Keeping an Eye on Your Dog’s Weight

Has your English Setter been getting a few too many treats lately? If so, maybe he’s gained a couple of pounds. Like humans, our canine friends benefit from a periodic assessment of their weight.

Most English Setters love to eat. They will eat anything, anywhere, anytime, even if they just had a meal. Food pushed far back on the kitchen counter is an enticement, not a deterrent, for most ES.

Sometimes those calories can result in weight gain, and suddenly you realize that your lovely dog is pudgy or even downright fat.

The health risks associated with obesity in dogs are very serious. They can include damage to joints and bones, heart disease, hypertension, difficulty breathing, decreased stamina, heat intolerance, decreased liver function, and decreased quality and length of life. That’s right: Being overweight can shorten your dog’s life. Studies have shown that dogs who maintain a healthy weight throughout their lives live about two years longer than dogs who are obese. The life span for dogs (for ES, about 12 to 14 years) is way too short anyway—so why not do all we can to keep them with us as long as possible?

To determine if your dog should shed a few pounds, feel around his ribs and spine. You should be able to feel the structure of the bones with just a thin layer of flesh covering them. (If you can visually count and feel individual ribs, your ES might be too thin.) If the bones are buried beneath a thick layer of flesh, your dog is probably too fat. If in doubt, consult your vet.

It is so hard to resist the big, melting, brown eyes of an English Setter who wants a treat or to share your meal, but if you overindulge your chow hound, you may be the culprit who causes his weight problem.

The first step to managing your dog’s weight is knowing how much you are feeding him. Always measure his food at every meal. That way, you know how much to feed in order to reduce his intake. Keep track of snacks and treats, and reduce those too when your dog needs to go on a diet.

The next step is to figure out your dog’s ideal weight so you know how many pounds he needs to lose. Most English Setter bitches of healthy weight are about 45 to 50 pounds, and most males about 65 to 70 pounds. If you’re not sure what your dog’s target weight should be, ask a breeder and/or consult your vet.

Just like people, dogs lose weight by consuming fewer calories than they burn. So, to lose weight, a dog needs to eat less and exercise more.

For a quick start to weight loss, you could try the “Show Dog Diet.” This consists of a normal meal in the morning, and a meal consisting of mostly green beans (low-sodium variety) with a little kibble and a doggie multiple-vitamin in the evening. If you feed this for about a week, your dog should shed a pound. You can then switch to a more conventional low-calorie diet where you cut back your dog’s normal meal size by about 10 percent. You could also consider feeding a low-calorie kibble so your dog can have more in his bowl and still consume fewer calories.

Wouldn’t it be fun to exercise with your dog? If you’d like to lose weight, then exercising with your dog can help both of you. Walking, jogging, swimming (in a heated pool in the winter), hiking, and playing ball are all activities your ES can enjoy doing with you. Now might be a good time to take up hunting, flyball, or agility—all are great exercise for both humans and dogs.

Even though we love to give our English Setters pleasure by dispensing the foods and treats they adore, it is so important to monitor their weight and take action at the first sign of overweight. If your ES had unlimited access to food, he would probably never stop eating, so it’s up to you to make sure he puts the brakes on his appetite to maintain a healthy weight and live a long, active life.

—J. W. (January 2015), English Setter Association of America