Weight and Related Problems

Weight gain in Springer

Question: I have a dog he is a 9 years old Springer and about 5 years ago we had to have surgery on his knee. He weighs 85 pounds and we have had him on the "GreenBeandiet" which is half of his food and the rest green beans. He just keeps gaining weight and all we can do is take him swimming for exercise, and that is about an hour away. The reason I don't walk him is because his arthritis is so bad he walks around tippie toe, and all the medication I give him for this makes him sick. My vet says that he just has bad genes, do you have any suggestions? We take him swimming twice on the weekends, I don't want to loose him to a heart attack because of his weight. Could there be something else wrong with him? We have had him tested for thryoid, and it is quite normal.. He also has allergies, any suggestions what I can give him for that. Thank you for your help with this matter. Luan

Answer: Luan-

The two diseases most likely to cause weight gain are hypothyroidism and hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing's disease). Signs of Cushing's disease include increased drinking and urinating, thinning of the haircoat or patches of hair loss, susceptibility to skin and bladder infections, a pendulous appearance to the abdomen and panting. If there are no symptoms of this disorder, I would not strongly advocate testing for it.

The bottom line on weight loss is that if a dog is gaining weight while being fed a certain amount of food, it is safe to cut back on that amount of food. Some dogs require very small amounts of food to maintain or even increase their weight. Believe me, I understand the difficulty involved in feeding quantities of food that seem very small to a dog that seems very hungry. I feed my rottweiler about 3 cups of food a day and it just doesn't look like enough for her to eat. But she maintains her weight on it.

The absolute best thing that you can do for a dog who is overweight and has arthritis is to get him to lose weight. Even a five pound weight loss can increase joint comfort dramatically. It can be very hard to fight against a dog's natural tendency to gain weight if he is predisposed to it, but it is worth it for comfort's sake.

Some dogs improve with glucosamine and chondroitin therapy, which is unlikely to cause objectionable side effects. Acupuncture is reported to benefit some patients with arthritis and would also be unlikely to cause side effects. There are several different non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and it may be possible to find one that wouldn't upset his stomach or cause any other problems you might have seen. These include aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol Rx), acetaminophen/hydrocodone combinations (Vicodin Rx), carprofen (Rimadyl Rx), etodolac (Etogesic Rx) and others. If you can find something that provides enough pain relief to allow you to take him on walks, it could also help a great deal with weight loss.

It is also a good idea to be really sure that the knee injury is the cause of the lameness. If he has other problems, particularly a problem affecting his spinal cord, it may be possible to provide comfort surgically or through additional medications. It is usually a good idea to take X-rays of the knees, hips and spine when there is chronic pain.

Allergies sometimes respond to treatment with antihistamines. The best of these is probably clemastine (Tavist tm), which may help control itching in as many as 30% of dogs. Fatty acid supplements, such as 3V (tm) or DermCaps (tm) help some dogs. Pentoxyfilline is reported to help some dogs. Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, will usually control the itching from allergies but cortisones have more side effects than most other medications, including stimulating the appetite and making weight gain more likely. Sometimes, the allergies get bad enough that it is worth putting up with the side effects, though. Prednisone can accelerate the degenerative changes associated with joint disease but when the damage is already severe they can help without doing much harm. This is a judgment call that you and your vet would have to make together.

Some of my pets have been overweight. I know that it is hard to control this -- but it really would help if it is possible to do so.

Mike Richards, DVM 8/7/2000

Weight loss - lumps

Question: Dr Mike,

Many thanks indeed for your original very helpful reply. I've left it some time before replying ,to see how Jacko progresses.

Well, he's still very lively and cheery for his age (we've just come back from a 5 mile walk which he enjoyed) but his weight has continued to go down. He was 23kg 50g in October, 20kg 70g on the 6th June, and 19kg 27g on the 25th July, today. The lump he had (on the soft part of his belly, tucked under his hind legs) had increased in size on 6th June, but hasn't got any larger since. He does have another lump on his haunch of a similar size. However I should add that he has always had these sort of lumps, apparently.

