It's an image I'll never forget: a slight woman, grunting with the effort of pulling the wagon and hauling her 65-pound beagle into the exam room. For reference, an average beagle is about 23 pounds.
She brought her dog to the UC Davis veterinary school for a consultation with the orthopedic surgeons because, unsurprisingly, the dog couldn't walk. The surgeons took one look at the dog and sent them down the hall to the medicine department for a weight loss consultation.
Obesity in dogs is a huge problem. (Pardon the pun.) A recent study estimates over 50 percent of dogs in the United States are overweight and suffering consequences such as joint disease, heart disease, diabetes and shortened lifespan.
If you can't easily feel your pet's ribs, and your dog doesn't have a clearly defined waist when viewed from above, he is probably overweight. A visit to the vet is in order to confirm this and to check for underlying medical issues such as low thyroid function, which can predispose a dog to weight gain.
The average overweight dog with no other health issues will respond to the simple action of reducing caloric intake by about 25 percent to 30 percent. It's vital that pet owners use a measuring cup to figure out how much they are feeding currently, and to use that same cup every time they feed the dog.
Dogs that don't respond to this cut in calories after a month or so may need a prescription weight loss diet, available from the veterinarian. These diets are even lower in calories than the typical light over-the-counter diet.
With committed family members and the right game plan, even the chubbiest puppy can get into shape. As for the beagle, the owner was shocked to learn that something as simple as weight loss could solve all the dog's problems. He trimmed down to 35 pounds, which resolved his orthopedic issues. The owner proclaimed that the head of the medicine department was a miracle worker.
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang is a small-animal veterinarian and Golden Retriever superfan from San Diego, California