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  • Writer's pictureStacey Kew

Keeping their hour glass figure

This was written for Bullmastiff Fanciers of Canada Newsletter

One of the most common diseases impacting dogs today is often not discussed during veterinary appointments, even though it is easy to treat and entirely preventable. Obesity is a disease that impacts every aspect of a dog’s health leading to an increased risk of cancer, respiratory disease, liver dysfunction, orthopedic disease and most alarmingly, a decrease of their lifespan up to two years.

Fortunately, it is very easy to prevent obesity and particularly important in breeds like the Bullmastiff who have more stress on their systems due to their size.

In order to maintain a dog at their ideal body condition it is important to set rules:

1. Food is fed during mealtime(s) only. What isn’t finished in a set amount of time (20-30 minutes) isn’t offered until the next meal. Buffets are not allowed!

2. During family mealtimes, only humans are allowed around/near the table. Dogs will look at you when you eat so have the puppy dog eyes out of the room to avoid giving in. Never give your dog food from your plate. They don’t know what they are missing until you teach them and, in this case, a lesson they shouldn’t learn.

3. Throw away the bowl and use puzzle feeders or treat cubes/balls to feed meals. Puzzle feeders or treat cubes/balls benefit your dog mentally by engaging them to get the food out of the feeder, decreases how quickly they consume their meals and provides activity.

4. Measure meals! The most common reason for overfeeding is not measuring accurately, if at all. Ask your veterinarian for a measuring cup on your first visit and use it to measure each meal. It is important when you fill the cup to the desired amount, it is as accurate as possible as if you consider one or two kibble more per meal, per day, per week, per month, per year it adds up to excess calories which will be stored as fat. The most accurate way to measure your dog’s food is to weigh it with a food scale. In North America, weighing food is not common practice and most pet food feeding guidelines do not include per gram feeding, however your veterinary team can provide you with this information based on the food you are feeding.

5. Treats are earned. During the training phase, treats are used to reward desired behaviours however during the rest of our dog’s life, we are less apt to make our dog work for their treat. Treats should never make up more than 10% of your dog’s daily caloric intake. Your veterinarian can provide you with this information. In multiple person households, placing the daily allotment of treats in a container or baggie from which everyone treats will prevent over treating.

6. As much as dogs are a part of our family, when it comes to feeding, we have to see them as dogs, not furry children. Feeding dogs as though they are human is harmful to their health. Dogs eat to survive, not for cravings, boredom or emotional reasons. Once you find a food that works well with your dog, don’t change it unless for a medical reason. Providing different foods to your dog is going to create a picky eater. Remember dogs don’t know what they don’t know until we teach them.

One of the most valuable tools you can arm yourself with as a dog parent is learning to Body Condition Score your dog. The BCS is a scale of 9 and during your dog’s physical exams, your veterinarian should be assigning a number based on the body condition of your dog. The ideal body condition score is 4 or 5 out of 9 with large breeds like Bullmastiffs kept at a BCS of 4 which is on the leaner side. This does not mean they should be underweight; it indicates they should be kept with minimal fat and good muscle mass. Every point up the scale from 5 represents 10% overweight which provides more relevant information regarding your dog’s weight than the scale. It’s important to note that not all veterinarians body condition score – you must ask every visit as it is a valuable component of your dog’s physical exam.

The body condition score is based on sight and feel. Visually, your dog should have a waist. Bullmastiffs may not have as pronounced a waist as other breeds, but it should still be present. Looking from the side, there should be a tuck up. This is a slope from the ribs up to the pelvis. Again, some breeds are more pronounced than others, but it should never be straight across in any breed.

When you run your hands down the sides of your dog, you should feel ribs without applying too much pressure. Purina has a great video on the body condition score.

What to do if your dog is overweight:

1. Throw away any guilt you may feel for their obesity and feel good for taking the steps to get it under control!

2. Reach out to veterinary staff for help. Feeding your dog according to the calories they need for weight loss, not the feeding recommendations provided on dog food, is crucial if you are to succeed. Your veterinary team can provide you with daily caloric amounts and food recommendations if your dog is BCS 7+ as they will require a veterinary restricted calorie diet in order to achieve weight loss safely.

3. Measure each meal accurately with a feeding cup provided by your veterinarian or a food scale.

4. Only purchase treats which list calorie content making it easier to stay within the 10% rule.

5. Veggies are good for your dog and should be the only “human” food your dog gets. Carrots, broccoli and cucumber are popular with the canine crowd!

6. Don’t get discouraged. Weight loss is a journey that takes time. Celebrate the losses regardless of how small and any gains should be acknowledged so you can determine what happened and change course but don’t hold on to it and let it discourage you.

7. Start now!

Helpful resources:

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