Show Off Your Dog's Waistline: Billy

By Barbara Kelly and Dr. Jonathan Mitelman, DVM

Billy is showing off his rediscovered waistline
Barbara: Billy WAS FAT.

In human terms, I would never describe anyone in such an insensitive manner. But saying the words out loud removed the sense of denial, and brought the reality of Billy's situation home. As a large standard dachshund, his maximum weight should be around 30 pounds, with good body conditioning.

In August of 2009, Billy tipped the scales at more than 38 pounds.

This all came to light when we took Billy as an emergency case. Our dog had a serious infection in his front right paw that needed months to heal properly.

I still remember how Dr. Mitelman approached the weight issue:

Billy at 38 plus pounds
He was shaking his head, looking from me to dog to my husband Malcolm. "It's about the dog's weight ..."

"I know", I said, understanding immediately, even though it really hadn't occurred to me until that moment how big Billy actually had become.

Dr. Mitelman: While the excess weight was a health concern, the first priority was to address the infected paw and put a treatment plan for this in place. At that point we were still not aware of the underlying skin issues.

As far as excess weight in pets, the best way to approach this is to be direct with the owners. It is hard to implement any kind of weight loss regime without having the owners involved.

In Billy's case, the extra weight was a strain on his back, not optimal to a dog whose breed is prone to disc related injuries. 

There is also the concern of added wear and tear on the front legs, wrists, joints, bones and cartilage. Internally, too much body fat can lead to illnesses such as pancreatitis, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.

Thankfully, Barbara and Malcolm were aware that Billy would need to shed the weight and were fully on board with this as the goal once the paw was on its way to recovery.

Barbara: There comes a certain sense of guilt knowing that we let Billy become so heavy. 

How had we missed this? 

You could feel the excess fat all over his body. We had thought it would show itself in a sagging belly, but it was actually distributed throughout his whole body.

Billy was usually a very athletic dog that we walked two-three times a day. He is food motivated, but the exercise had kept him at a muscular 31 pounds for most of his life.

About a year earlier, our family began to care for an aging parent, diagnosed with dementia, and that took up an enormous amount of our time and attention.

Billy was affected by this in several ways.

We were often too tired to walk him, so trips to the backyard were the extent of his exercise. In addition, we had no set eating plan, so the food-loving dog was over fed by his doting family members. We broke the long standing rule of no table scraps. Billy was loving the over-abundance of new foods and his waistline was paying the price.

He gained weight over the course of the eight months. 

Now we, as his family who control the food, had to be responsible for helping him lose it.

Dr. Mitelman: When a dog is in recovery, as Billy was, increasing exercise was not the option. 

Achieving the optimal weight is about the balance of calorie intake and physical activity.

We had a look at Billy's diet. It had become very treat heavy. Biscuits are often high in calories so if they are part of the daily regime, food intake must be cut back appropriately.

Billy weighs around 30 pounds now
At this point, we were discovering Billy's intolerance to foods and medications and his skin issues were worsening. We decided to switch to a novel protein diet and eliminate all treats. Carefully measured portions, and not giving in to the dog who had become accustomed to sharing his family's food, became a new routine.

Barbara: We abruptly stopped giving Billy treats. 

We pre-measured his daily food rations and any 'treats' came from that kibble allotment. I took over his feeding and was strict about no one giving Billy anything else.

The weight started to come off. 

As the paw healed, Billy exercised more. My guess is that it took about eight months to pack on the extra pounds. It took about the same time to shed them.

More than two years later, and since being diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease, Billy now fluctuates between 28 - 30 pounds. 

He is on a diet of home cooked beef and oats supplemented with a special formula of canned venison and rice.

His skin issues and IBD are being managed with medicated baths and this diet. He does get less exercise than we sometimes would like, but we monitor his weight regularly and make adjustments as needed.

Related articles:
When A Small Sore Turns Into A Catastrophe: Billy's Story (Part I)
Life-threatening Infection Resolves; All Is Good? Billy's Story (Part II)
What Is Going On With Billy's Skin? Billy's Story (Part III)
The Plot Thickens: Billy's Story (Part IV)
I've Never Seen That Before: Billy's Story (Part V)
Billy's Diagnosis Still Unknown: Billy's Story (Part VI)
Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis (NCL)? Billy's Story (Part VII)
Time To Make A New Plan: Billy's Story (Part VIII)
Atopic Dermatitis? Billy's Story (Part IX)
It Is Not Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis But What Is It Then? Billy's Story (Part X)
My Dog Has A Gut Of Steel, Doesn't He? Billy's Story (Part XI)
Feeling As Though Running Out Of Options: Billy's Story (Part XII) 
Fighting Fire With Fire Backfires: Billy's Story (Part XIII) 
A Second Endoscopy: Billy's Story (Part (XIV)
Staying The Course: Billy's Story (Part XV) 
Fewer And Fewer Solutions Left: Billy's Story (Part XVI)
When The Only Consistent Feature Is Inconsistency: Billy's Story (Part XVII) 
What Is Behind The Fast-Growing Lipoma? Billy's Story (Part XVIII) 
Back Into Surgery, Again: Billy's Story (Part XIX)
Removing The Masses: Billy's Story (Part XX) 
The Biopsy Results: Billy's Story (Part XXI) 
What Has Triggered This Reaction? Billy's Story (Part XXII)
The Return Of The Itchies: Billy's Story (Part XXIII) 
An Illness Of Unknown Origin: Billy's Story (Part XXIV)  
An Irregularity On Billy's Prostate: Billy's Story (Part XXV)
Billy Is Not Well 
Tummy Trouble: Billy's Story (Part: XXVI)
Dental Emergency: Billy's Story (Part XVII) 
The Crisis: Billy's Story (Part XXVIII) 
On Even Keel? Billy's Story (Part XIX)  
Where's The Beef? Let's Ask Billy