Much like for humans, the seemingly inoffensive Obesity is one of the most serious health problems that dogs get. As many as 40% of domestic dogs suffer from Obesity and concurrent ailments like Pancreatitis (see 5), although almost all cases are preventable.
If you serve your German Shepherd too much food per dog meal or unbalanced nutrition, or you don't provide a stringent regular exercise regime, your dog will become obese at some point. If your dog remains obese for months (or even years), it will start having trouble with basic exercise, develop breathing problems, and in the long term may suffer from Pancreatitis (see 5), Diabetes (see 28), Heart disease (see 24), Kidney failure (see 30), or any other organ failure.
Who suffers from Obesity
Obesity is caused by eating too much and exercising too little. There are however additional ailments that can cause Obesity (as you see in this Health Manual), so it is good to see a vet if your dog is having any trouble losing weight.
Luckily, German Shepherds rather rarely get obese anyway - probably because they are such an active breed with a strong metabolism. You will know that, even if you keep your GSD in your house, your dog is - at a minimum - running around as much as you allow. Indeed, German Shepherds get sick and develop behavior problems if they don't get demanding outdoor exercise each day.
Early warning signs of Obesity are:
- Shortness of breath - exceeding 10 minutes after exercise ended, even when lying down
- Slow to get up - without the existence of a physical ailment, and before 10 years of age
- General listlessness and lethargy
- Your German Shepherd dog training is based on treats rather than praise
- You serve a bowl full of industry dog food - when you find the time
- Your puppy house training or dog house training didn't cover the important topic of dog meals, meal times, and feeding routine
Note that although the physical appearance of your German Shepherd, or reading scales and comparing it to standards, may provide an indication whether your dog is obese, from a medical perspective Obesity is an out-of-balance set of factors of the metabolism and organs. In other words, to your eyes your GSD may not look obese, nonetheless your dog may be obese in a medical sense (and vice versa).
That's why a vet won't just look at your dog, or compare scale readings, but they will examine your dog and consider factors like blood pressure and constitution, heart rate at rest and under load, dog meals, meal times, and feeding routine, exercise regime, living environment, etc.
Also note that even if you serve your German Shepherd only 1% more calories than it needs for your exercise regime, it can suffer from Obesity within less than a year.
Avoiding and Treating Obesity
The easiest way to avoid Obesity is that you serve your dog two or three smaller, varied and healthy dog meals a day, either in the best Eat-Slow bowl or in the best metal Eat-Slow bowl, at regular meal times and with a consistent feeding routine, that you always provide a bowl of fresh water, and that your German Shepherd will get its fair amount and variety of outdoor exercise each day. Never feed your GSD table scraps, and don't let it scavenge.
Weigh your German Shepherd on a monthly basis, and put the weight in relation to your exercise regime and its changes.
By all means, don't make giving treats a daily routine. Rather consider dog treats like human presents. How often will you give the same person a present? Don't compare dog treats with our human tendency to consume snacks during the day (or even during the night).
Dog treats are neither a nutritional substitute for an out-of-balance diet (as the dog food industry tries to convey) nor a sign of the love or affection you feel towards your German Shepherd (as they try to convey too). If you really want to provide balanced nutrition and show your love or affection towards your German Shepherd, stick to home-made dog meals at regular meal times with a consistent feeding routine (see House Training a Dog).
The later you introduce your GSD to getting treats, the healthier for your dog (1), the easier your German Shepherd obedience training (2), and the more unlikely that you will face German Shepherd behavior problems (3). In fact, in every regard, treats can be entirely substituted with praise, patting, and real-life rewards - an action your dog desires, see Dog Clicker Training.
Real-life rewards are for example to let your dog sniff on the ground for as long as it wants to sniff (sniffing the ground is a genetic dog behavior that you should never try to suppress), to provide your dog with extended outdoor exercise, to involve your dog in games like catch, fetch, jump etc, to let your dog out for an immediate walk, to let your dog run off-leash in safe areas (crucial for health and behavior), to provide a comfy place near you in addition to its crate place (see Crate training dogs), etc.
Likewise, the easiest way to treat an existing condition of Obesity is to reintroduce the advice given above. Do not give drugs against Obesity, unless the above hasn't worked within 6 months (which will very rarely be the case!) and your vet recommends the drugs (which, sadly, will then typically be the case - because a vet earns money with every drug prescription).
When you subscribe to the MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL you will get free dog dietary advice, recipes, treats, and more regularly. Make your German Shepherd a happy and healthy dog, and subscribe.