The original bleeding in his stools has not re-occurred at all (some good news !) and he is now beautifully 'solid'. His diet has changed from chicken to tinned dog food which he wolfs down quite happily, between 1 and 2 tins a day.

Most days, though, he seems to be eating grass to make himself sick.

The supplements he takes are as follows:-

Digestor (made by Osmonds,an English company, comprises plant extracts. I reckon this is the main factor in Jacko being 'solid' once more !)

Entrodex Probiotic (13 Vitamins, Potassium, Magnesium and Salt, micro-organisms etc)

Our vet is well-meaning, but we do find it hard to get concrete answers out of him.He obviously suspects the lumps are cancer, but I suppose it's difficult to prove without operating which I don't think would be a good idea at Jacko's age.

I appreciate you would need to examine Jacko yourself before being able to make any definite comments.

It sounds like the dramatic weight loss does point towards a tumour. Is there anything else that could cause weight loss like this.

If we knew for definite it was a tumour, then we could just concentrate on making sure that Jacko was happy and comfortable. But it always nags me that it could be something else and we could be doing more to help him.

Again, many thanks


Answer: David-

I would want to have a follow-up blood panel if Jacko was my patient. Even though there were only minimal signs of liver problems on the first tests this is a cause of weight loss and if there are more signs of liver disease on a subsequent test it may be possible to provide treatment. This would also be true if kidney disease were present. If the electrolyte levels are still not right (potassium and sodium) then it would be important to try to rule out acquired hypoadrenocorticism.

It is pretty likely that the lumps you are finding are benign tumors but aspirating a cell sample through a needle and examining it can help determine if that is the case. This is a very simple test. It isn't always possible to make a diagnosis based on this test but it is often helpful.

It might help to use a medication like famotidine (Pepcid AC Rx), cimetidine (Tagamet Rx), ranitidine (Xantac Rx), just to see if it would help with the grass eating behavior. Your vet may be able to help you decide if this might be worthwhile.

If further lab work failed to show anything that could be related to weight loss and Jacko continued to lack clinical signs of illness then it may be necessary to accept that there is nothing more to do -- at least for right now. A good physical exam every few months and perhaps regular lab work, could eventually reveal the problem.

Mike Richards, DVM 7/27/2000

Heavy panting and overweight

Question: Hi Dr. Mike,

I have a female spayed flat coated retriever that is approximately 2 years old. She is very large for her breed, but she is also about 10 pounds overweight and she weighs in at 90 pounds.

The problem: She breathes hard/pants all of the time and she is an indoor dog. The only time she doesn't pant is when she is in the middle of a hard sleep. We keep our house very cool and she has plenty of water available at all times. Is there any condition that can cause this excessive panting? We're really worried about her. Our other dogs don't do this, but they're not as large.

Her medical history is this: Like all of our dogs, she was a rescued dog - we found her running the streets and she had mange and intestinal worms at 3 months old and she has since been treated and recovered from all of that. I have had her blood tested thoroughly and the main thing they found wrong was hypothroidism, which I have started treating with USP Thyroid. She also has hip dysplasia, but we caught it early enough and are treating it with Glycoflex, Glucosamine and Ligaplex and it doesn't bother her. I also take her swimming in the pool twice a day to build up her legs.

Any ideas on conditions that can cause excessive panting? Or is it just an overweight thing? Or is it a "big dog" thing?

Thanks, Vanessa

Answer: Vanessa-

I would really question a diagnosis of hypothyroidism in a two year old patient. We have diagnosed this problem in pets this young, but I question it every time I am suspicious of it and every time lab values are suggestive of it. If this diagnosis was not made based on free T4 testing using an equilibrium dialysis technique or a combination of free T4 and canine TSH analysis, it would be a good idea to recheck this diagnosis at some time. This would be especially true if the panting showed up after the diagnosis (which doesn't sound like the case), because too much thyroid hormone could lead to panting. It is a good idea to check the T4 level when using thyroxin, just to be sure that hyperthyroidism is not occurring and to be sure that thyroxine supplement is adequate, as well.

