The Fat Cavalier

Face it the average Cavalier loves their food; in fact, many would eat until they imploded given the chance! For a breed with heart issues being overweight could have devastating results. 

Recent studies out of both the UK and the USA show that between 40-50% of dogs are overweight, many obese. In the US alone this could mean that approximately 85 million companion animals carry too much weight. The weight problems in companion animals are thought to be a reflection of current society’s struggles with weight as more and more humans are also overweight. We like to share our lives with our pets, both positively and negatively! Humans now lead a more sedentary lifestyle coupled with high calorie junk foods than ever before and this has trickled down to our pets. 

Heart disease and diabetes in both humans and companion animals are on the rise and seen more commonly in those who are overweight. And the financial costs associated with an overweight pet are also on the rise. According to a major USA pet insurance company, PetPlan, claims in 2011 for diabetes increased by 253%, heart disease by 32% and arthritis by 348%. 

We are too quick to blame genetics as if that is the sole answer for our health issues in dogs. While genetics may play a part, other issues such as weight may play as large a part. While some breeds are genetically susceptible to orthopedic problems these problems occur earlier and more severely with pets that are overweight. 

Overweight dogs are more at risk for such problems as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, joint and ligament problems, disc disease, arthritis, breathing difficulties, cancer, skin problems, digestive disorders and the list goes on. Sadly, an overweight pet faces a shorter lifespan than one who has been kept at optimum weight throughout its life. 

And health issues caused by weight don’t just start in middle age. In a recent study it was found that dogs that were obese at 1 year of age were at a greater risk of developing mammary tumors. Fat also starts to develop around the heart starting in the young and can lead to issues later in life. A common problem in young overweight dogs is the cruciate ligament tear which leads to a costly surgery and may affect the dog’s ability to move around freely later in life. 

The sad thing is many owners don’t realize their animals are overweight! They might see some associated problems such as a cat who isn’t grooming itself properly or a dog that is “lazy” and doesn’t want to move about much or is always panting but don’t connect the problems to weight. And while a pound or two overweight may not be much to a human, to a Cavalier it could be the equivalent of 15 extra pounds or more in a 150 lb. person! 

Owners can assess their dog’s weight as follows: 

1. Run your hands along your dog’s ribcage. You should be able to feel the ribs covered by a thin layer of fat. If you are unable to feel the ribs this could be a sign your dog is overweight. 

2. Look at your dog from the side. Can you to see the upward tuck of the abdomen? An overweight dog will have very little or no tuck. 

3. When viewing your dog from above, there should be a moderate narrowing at the waist just past the ribcage. If you see a straight or bulging line from the ribcage to the hips your dog may be overweight. 

Note: using breed weight charts are not reliable as an assessment of correct weight for your dog. The range for a Cavalier is quite large (12-18 lbs). While 18 lbs might be an appropriate weight for a larger Cavalier, for a smaller framed dog it may mean it is overweight by quite a degree. 

If in doubt ask your veterinarian to assess your dog’s weight. 

Cavalier hearts and weight 

While Mitral Valve disease is prevalent and considered genetic in Cavaliers being overweight can have some dire implications for your Cavalier. The extra weight can put more demands on all the organs of the body including the heart. The heart has to work harder trying to pump blood to all the excess tissue and overweight dogs tend to have high blood pressure. The lungs are also affected as there is an increased demand for oxygen as well the fat in the chest cavity can restrict lung expansion. This could be serious if a dog suffers from Congestive Heart failure (an end result of MVD). Overweight dogs also suffer from decreased stamina and don’t get the exercise they need to keep healthy and can also suffer from heat intolerance. 

Time for your dog to see the salad plate? 

Helping your dog lose weight may include a reduction of the amount of food given or using a special weight loss diet; and exercise. 

Most owners have great difficulty restricting their dog’s intake. They perceive the dog as always being hungry. The truth of the matter is most dogs, Cavaliers in particular, are opportunists and if they can sit looking at you with baleful eyes and get more food or treats, they’ll do it all day. Weight control diets usually contain more bulk so that a dog feels full while not getting the calories. 

There are a large variety of “weight control” dog foods on the market but a recent study published in The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association looked at weight control diets and found that they vary greatly in the number of calories they contained and the feeding instructions. While one product might have 217 calories per cup, another product might have 440 calories per cup. The authors of the study found that with most of the foods studied pets would not only NOT lose weight but could gain it, if owners followed the feeding instructions on the labels! If you are considering a weight control diet a consultation with your veterinarian is a good idea. 

As for treats most of those dog treats and cookies you find at the grocery store are very fattening and full of sugar. Feeding vegetables and fruits as treats may be healthier for your dog in the long run and they’ll be happy. 

Exercise is also a key element to weight loss but for an overweight dog it may involve baby steps first. Expecting an overweight, sedentary dog to immediately start off with a 10K run is not reasonable and could lead to other problems. Starting with short walks and gradually increasing distances and speed will be more beneficial. 

As with people who join weight programs like Weight Watchers there are weight programs for your pet which your veterinarian may offer. A popular program is “Slim Fit” which involves consultation on food, exercise and a regular weigh in with a consultant or technician. They also offer advice and encouragement along the way to getting your dog to a healthy weight! 

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