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Just like being overweight for humans can lead to serious health conditions—the same applies to dogs. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), 55.8% of dogs are classified as over weight. To make matters worse, 95% of owners don’t even know their pets are overweight, which the APOP refers to as the “fat pet gap.”
Dr. Alex Schechter, DVM at Pure Paws Veterinary Care of Hell’s Kitchen tells me, “Dog obesity is a major problem with our New York dog population. Limited exercise, high calorie intake, and non-nutritious foods tend to be the major culprits. In general, most pet parents actually think an overweight dog is a normal healthy baseline.”
“It’s very prevalent,” Dr. Joseph Martins DVM and Certified Fear Free Professional at Belle Mead Animal Hospital tells me of the dog obesity he sees in his practice. “My guesstimate is over 50% of dogs and cats are overweight and over 20% are obese. So 70-80% of pets weigh too much and this problem is growing. It’s getting worse nationwide every year and especially the past few years.”
So what makes a dog obese, what kind of health issues can obesity cause, and with all the brands popping up promoting whole food diets for dogs are these a viable solution?
The American Kennel Club says that figuring out whether your dog is overweight or not is a matter of both appearance of the body constitution and touch. You should be able to feel your dog’s ribs when you press the sides of their body. Extra weight can lead to a variety of issues including Type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, a range of orthopedic issues, skin disease, heart and respiratory disease, and even decreased life expectancy.
While there aren’t many lifetime studies on dogs, Martins’ tells me, “There is one on Labrador retrievers that shows that labs who are over fed get overweight and consequently get more painful arthritis at earlier ages. Many of these pets require life long arthritis meds for pain years earlier than if they were kept lean. Another shocking part of this study also showed that 50% of overweight dogs were dead by 10 years of age and that dogs kept at an ideal weight lived 2-3 years longer than overweight dogs. This is a huge statistical fact every pet owner needs to know—lean dogs on average live years longer.”
Schechter is a fan of The Farmer’s Dog, a breed-specific customized dog food made from fresh ingredients that’s delivered to your door, for his adult dog patients because he believes the nutritional value of fresh food is far superior than processed dog food. “I recommend The Farmer’s Dog for all of my adult patients. I think they have revolutionized the pet food industry with a simple concept—feed our pets fresher nutritious foods. We vaccinate our patients to prevent disease and have them on monthly medication to prevent against gastrointestinal parasites and ticks. However, I think we often forget that food can also be preventative medicine!”
Pet owner Linda Glass transitioned to The Farmer’s Dog when her Dalmatian, Jasmine, who suffered from persistent diarrhea was diagnosed with various infections and put on antibiotics, but the diarrhea continued. “I tried a variety of food changes and combinations,” explains Glass. “I added wet food to dry food. I even started boiling chicken and rice. Nothing worked. Then I came across an ad on Facebook for Farmer’s Dog. After the first week of eating their food, Jasmine went to the vet and she weighed 82 pounds. Two months later they weighed her at 64 pounds. The vet was so impressed. Her coat was shiny, she didn’t have flaky skin, and she had very little shedding. I told the vet about the food change and provided them a leaflet with the ingredients, which is now part of her chart.” Glass says the only thing that changed to achieve these results is the dog food and the diarrhea is gone. “It’s worth every penny.”
Brett Podolsky, Co-founder of The Farmer’s Dog tells me, “We’ve heard thousands of success stories from customers over the years. It’s one of the most rewarding parts of our day! It’s a constant reminder that making a simple change from highly processed products to real, fresh food can have a transformational impact on health. We hear how easy it becomes for people to manage their dog’s weight and help eliminate all kinds of other health issues like allergies and stomach problems.”
What’s unique about The Farmer’s Dog’s subscription-based fresh food plans is that they allow people to tailor their dog’s daily caloric intake to their very specific requirements based on breed, age, and a variety of other factors which are asked about during the online questionnaire. Furthermore, the plan allows people to adapt their plan to their dog’s changing needs.
“A kibble bag offers broad, and vague guidelines that don’t take into account an individual dog’s needs, making it very easy to over-feed and kibble-bag guidelines will always err on the side of too much food, so you end up buying more,” continues Podolsky. “Dr. Ernie Ward who runs APOP has told us at Farmer’s Dog that he hears about so many pet owners feeding exactly what they suggest on the bag and those suggestions are too much.”
The Farmer’s Dog is made from human-grade meat and vegetables that provides more bioavailable nutrients for a dog. “Because our food is gently steamed, not processed multiple times at high heat like kibble, it also retains a lot of moisture and the natural nutrients from our whole food ingredients, which is another factor in keeping a dog healthy and satisfied,” explains Podolsky. Kibble type dog foods, on the other hand, are dried and devoid of moisture, which is what allows for the long shelf life.
On why a customized diet is the way to go for our pets, Podolsky tells me, “Customized plans allow people to precisely control their dog’s caloric intake based on their very specific needs. If you have a 16-pound elderly Pug who needs to lose weight, that’s a VERY different caloric demand than a 25-pound Rat Terrier who is younger and extremely active. Yet the guideline on a kibble bag might recommend that any dog ‘between 16 and 25 pounds’ is fed ‘between one and two cups’. That’s a massive gap, and into that gap falls the health of too many dogs, even though the owner has the best intentions.”
Martins’ is also a fan of whole food diets like Freshpet, which creates meals from 100% natural farm-raised poultry, beef and fish and incorporates fiber-packed vegetables and anti-oxidant rich fruits that are gently cooked without preservatives and kept refrigerated (and can be found at major retailers nationwide).
“I am a fan of whole food diets like Freshpet that are properly nutritionally balanced using fresh ingredients that are prepared and cooked according to FDA and USDA standards, Martins’ tells me. “Actually pets age 7-10 times faster than we do and don’t live as long so maybe its even more important for them. So feeding fresh foods like Freshpet that are gently cooked but provide more moisture, high quality protein, more natural fiber, and highest quality antioxidants makes good sense and pets seem to feel better and look better.”
“Veterinary nutritionists know now more than ever that cats and dogs have their own species specific trace nutrient requirements different from each other and definitely different from humans, to keep their hearts and other vital organs healthy,” continues Martins. “It’s imperative that owners know you cant just feed pets what people eat long term and keep up with their vital micronutrient needs. We are all constantly looking to keep our pets healthier, happier and living longer. One piece of the puzzle to do that right now is to keep pets from becoming overweight by feeding them the freshest, most balanced measured meals daily along with exercise.”
Protein in the diet is essential for dogs. Dr. Gerardo Perez-Camargo DVM, VP of Research and Development at Freshpet tells me,“Freshpet delivers to the pet twice the amount of protein and half the amount of carbohydrates than dry foods. Pets need protein to maintain, repair and grow muscle. Muscle is metabolically active, that means that it consumes energy. A dog with muscle will be able to burn more energy and maintain a healthier body weight than the same dog with a lower level of muscle in its body.”
Like The Farmer’s Dog, Freshpet has heard stories from thousands of pet parents who’ve experienced incredible transformations once their pets have transitioned to Freshpet. Pet parent Melissa Stewart’s 9-year old overweight Chihuahua Benji had a complete turnaround with his weight once she switched over to Freshpet. She tells me, “After switching, he slimmed down and acts like he did as a puppy! It really is a miracle! He loves to go on walks and can jump on to the couch again. Benji is a happy dog and so am I!”