Low T4 levels can be the result of any systemic illness, a condition referred to as "euthyroid sick syndrome". It is important to try to be sure that there is not another disorder present when the total T4 measurement is below normal levels but the free T4 measurement is normal.

I think that being overweight is a cause of panting, all by itself, though. We have several obese patients in our practice with this symptom and no discernible cause. I can't think of a thin patient we have had this complaint about except one that we were oversupplementing with thyroxine, and the behavior stopped when we readjusted the dose. In a dog in your dog's age range I think that her weight is likely to be the main problem.

Weight also worsens arthritic pain, so it is a good idea to work hard to get her to lose weight, for both the panting and the hip dysplasia. I think we have some dogs in our practice who pant as a symptom of pain. It is hard to be certain of this, but it is my impression.

There are several diseases commonly associated with panting, especially hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing's disease) but this problem is also very unlikely in a two year old patient.

Your vet can help you design a weight control program, if you are unable to cause weight loss by cutting back some on her food and trying to get her to exercise a little more.

Mike Richards, DVM 7/14/2000

Sudden weight and muscle mass loss

Q: Dear Dr. Mike, I have an Oorang Airedale, five years old, was 120 lbs a month ago. in past 3-4 weeks has lost zip, some appetite, 25 lbs, and has much difficulty getting up (hind legs) on his own. Vet has seen several times. Spinal films are neg. excepting some osteoartritis in hips. Was on pred briefly, then Rimadyl, now both. Now(last 1-2 weeks) has lost muscle mass (especially hips) along with weight loss. Drug therapy makes noticeable improvement in behavior and movement, but nothing like "normal". Vet and I both very concerned about what would cause drastic muscle and weight loss. My "big baby" is rather suddenly not doing well. What can be happening? Can you help, please?!!! Also, is there a mail-order (or ?) source out there for cheaper than vet's office prices for Rimadyl; 200mg/day is so expensive?! Thanks for whatever clues you may have.

A: It may be a good idea to consider a general blood panel if that has not been done. If Lyme disease is a problem in your area it may be a good idea to consider this possibility as well. Unfortunately there are a lot of other possibilities and it will probably be necessary to work closely with your vet to figure it out. If your vet reaches a point where he or she is confused or at a loss then referral to a veterinary school or referral center might be a good idea.

I am not aware of a mail-order source of carprofen (Rimadyl Rx). It has only recently been approved and will probably remain about as costly as it is now until the patent rights run out.

Mike Richards, DVM

Weight and muscle tone loss

Q: Dear Sir, Thank you for taking the time to review my questions. I have an eight year old dog named Shane. His mother was timber wolf and his father is Rottweiller. Shane was one of those rare pups that inherited an even amount of his characteristics from both parents. Over the years he just kept steadily growing bigger and bigger until he was huge. He has always maintained a good solid build, and has slowly put on a little more weight in recent years, mainly in his belly during the winter months. He has never been sick a day in his life. In the past couple of weeks we have noticed a significant loss of weight and muscle tone. I'm not sure how suddenly this has occurred, but all of a sudden he is much thinner, and he doesn't appear to have his overall health glow. I am really worried about him because this is complete out of character for him physically. I know I haven't given you much to go on, but I thought maybe you might have a suggestion. I was considering taking him to a veterinary, although he is not feeling bad and his appetite is normal. Thanks for listening, Debra

A: Debra- Please do have your dog examined by your vet. There are a number of causes of weight loss and any dog that is persistently losing weight when you are not deliberately trying to enforce a diet, should be examined by a vet. Diabetes, heart failure, liver or kidney disease, internal parasites, cancer, maldigestion and many other things can lead to weight loss. It is much easier to treat problems if they are caught early.

Good luck with this..

