don't add all 10% back to the diet is you are now feeding a little less dog and they will not require as many calories as before.
Overweight puppies are very, very common. While puppies do require quite a bit of extra food while they are growing, the same ideal weight does apply to them. You definitely should be able to feel ribs on a growing puppy and you may need to adjust the amount they are being fed almost daily to ensure they stay an ideal weight through growth spurts. Overweight puppies are at an incrased risk for developing hip dysplasia, panosteitis and several other very painful and limiting orthopedic conditions.
We all want our pets to live long, healthy lives and this may be one of the most important factors in achieving that. A healthy weight applies to all dogs, no matter what food they eat, their breed, activity level, lifestyle or structure.