As veterinarians, obesity is one of the most common health conditions we see if Labradors. Labs love to eat and will easily overeat. Labrador Retrievers run a risk of many preventable health conditions when they are overweight or obese. Like us, it’s much easier for a dog to gain weight than to lose a few extra pounds. We thought it helpful to discuss easy ways to prevent obesity for your Lab keeping them safe from unnecessary health risks. to It is also much easier for a dog to put on weight than it is to get extra pounds off.
Steps to Avoid Obesity in Labradors
How do you avoid obesity in Labradors? In order to avoid obesity in your lab you must:
- Feed the Right Amount of Food
- Avoid Fatty/High Calorie People Foods
- Have a Healthy/Safe Treat Routine
- Provide Exercise Time
By following these four simple steps, as well as taking your dog regularly to the vet, you’ll be proactive instead of reactive to your dogs weight and health.
Below we go into more details on each of these steps, health issues that come with obesity, and other things to consider.
Feed the Right Amount of Food
When talking about how much food your dog should eat, it’s always crucial to consult with your veterinarian as your dog grows and ages. As they experience different stages of life, their necessary food intake will change as well. To learn more, see our article Labrador Retriever Feeding Chart.
Your growing puppy and adolescent Labrador Retriever may seem to eat and need more calories per day than your adult and senior-aged Labrador Retrievers. This is because as they age, their activity levels may decrease and their metabolism may also start to slow down.
Something very important to keep in mind is that after a dog is spayed or neutered, their metabolism slows where they will not need as much food as they did before they were fixed. Once they are full grown they will typically not need to eat as much food portions as is usually recommended on bags of dog food. The recommended amount of food portions on most dog food bags accounts for dogs with high energy needs, such as non-spayed dogs who are also very active.
Most likely the bag with suggest way too many calories for your dog to eat each day. That’s why it’s important to consult with your vet to calculate exactly how many calories your dog needs based on their current weight and lifestyle. Based on your dogs health and activity level, they can figure how many cups of food your Lab should be fed each day.
Avoid Fatty & High Calorie People Foods
A common mistake we see pet owners make is giving table scraps to their dogs. In our mind we are showing our pups how much we love them by giving them people good. This typically leads to potential obesity in Labradors, and can also cause your dog to develop bad habits like begging or stealing food off the table.
If your dog learns to do these things, there is the possibility they may eat foods that are toxic to them. This can lead to expensive veterinary bills and even be life-threatening for your dog.
If your set on sharing some of your food with your pet, there are safe and healthy food options you can give them.
Safe, healthy human foods you can share with your dog include:
- Fresh green beans
- Peeled bananas
- Low fat cottage cheese
- Cooked rice
- Cooked pasta
- Cooked, lean hamburger meat (leave off any spices)
- Baked or broiled chicken breast (no bones and not fried!)
To avoid bad behavior don’t feed these scraps directly from the table, from your hand, or from your plate. Instead put them in your dog’s bowl. This practice will decrease the chances that your dog will constantly beg your for food and/or steal it directly off of your plate.
Always make sure to not give any food with bones in it to your dog, even if the bones seem small. Even Labradors can get an intestinal obstruction from bones if the bone gets caught within the intestines. The bones can also irritate the lining of the gut, leading to vomiting and diarrhea.
Healthy and Safe Treat Routine
If you give your Lab treats during the day, you will need to adjust their food at mealtime based on how much they’ve already eaten in snacks. Even seemingly little treats still contain calories. And these calories can add up, contributing to obesity in Labradors.
Your treat bag should tell you how many calories per serving in your treats. Use that as your guide to help you figure out how much you should decrease your dog’s meal later that day.
Additionally, try to get low calorie treats and avoid the ones high in sodium. Treats that are effective at keeping your dog’s teeth clean are good options. Check out our article on the Best Treats for Labrador Retrievers to learn more.
Provide Exercise Time
Exercise is key!!! Exercise is probably the most effective way to prevent obesity in Labradors. Labradors typically have a lot of energy so getting some much needed playtime and exercise is a treat for them.
Regular exercise will keep their metabolism up to speed. Exercise will also help strengthen and maintain their muscle mass, which can help decrease the negative effects of arthritis and other joint issues they may start to develop as they get older. Staying active is also great for the health of their heart.
Maintaining a regular exercise routine with your Labrador is good not only for their physical health, but for their mental and emotional health as well. A dog that has been able to release pent up energy is a content dog and less likely to develop anxiety and other behavioral disorders at home.
Exercise looks different for everyone and that’s ok. Some owners enjoy taking their dogs for daily runs or jobs. Others, exercise may mean regular walks around town or at a park. Still, some may prefer hiking in the woods, attending agility classes, playing fetch and other games in the back yard, or visitng dog parks for social playtime.
Check out our article about Exercise for a Labrador Retrievers to learn more.
Health Problems Associated with Obesity
There are many health problems associated with obesity in Labradors after it develops. Dogs who are overweight and obese are at a higher risk for developing the following conditions:
- Breathing problems
- Heart problems
- Debilitating arthritis
- Joint & ligament injuries, such as Cranial Cruciate Ligament Rupture
Many of these conditions are preventable by maintaining a regular exercise routine and eating healthy. Even though cancer and certain joint conditions can occur in healthy weight Labrador Retrievers, the effects of those conditions may not be as severe as in Labradors who are obese.
Obesity in Labradors, Medical Conditions to Consider
Although obesity is most commonly caused by inappropriate feedings and inactivity, there are some medical conditions that can cause dogs to become overweight through no fault of their own (or of their owners).
Hypothyroidism leading to obesity in Labradors
The most common medical condition that can cause this is Hypothyroidism. Dogs can develop hypothyroidism at any point in their life and it causes their metabolism to slow way down.
Dogs with hypothyroidism show the following signs:
- Unexplained weight gain
- Decreased appetite
- Seeking cold places to lay
- Fur loss, usually near the base of the tail
- Recurrent skin infections
Hypothyroidism is treatable with a daily medication. If you suspect your dog may have hypothyroidism, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. They will be able to submit a blood test to determine if this is the cause of your dog’s unexplained weight gain.
Cushing’s disease leading to obesity in Labradors
Another medical condition that can cause dogs to gain weight is Cushing’s Disease. Dogs with Cushing’s Disease have too much steroid production in their body. Sometimes this can be associated with obesity, but other times it can affect dogs that are even at healthy weights.
Dogs with Cushing’s Disease will display one or more of the following signs:
- Pot-bellied appearance
- Muscle wasting
- Excessive panting
- Increased thirst
- Increased urination
- Increased appetite
- Fur loss
- Recurrent skin infections
If you are concerned your dog may have Cushing’s Disease, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. They can check bloodwork to help determine if diagnostic tests for Cushing’s should be considered.
Conclusions on Obesity in Labradors
To help your dog live a good quality life, preventing obesity in your Labrador Retriever is crucial. Prevention can can help decrease the risk of them developing expensive, and sometimes life-threatening, medical conditions. It can also help them age with grace as arthritis and other painful joint conditions will be easier for them to manage.
Parting Tips to Avoid Obesity in Labradors:
- Maintain a regular, consistent exercise routine with your dog.
- Check in with your veterinarian yearly, making sure you are still feeding them the right amount of food each day.
- Try to avoid giving them table scraps.
After all, prevention is the best medicine!
If you need help with your medical bills, be sure to check out picks for Best Pet Insurance for Labrador Retrievers, and while you are there you can get your FREE quote!