Obesity… It’s Not Just for Humans Any More.

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Today’s session is about Senior Dogs and obesity, by Cathie Garnier, the founder and President of Elder Paws Senior Dog Rescue.

Food…while necessary to sustain life it can also be a catalyst to   obesity and diminished life span.  Canine obesity is one of the fastest growing health problems for senior dogs today.  In a nation of nearly 170 million pets up to 50% of pets in the US are overweight or even obese.  That equates to a whopping 85 million pets carrying too much weight on their bodies.

As with humans obesity in our four legged companions has been associated with a host of chronic health conditions, including, but not limited to, diabetes, heart and lung disease, and even cancer, all of which negatively impact a pet’s quality of life and longevity and cause a dramatic increase in the cost of vet care.  For example the average cost to treat a diabetic dog in 2011 was over $900 (according to Pet Plan USA, a pet insurance company).  All too often owners are not able to afford the high cost of such treatment resulting in senior dogs being surrendered to kill shelters, where they are likely to never make it out alive.

Excess weight causes increased stress on a dog’s heart and lungs, which have to work harder, leading to breathing problems.  This results in a higher risk of complications under anesthesia for such procedures as regular dental cleanings or life saving surgeries.  For those living in warmer climates the extra weight, combined with a dogs coat, can make obese dogs miserable in hot weather and make it harder for them to cool down.

The most common health condition by far that we, as a senior dog rescue, see in seniors is Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD), also known as osteoarthritis.   Excess weight puts added strain on the joints, resulting in a higher level of joint damage leading to more significant DJD.  Eventually joints begin to prematurely wear under the strain of excess weight leading to intense pain that limits mobility and decreases quality of life.  Dogs with longer backs and shorter legs, i.e., Doxies and Corgis, are at a greater risk of suffering from DJD.

Vet care to treat DJD and ligament tears costs an average of $2,000  (according to Pet Plan USA).  Dr. Jules Benson, V.P. of Vet Services at Pet Plan USA states “It is not uncommon to see dogs that are rendered practically immobile by a combination of weight and joint issues.”  Personally, I find it heartbreaking to watch a senior dog suffer with the increasing pain and lack of mobility caused by a condition that could have been avoided in the first place.

While dogs do not die directly from DJD the intense negative impact to their mobility and quality of life often leads owners to a premature decision to euthanize due to debilitating pain issues coupled with the high cost of continued vet care.

Your dog depends on you to keep them healthy and happy.  Your dog pays a very high cost when you “love your dog with food”.  Leaner, trimmer dogs are at a lower risk of developing DJD, thereby improving quality of life and the number of years your pet has to spend with you, as well as reducing the cost of vet care.  Helping them shed those excess pounds may be the most loving thing an owner can do for their pet.

Cathie Garnier is Founder and President of Elder Paws Senior Dog Rescue, a California non-profit which is committed to reducing the euthanasia rate of dogs 7 and older in high kill shelters based on age and age related health conditions.  As a 501©(3) Elder Paws relies solely on tax deductible donations to cover the higher cost of vet care to treat senior dogs and prepare them for adoption.  www.elderpawsrescue.org and www.petfinder.com.

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