Obesity is not a dog's best friend
Regular exercise is critical for overweight canines in order to prevent heart disease or diabetes, writes Apinya Wipatayotin
Peacan the Rottweiler is severely overweight, so her owner takes her to the gym regularly -- hoping that it will help her shed some unwanted weight.
The eight-year-old dog is just one among many pet dogs who are going through that particular phase of life when shedding some weight is not as easy as it used to be -- a phase that their two-legged masters can definitely sympathise with.
However, the gym that Peacan frequents is not like any other gym -- it is a "canine gym" that was designed to accommodate the overweight dog's physical limitations.
Inside a large glass tank at the gym, Peacan wades on a treadmill submerged in thigh-deep water. During each session, Peacan attempts to get out of the water. Obviously, she does not enjoy the experience so much.
But why is she here? Obese dogs often suffer from joint pains -- especially in their legs -- thanks to their excess weight.
This is where hydro-walking tracks come into the equation. The equipment helps alleviate a dog's joint pains as the water helps support their body weight, which thereby reduces the pressure on their aching joints as they exercise.
Previously, this kind of treatment was only a luxury and out of reach for most pet owners. However, the treatment is now being offered to the wider public at Chulalongkorn University's Small Animal Teaching Hospital -- much to the delight of desperate pet owners.
Around 15 dogs per day are admitted to the clinic for the treatment. Most of the dogs who arrive at the centre suffer from some weight-related ailments, which could pose serious threats to the dogs' long-term health and vitalty.
"An increasing number of pets are brought to our clinic have weight-related problems," said veterinarian Kumpanart Sundaravibhata, the head of the rehabilitation centre.
"It's quite easy to spot -- their hind legs are noticeably leaner than the rest of their body because the muscles are weaker."
According to the vet, obesity among dogs and humans is caused by the same issue -- a lack of regular exercise.
According to Dr Kumpanart, the weather also plays a part in exacerbating the canine obesity epidemic. "The heat, combined with the high humidity, often makes dogs more inclined to nap, and less motivated to play outdoors," he said.
Obesity in dogs, as well as cats, can weaken their muscles and joints over time. In some cases, this can lead to inflammation or even secondary infections which can cause their bones to deteriorate. Worst of all, obesity can even lead to abnormal heart function.
Dr Kumpanart said that veterinarians at the centre regularly tell pet owners that their pets desperately need exercise on a regular basis.
Some owners take their dogs for a swim, thinking it will stimulate the animals' survival instincts when they fall into a body of water.
"However, they don't do this regularly, which is a shame as this would give the pets the workout they so desperately needed," said Dr Kumpanart.
Dr Kumpanart said that owners should take their dogs out for a walk in natural settings.
"In addition to burning off excess fat and firming up the the dogs' muscles, walking the dogs outside will help keep them from getting bored," he said, adding that large dogs should be taken out for a walk for at least 45 minutes each day, while smaller breeds can make do with just 20 minutes a day.
Dr Kumpanart said that keeping the dogs' weight in check will help reduce their chances of contracting other diseases as well, which can be costly to treat.
"I remember one dog owner came in and ended up footing a three-million-baht bill to cure his dog, who was suffering from a whole range of illnesses, all of which were caused by obesity," he said.
Dr Kumpanart said that initially, the rehabilitation centre was set up to help pets recuperate after they underwent invasive surgeries. However, the centre has expanded its services to help administer treatments for overweight pets.
As such, he continued, the centre began procuring equipment, such as the hydro-walking track, a canine swimming pool, and other therapy aids, to support their weight-loss programme.
The centre which is open on Tuesdays and Fridays charges an average fee of 500 baht per visit. Dr Kumpanart said that the weight-loss programme takes about five months to show results.
Peacan's owner, Palida Chavanavej from Chon Buri, has been visiting the centre every Friday for the last two months to help Peacan lose weight.
"While her weight hasn't changed much, Peacan's muscle-to-fat ratio has improved, which is a great step forward," she said, before adding that Peacan can now stand up for extended periods without having to lie down due to joint pains.
"Now, I take her out for walks, which she definitely doesn't like, but I will drag her out if I must, because it is for the sake of her own health," Ms Palida said, before adding that Peacan really needs to keep fit as she had recently been diagnosed with cancer.
To date, the cancer treatments and weight-loss programme have set Ms Palida back over 100,000 baht. "That said, it is a price that I am willing to pay to give my beloved dog a new lease on life," she said.
Also a regular visitor to the centre is Cheetah, a two-year-old Golden Retriever, who weighs in at a staggering 50 kilogrammes.
Dr Thita Taecholarn, Cheetah's veterinarian, said the dog is seriously overweight as the average Golden Retriever should only weigh about 30kg.
"If Cheetah were a human being, he would weigh in at about 100kg," Dr Thita said.
The centre is currently devising a plan to put Cheetah on a rigorous exercise regime.
"People may not be aware that obesity in pets is a disease. They may look adorable, but the 'cute' looks hide dangers, such as heart disease and diabetes," Dr Thita continued.
In Cheetah's case, his owner may have to commit to at least half a year of rigorous training for the results to show, said Dr Thita, who also advised the owner to avoid cooking food for the dog and instead opt for dog foods that are specially formulated for weight control.
"But the golden rule that cannot be avoided is to let pets break a sweat, literally," said Dr Thita.