By James E. Radcliffe, DVM
The greyhound in retirement should be maintained at a body weight of four to eight pounds more than its racing weight. Any increases beyond this should be considered obesity, which is a pathological condition, which may require medical intervention and the services of a veterinarian. The number one reason greyhounds become obese: Too little exercise, too many calories. When a racing greyhound that is bred for performance stops performing, that dog tends to put on weight. In addition, big dogs burn fewer calories than small dogs, neutered and spayed dogs burn fewer calories than sexually intact dogs, older dogs have slower metabolic rates, and indoor dogs burn fewer calories than outdoor dogs. Remember that five pounds to a dog is like thirty pounds to a 180-pound man.
How can you tell if your dog is overweight? Your dog is overweight if you cannot easily feel his ribs, if his abdomen is no longer concave, if his waist is missing, if he has fat deposits or pads over the lumbar area or base of tail.
Why is obesity bad? Bone and joint function can be severely harmed by being overweight. Obesity intensifies orthopedic and arthritic conditions to the point that the dog becomes uncomfortable, doesn’t want to exercise and the obesity becomes a vicious cycle. Obesity can also play a role in liver and kidney dysfunction. The organs in your dog remain the same size, but his larger body produces more toxins and wastes for the organs to dispose. This may lead to serious health problems or death. Obese pets have significantly higher levels of cardiovascular disease (potentially fatal), cancer, diabetes, and stomach and intestinal problems. In addition, obese pets are at much greater risk for heat stroke.
What can you do? Take your dog to monthly greyhound events so you can compare your dog’s body shape to the other greyhounds, especially the newly retired racers. Sometimes it’s hard to notice your dog is putting on weight until you see him with other greyhounds or a vet points out the fact that he is becoming obese. So… your greyhound needs to lose a few pounds. Remember, your dog doesn’t hunt his own food. You, the owner, must take charge of your dog’s diet and exercise routine.
• Exercise, exercise, exercise. Daily walks, playing ball-anything that burns calories.
• Use special formula food for weight loss, available at pet stores and through your vet.
• Decrease food amounts gradually so that your dog doesn’t move in with the neighbors (who have been feeding him when he’s in the backyard).
• No free choice food – YOU control the pantry doors, YOU control the bags and cans. Feed twice-daily giving one-half of his total daily portion at each meal.
• Eliminate “People Food”. People food is very calorically dense and may be worse than you think. One Twinkie may not be much to a person, but it’s terrible for your dog.
• Keep treats to a minimum and always use low calorie treats.
• Spend more time with your dogs. Bored dogs tend to eat more.
• Weigh the dog regularly. We recommend once a month at the vet, once a week at home.
• Please remember that unless diet is managed after weight loss, the excess weight will return. Also, any program that is based on moderate calorie restriction should allow safe weight loss in healthy dogs. So, you can substitute green beans, carrots, and broccoli, just to name a few, in your dog’s diet. (Broccoli stalks are great treats. They can be cut in bite-size pieces or you can give an entire stalk as a “chew stick”.)
I would recommend a good physical exam, blood work (especially for any dog over eight years of age) that should include a thyroid function test, heartworm test, and chest x-rays as s minimum place to start before beginning a new diet and exercise program.
Remember, it’s up to YOU. I have never seen a greyhound in the checkout line at the grocery store. It’s up to YOU, the caregiver, to ensure that your dog has the best possible quality of life.