Maintaining your service dog’s ideal body weight helps ensure she has the energy and focus to perform her tasks, and that she stays healthy for a long time to come. In fact, as far as a shortened lifespan and susceptibility to disease are concerned, there’s no more significant risk factor that you can control than her weight.
Dangers of Being Overweight
Overweight and obese dogs are at elevated risk of developing numerous diseases and of living shorter lives. On average, dogs live almost 2 years longer when they hold at their ideal body weight. That’s an additional 2 years with an animal you’ve strongly bonded with, who you depend on deeply, and who you’ve invested so much time in learning to work with.
Excess body fat in canines has effects very much like it does in humans. It interferes with breathing, mobility, endurance, sleep, heat tolerance, and immune function, and it increases the risk of developing various cancers, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, hip dysplasia, other bone and joint problems, impaired liver function, digestive disorders, surgical or anesthesia complications, and other medical concerns.
Being Underweight Isn’t Better
While obesity is a well-known and epidemic problem in household animals, being underweight poses health risks to your assistance dog as well. Inadequate nutritional intake interferes with many of the same basic functions, it also depresses immune function and increases susceptibility to infections and disease, and it leads to anemia and lack of energy. Service dogs are often more active than pets, creating higher nutritional and caloric needs; without adequate intake, they won’t feel well or be able to sustain the activity they’re trained for.
Determining Your Assistance Dog’s Ideal Weight
Too many individual factors come into play when determining a dog’s ideal body weight to just cite a number of pounds. Many sources provide a range of weights, but they’re too broad to be anything more than rough guides. For instance, the recommended weight range for adult Labrador retrievers is 65 to 80 pounds, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. That’s over a 20 percent difference in body weight, which is considerable for an animal of that size.
The method veterinarians use to figure out a dog’s ideal body weight involves visual and manual inspection. Certain aspects of the way a dog’s body looks and feels are referenced against the Purina Body Condition System chart.
Scroll down to the guidelines for dogs and see how yours measures up. With quick looks at her from the side and from above, and by feeling her ribs and frame, you can easily determine whether she’s too thin, at an ideal body weight, or overweight.
Be Proactive About Maintaining an Ideal Weight
Keep your service dog happy and healthy for the long run by monitoring her body weight. Have a conversation about her ideal weight, her energy needs, and proper feeding with your vet. Keep a close eye on the calories you provide, and remember that the calories in treats count too, and they add up quickly. Daily exercise is of course also essential to maintenance of a healthy body weight.