N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column - 11/14/10
By: Gail T. Fisher
As the holidays approach, I’m probably not alone in thinking about the poundage I put on (then struggle to lose) in just one extremely treat-filled month. In the past few years, studies have demonstrated the relationship between weight and longevity in humans. While there are no studies into longevity in dogs that I’m aware of, it’s likely the same relationship exists.
Longevity in dogs is a problem – or rather lack of longevity. The American Veterinary Medical Association claims dogs are living longer. Longer than what? In the early 20th Century, sanitation and medical improvements saved infants and the young from early death, greatly impacting human longevity. It may be that the claim that dogs are living longer is related to the elimination of diseases that take kill puppies. At the other end of the spectrum, the sad fact is that dogs do not live as long as they used to.
When I was a child, dogs often lived well into their teens. My next-door-neighbor’s dog, an Irish Setter, was the same age as I. She died when I was a freshman in college. We were both 17. They also had a Cocker Spaniel that lived to be 20!
In the early 1970’s, I interviewed for a job at a Newfoundland kennel with over 40 dogs. The average age of their old dogs was 18-20. They fully expected their dogs to live well into their mid to late teens. Now, a mere 35 years later, a Newfie that lives to be 10 is old—hardly an increase in longevity.
While genetics plays a role in longevity, there is a profound message for dog owners in this simple statement: Thin creatures live longer than fat ones. Could it be that reduced longevity in our pets may be in part because they we feed them too much? There is a lot we don’t know about why dogs don’t live into their late teens, but certainly one factor could well be overweight – even just a few too many pounds. A 50-pound dog that is just 10 pounds overweight is carrying 20% more weight than its frame and organs are designed for. This is considered to be obesity in humans, but in dogs it’s considered "show weight" or proof that we love and spoil our dogs – usually said with an apologetic shrug.
It If by “spoiling” our dogs we’re shortening their lives, wouldn’t it be better to be tough (read “kind”) and cut out fattening snacks?
Consider the Greyhound, a large, sleek hound with a life expectancy many years beyond large, heavier hounds. A Bloodhound, a similar size, but much heavier dog, may live to 10 or 11, while a Greyhound often lives to 14 or 15. Greyhounds are one of the only show dogs for whom “show weight” is not overweight. You can see the ribs of a healthy Greyhound while it is often hard to even find the ribs on many pet dogs.
I firmly believe that one of the reasons my English Mastiffs lived to 13 or 14 (years beyond the live expectancy of the breed) was in part because I keep my dogs thin – anathema for many Mastiff people. For many giant breed owners, bigger is better, proudly exclaiming, “My Mastiff weighed 250 pounds!” He may have died at the age of six, and could barely walk because he was grossly overweight, but, by golly, he was huge!
Veterinarians we talk to almost universally agree that most pet dogs are too fat. They recommend to their clients that the dog needs to lose weight, but many owners seem to have a hard time cutting back on their dog’s food, and seem to feel as if they’re punishing their dog if they provide low-fat snacks. You’re not! You’re being kinder to your dog.
So as we approach the holidays, consider not sharing your turkey skin and leftover gravy with your dog. Your dog won’t hate you for it, and you may well have him around a few extra months or years.
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