Mike Richards, DVM

Ideal weight

Q: How long is the normal growth cycle of a dog? My male boxer/pitbull, 2 1/2 yrs old is now up to a 24 inch collor. Is this normal?? My vet advises to watch the amount of fat in the dogs diet, since in one year he went from 63 lbs to 75lbs. I have cut down on his store bought treats. How do I determine if my dog is overweight?? I enjoy reading your web sites and have learned many valuable tips. Thanks F J-

A: The "ideal" weight for a dog is approximately the weight where the last 3 to 5 ribs are just barely visible or can be felt with a very light touch. Many dogs are overweight and many dog owners feel their dog is too thin if they can see any ribs. It is better from a health perspective to be a little too thin than to be a little too heavy, though.

Breed size determines when bone growth stops. Little breeds may be fully grown by 6 or 7 months of age while giant breed dogs may continue to grow for 18 to 24 months. Most pitbulls are probably their full adult size, except for muscling and fat deposition, by the time they are a year of age.

Many dogs seem to hit the "middle age spread" years around 3 to 5 years of age, so your dog is only a little early for this. Although it is not possible to tell you with certainty without seeing him, it sounds like he is getting too heavy.

Weight loss in dogs is just like in people. You have to cut the calories he takes in or increase the calories he expends. Increasing exercise works best because it helps increase metabolic rate while strict dieting just encourages the dog's body to conserve energy and it gets more efficient at resisting weight loss. So you get faster results increasing exercise but both methods will work in the long run.

Just measuring the amount you feed him, then decreasing it slightly can make a big difference. Your vet can work out a feeding schedule for the dog food you use, too.

Hope this helps.

Mike Richards, DVM

Sudden weight loss in Golden Retriever

Q: Dear Dr. Mike: I scanned through your recent questions and did not find one concerning this...sudden weight loss. My four year old golden retriever has recently (last 4 months) lost a substantial amount of weight. At her last appointment, we were told she could stand to lose a few pounds (she was 86lb.) She is now approximately 73. Her eating habits have not changed drastically and is getting the same amount of exercise. I am wondering if this amount of weight lost in this short period of time is something I should be concerned about and if I should be watching for anything else? Thank you for your time. Marci

A: Marci- In a golden retriever with this sort of weight loss when the owners are not enforcing a diet, I would be very worried about the possibility of lymphoma. This is a cancer of the lymph nodes which goldens are somewhat prone to. There are many other possible problems and I really do think a visit to your vet is worthwhile with this history. Please schedule a visit and discuss this with your vet.

Thin dog, not gaining weight

Q: Dr. Mike I recently adopted a four year old English Setter from the local shelter. I could not have asked for a more calm and loving companion. He was underweight when we got him a month and a half ago, when he was neutered he weighed 47lbs. The vet thought he might gain weight quickly now that he had a home, he had been at the shelter for over two months. He is a very active dog when I take him out two or three times a day, running in the park, beside my bike, or on long walks. The problem is he is not gaining any weight. His ribs clearly show as well as his hindquarters. The vet thought he might need an active dog food, high in protein. He has been on this type of food for a month and still no improvement. I leave a full bowl of food out at all times for him, he just doesn't seem to be interested too much in eating. Mixing canned food with the dry only caused loose stools. I don't know what to do, it seems he only eats enough to keep going and doesn't have a healthy appetite. Sometimes he will go a day or two without even touching his food. Is their a specific food I need to get for him? What can I do?

A: I think I would have felt just like your vet a month and half ago --- this is a thin dog with a history that probably explains it so feeding him more should help. Since that didn't work, I'd want to look for other possible causes of the thinness. Where I live, that would be things like heartworm disease, kidney or liver disease and whipworms if his stool was normal and things like digestive disorders if his stool is not normal. It is time to contact your vet and let him know that the thinness continues.

Also, there is one other possible "problem". Many owners want their dogs to weigh more than they should. Ask your vet for his or her opinion of what he should weigh. Some dogs just seem to regulate their weight pretty well, even if it means not eating at times. Definitely check with your vet before assuming this is the case, though.

Mike Richards, DVM


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...