Is Your Pup Piling on the Pounds?

It appears the nation’s dogs are in need of more exercise and a balanced diet to keep health issues at bay

In July, UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, launched an initiative to encourage the British public to get moving again in a bid to curb the nation’s fast-growing appetite.

His government’s £10m advertising plan, part of the ‘Better Health’ campaign, aims to encourage people to slim down in a bid to help prevent hospitalization due to obesity factors at a time when hospital beds and resources are needed to fight Covid-19.

It appears, however, that the British public are not the only ones putting on weight. The British Veterinary Association estimates that around 46% of dogs and cats are now overweight. 

As most owners of West Highland Terriers will testify, having an overweight dog is a tricky one. Nobody wants to deprive their pooch of a little late-night snack, but the reality is, just like humans, being too overweight can have long-lasting health consequences including reducing the lifespan of a dog.

“Feeding our raw food or any other for that matter is not going to keep your dog thin. If you don’t stick within a guidance appropriate to the activity level – you’ll get more dog – which in some respects is good for a cuddle but less so for their health. The key issue with any food in itself is the constituents; those high in carbohydrate veg and grains may not, it’s argued, provide the right type of fuel for your dog, said Christopher Adderley, Founder and CEO of Jack Wolf.

It’s hard to believe that dog walkers and their pups can be overweight given the number of walks usually undertaken on a daily basis but it is clearly an important issue that needs exploring and action must be taken if dogs are to live their best lives…for longer.

Daniella Dos Santos, Senior Vice President of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), said: “It’s important to think about how you can ensure your dog is at a healthy weight and follow the diet and lifestyle that’s right for them. This includes feeding them the right diet, toning down the treats and making sure they have regular opportunities to exercise. Many owners don’t realise that their pet may be overweight or at risk of obesity, or may be afraid to ask for support, but vets are here to help with advice on proper nutrition, exercise and how to recognise healthy body condition.”


(credit:Pet Health Hub – created by PDSA vets)

Look at your dog from the side and from above. They should have a smooth, tucked-in waist

Feel under your dog’s tummy. It should go in, not bulge out

Feel along your dog’s side and back. You should be able to feel your dog’s ribs, spine, and hipbones quite easily, but they should not stick out

Feel the base of your dog’s tail. There should not be any build-up of fat where the tail meets your dog’s back

If your pup is piling on the pounds quickly, one of the most important questions to ask is why this is happening. Is it a case of adjusting the food intake and providing more exercise or are there other issues behind the weight gain? If you are struggling to answer this the best way forward is to make an appointment with the vet.

“West Highland Terriers are not a breed classically associated with obesity, but any dog can become obese. Weight gain can also be caused by certain underlying health conditions, such as hypothyroidism,” said Daniella Dos Santos of the BVA.

KNOW YOUR FACTS (supplied by the BVA)

  • Obesity ranks among the top three animal welfare concerns for vets.
  • In BVA and British Veterinary Nursing Association’s Autumn 2017 Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey, published in the 2018 PDSA PAW Report, vets and vet nurses estimated that 46% of the dogs, 34% of cats and 30% of rabbits they see in their practice each week are overweight or obese, with a significant proportion citing an increase over the previous two years.
  • They also estimated that around half (47%) of the overweight and obese dogs, 35% of cats and 36% of rabbits they see in their practice have health issues which could be related to their weight.

How Much Exercise Does My Dog Need?

This clearly depends on the weight, age, and breed of the dog and if the dog has certain health issues this will need to be considered too. Every dog is different and likes his own little routine, but as a rule of thumb, and according to UK Veterinary Charity the PDSA, West Highland Terriers need around one hour plus each day which could be split up into a few walks a day or one long walk a day depending on what your Westie wants and needs.

One way to keep Westies fit (and yourself) is to create or join an agility class, according to the PDSA Health Hub created by vets. Agility is perfect for smart dogs who have a lot of energy to burn off plus it’s fun for your dog. With a lot of patience, it is possible to train a dog to do certain obstacles such as running through tunnels and jumping small hurdles and the like. By making things fun and by allowing your westie to learn at his own pace, your dog will be fit in no time at all…as well as much fitter and slimmer.

Tasty Treats

Have you heard the expression “You are what you eat”?  If so, it may be a good idea to ease off the snacks if your Westie is looking a bit on the podgy side. According to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, if one eats good nourishing food and has a balanced diet it is possible to grow to be fit and healthy. Therefore, to have a happy and healthy pet it is important they are fed the right food and the correct amount of food. When a diet is balanced it means it contains the right mix of all the nutrients.

Many dog-owners are tempted to throw their pal some human scraps as a treat. However, human food isn’t always good for dogs and if this keeps being repeated the dog will soon grow to expect your food and could quite easily stop eating his own if he thinks he’s having something tastier to eat later in the day. Furthermore, human food usually contains a lot of calories so if your pet is already overweight and you are sharing your food with him, chances are you’re contributing to your dog’s weight problem.

“From experience, the primary issue is the relationship between feeding amounts and exercise levels. If we do a particularly large amount of walking with our dogs, we feed them slightly more. Alternatively, if we do less exercise with them, we feed them less. Small treats are best provided as part of active training/exercises when calories are being burned. Notwithstanding, treats are food and should be considered together with meals,” said Christopher Adderley, Founder and CEO of Jack Wolf

Top Tips for Keeping Your Westie Slim

Increase the amount of play time with your westie

Feed less and walk more

Talk to your vet to check any underlying conditions

Check the ingredients on snacks and food

Exercise with your dog – jogging, cycling, hiking

It is vital to remember that overweight and obese dogs are at risk of serious health problems.

“Dogs who are overweight or obese are at risk of a range of serious health problems and a poorer quality of life. As with humans, extra fat can lead to life-long and life-threatening illnesses such as heart disease, breathing problems, diabetes, and arthritis.

With the holiday season quickly approaching, and all the glorious food that comes with it, it is important Westie owners don’t get carried away with sharing their Christmas delights with canine companions too often although refusing your pup a little bit of a New Year’s treat might prove difficult.

“Do not be alarmed by some fluctuations in weight, says Christopher Adderly, especially when we’re not so perfect ourselves! If it’s not chronic and it’s only minor changes, that’s normal. If you want to go a step further, a great way to track activity is to use a tracker e.g. PitPat which will provide better estimates. On their weight, we feel for the ribs and if we can’t find them, we whisper in their ears that we’re plumping them up in time for Christmas”!