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Black Lab Flab

October 2, 2011

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“Doctor, My Dog’s Supposed to Have Extra Padding….Right?”

So here’s the rub: Labrador Retrievers are almost universally the fattest dogs a veterinarian sees in a day.  But, as dogs bred to survive the cold waters of the North Atlantic (see Labrador, northernmost part of Newfoundland, Canada.)  They seek food and they store food readily.  This predisposition to beg for food and steal food serves them well if they are retrieving ducks and game birds in the cold waters off the northern Atlantic ocean coastline.  In a modern household, their family business of pretending they are starving all of the time lands them a one-way ticket to obesity.

So, yes, Labrador Retrievers might have that fur and some fat over their shoulders and maybe along their sides by the ribs, where there’s more padding than other dogs, say, a Vizla (also a dog bred to point and help you acquire the small animals you have just shot.)  This extra padding on a Labrador helped insulate the dog in the cold waters of the North Atlantic.  Do not confuse morbid obesity with some genetically predisposed padding!

How Can I Tell If My Labrador is Fat?

The Body Condition Scoring System, in which you feel the padding over the ribs and gauge the waistline from the side and the top has been written about extensively here, and other places. Most Retriever parents have heard of this system, or maybe your veterinarian has even gone over it with you at your annual check-up.  That visit goes something like this:

“Um, Mrs Smith, did you know your dog is a little…well…padded (chubby, overweight, well-fed, over-conditioned)?” says the doctor in a hushed, apologetic tone of voice.  [Most of us have learned not to just come out with it and say, “This dog is morbidly obese!  What is wrong with you?  Are you blind?” because that tends to shut people down and offend them.]

You say, “Really? I don’t feed him that much.” Or maybe you say, “I know.  I injured my [insert body part here] and I haven’t been able to walk him as much as I should.”

Then the doctor says,” Well, to keep up that gorgeous physique, he’s got to be eating 100% extra calories every day, or twice his needs.”

Then you say, “But I hardly feed him anything.”  And you proceed to tell me how you carefully measure the diet dog food and only give him 2 treats a day.

Blinking back tears of frustration, at this point, the doctor cannot call you a liar.  But clearly, it is physically, biologically impossible to maintain the bulk before your eyes on the itty-bitty diet plan you have just explained.  Not wishing to call you a liar, your veterinarian looks for other possibilities for calories…

“Does your neighbor give treats?  The kids?  Grandma lives at home?  Husband giving treats?  Stealing?  Garbage diving?  I mean, it must come from somewhere!” says the doctor.

You stubbornly refuse any other theories because you are still shocked that you could have possibly hurt your sweet baby Labrador Retriever by letting him or her eat too much.  This consultation is over until the next time we meet.

Weigh Your Labrador

Doc Truli has rarely seen a breed of dog that can pack on the pounds like a Labrador.  One year, the Lab will weight 85 pounds at the annual check up and the next year, 116!  (This is not an exaggeration.)  This dog is walking slower, snoring at night, huffing and puffing, not interested in playing ball, probably limping, and has dry, dull fur, that is shorter over the lower back and there’s some dandruff.  The paws are spread out like pancakes to hold the weight and the toenails need trimming more because of inactivity and the fact that the extra weight has pushed the claws out to the sides instead of aligned neatly with the ground.

Everyone sort of knows when their dog gets fatter, but still they can;t believe it’s 20 pounds, or 40 pounds!  Yet, despite all of the denial, there are the extra forty right there on the scale!

Why Body Condition Scoring Does Not Work Well for a Labrador

The Body Condition Scoring system looks at the padding over the ribs, the tummy tuck and the hourglass tuck of the waist when viewed from above.  If your labrador has lost the tuck (the bottom line of the waist) and the figure “8” waistline, your dog is obese.  You probably know that!

If your Labrador has extra padding over the ribs, you might think it’s okay.  Why?  Because Labrador Retrievers have extra folds of skin over their shoulders and neck area, sometimes even a thick ruff.  It is normal for a Lab to store some fat on their chest and shoulder areas.  Be careful to feel the sides and the ribs.  If you cannot feel them anymore, your lab is too fat.

A dog will live 2-4 extra years if s/he is kept on the thin side, anyway, so why play with fire here?  If you have any doubts, have your veterinarian check, and then start a true diet for your dog.

Labrador Retrievers Resist Weight Loss

Hypothyroidism Makes Weight Loss Difficult

No one has proven if labs truly cannot lose weight like other dogs.  But be sure you have your dog’s thyroid tested.  Hypothyroidism is common, slows the metabolism, and makes weight loss very difficult to achieve.

Boredom Makes Weight Loss Difficult

Find alternate mental activity for your smart Labrador.  Enroll in obedience classes.  Enroll in agility training.  Join a training or agility club.  Make time for your smart working dog.

Take extra food and treats out of the house.  Just give them to a local animal shelter.  Whatever money you lose is nothing compared to the money you will spend if the added weight causes your Labrador to rupture a cruciate knee ligament.

The mental activity and attention training and sports give your Labrador will help lessen the begging, manipulation, and outright stealing that will ensue.  Labs love cat food, which is super fattening.  They love raiding old pizza boxes from the trash. They love nipping sandwiches from toddlers hands.  These calories add up.  If you are not occupying your dog with positive activities, then your dog will occupy the time for you.  And the kids will never finish their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches again!

Weigh Your Labrador Monthly

Plus, a Home Alternative to Monthly Weigh-Ins

Gauge your success with monthly weigh ins at the vet’s.  If you do not have the patience, strength or time for a vet visit/car ride, then use a cloth measuring tape and measure your lab’s waistline.  Pick the same spot to measure each month for valid comparison.  If the inches are melting away, then you are making a positive difference!

Start Your Labrador’s New Thinner Life Today!

old yellow lab with sad brown eyes and a soft white muzzle

Beautiful Old Labrador

You cannot imagine the heartbreak of putting down your smiling, friendly labrador before his or her time because of an obesity-related illness.  Especially an orthopedic problem, like a painful busted knee that your dog cannot use anymore.  If you think you can’t afford to change your habits now, think how difficult a $2,000-$3,000 USD knee surgery will make your life.  The alternative is constant pain, or worse, explaining to the kids or your elderly parent, why their friend is not around anymore because you wanted to ignore the problem years before and keep tossing dog treats to that eager, waiting face!

How to Get a Fat Dog to Lose Weight

Tune in next week for some tips and plans to actually get your dog into a thinner, friskier, younger shape.

In the meantime, try this on the cat:

How to Get a Fat Cat to Lose Weight

2 Comments leave one →
  1. ann southall permalink
    April 3, 2014 5:33 pm

    found this website for the first time today. I was unnerved when I saw the pic of the sweet old yellow lab because he looks SO much like mine that was stolen and relocated 3 years ago. He would be 11 yrs. old now. Can anyone fill me in on the story of that doggie?

    • April 3, 2014 7:39 pm

      The doggy in question lived in South Florida about 6 years ago.

      Maybe you’d like to share your story about your wonderful yellow lab?

      -Doc Truli

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