fat labrador

The real reason Vets won't tell you your dog is overweight!

Having looked after literally 1000’s of dogs over the years I'd say that, to a greater or lesser extent, over half are carrying too many Kilos. Yet when it comes to devoted dog owners who  only want the best for their VIP, the number who are willing to acknowledge their pooch is a bit of a porker is very small.

If I raise the subject the most common response I hear is  “Oh no, we’ve seen the vet and the Vet said his/her weight is fine” This shut down reply has the subtext:  ‘What do you know - the Vet has to be right, all those years studying etc etc?’

This common answer used to really puzzle me. When a dog is obviously too heavy, why are vets not telling owners to put their dogs on a diet?. One cynic I know said to me that because fat dogs are more prone to health problems they bring more money to their Vet! I think that's unfair. However,  I believe I have worked out the reason some Vets fail to tell owners their dog needs to lose weight.  

Every Veterinary business has a lot of competition and if they upset clients - who then go elsewhere - it hits profits. So Vets have to be careful about telling clients what they don’t what they hear - even though it is for the good of their dog. 

Owners will typically say to their Vets: ‘I don’t think she’s overweight do you, she’s just mature now?’ or ‘I feed him the same as I always did and I don't give him too many treats, he has a good diet’. Vets pick up on cues like this and are quick to realise they have an owner in denial.

A couple of years ago I had a gorgeous but massive Labrador on her first stay with me. She was a sweetie, but in my judgment she was 10 kilos over weight – possibly a lot more. This huge amount of weight was restricting her. She struggled moving around and could not get into my car without help. On our active exercise sessions she found the heat more of a problem than the other dogs and huffed and puffed even just walking.

Given how she struggled physically, when the owners collected her I felt I had to raise the subject. But I was floored when I got the reply that ‘the vet said she’s not overweight’.

Come on! Some dogs are just a little heavy, but this girl was obese. I couldn’t believe a vet would say such an obviously fat dog was OK. Maybe she was just saying that to shut me up. But then again, with the frost that came over the room when I said it to her, it was plain I'd hit a sore spot. She seemed furious with me for daring to raise this which she clearly considered ‘not my business’. If she was the same with her Vet, you could see why they might back off.

Despite the fact her dog had had a wonderful time at the Hound Dog Hotel I never heard from them again. She was lovely so I was sad about that. But I do this for fun and am so busy,  often turning people away, that whilst a disappointment it didn’t matter.

But can you imagine if a vet running a commercial enterprise with big overheads tells 50% of their clients their dog is overweight? They cannot afford to alienate one out of two of their customer base.

These days I still mention it if I think a dog could benefit from being leaner. However, no matter how tactful I try to be this subject still tends to prompt a defensive reaction. The difference is once I have raised it if an owner chooses not to act on it then I say nothing more because it is their dog and their responsibility.

One thing I definitely don’t want is a Hound Dog Hotel guest going home heavier than when they arrived. Unlikely as they get so much exercise. However, doggie guests do get regular treats so I adjust their main meal portions (the same food they have at home) by reducing it a little to take into account the extra food they get through treats. 

But for longer stays of 3+ weeks to keep feeding/exercise in strict balance I measure their waist on day one and repeat the measure weekly – a great way of keeping an objective record.

From the age of around two the puppy stage is over and fast growing has settled. It is usually then when dogs are fully mature the weight can start to increase. But when you see your dog every day it’s easy to miss the weight creeping on.

To monitor when they reach about 2 (assuming they are not already overweight) take your dog’s waist measurement on a regular basis (every couple of weeks or monthly). This way you can ensure your dog is not getting fatter without you noticing.

In the meantime, if you want to know the truth as to whether your dog is overweight, don’t ask a Vet, ask me!

PS Not all owners are blind to their dog being heavier than ideal. Some – Coco’s owner is one - raised the subject with me and asked if I could help them with Coco’s weight. During her 3 weeks stay she had heaps of exercise and her food reduced just a little and she lost quite a few kilos – the family were thrilled.

Coco is a Cattle Dog x Jack Russell she has traits of herding like a cattle dog and the smart as a whip brain of a Jack Russell

Coco is a Cattle Dog x Jack Russell she has traits of herding like a cattle dog and the smart as a whip brain of a Jack Russell

Coco at Umina with Izzy, Kuro and Hugo

Coco at Umina with Izzy, Kuro and Hugo