(73) Doggy for Dummies: Can a service dog be obese?

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly

A blog about a service dog and her veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the veteran and the family caregiver)


 I need a Doggy for Dummies book. Not only am I the primary caregiver for my disabled Veteran husband, I am the caregiver by default for his service dog, Molly. Responsibility for her continued diagnosis of obesity lies at my feet.

In a previous blog, I shared that Molly’s veterinarian scolded us for Molly weighing in at 135. Earlier this week, we took Molly back to the vet for her rabies shot. We shuddered in disbelief when the scale screamed 145 pounds—a 25-pound weight gain since she came into our home less than two years ago. When she weighed in last year, the vet wanted her down to 120. I thought our cutting back her food to three cups a day would be enough. Wrong, indeed.

With a different veterinarian stepping in for our beloved Dr. Traci on Molly’s visit this week, the new vet (Dr. “Stand In”) insists Molly must weigh no more than 105 pounds, which makes Molly 40 pounds overweight. Where beneath that lush fur coat she hides 40 extra pounds befuddles us. Dr. “Stand In” insisted Molly start a prescription food program. Our starter bag of 17.6 pounds of French cuisine dog food totaled $58.

“This increases her metabolism and makes her feel full without adding calories. She will feel more energetic.” She handed William a prescription. “You must have a script to buy this food.”

We agreed to try the diet for three months. Molly loved it the first day but has not Molly licking her lipseaten a morsel since. She still sits beneath our feet at the table, hoping for scraps. Her behavior improves, as she hopes that her uber-obedience will net her a special treat. With treats now banned, she walks away dejected and in need of a junk food fix.

Unfortunately, Molly supplemented her diet outside, digging up frozen meat caught and buried by the fox. She learned the location of every squirrel dugout where acorns and berries rest in deep freeze. She’s enjoyed picking the bones of an unfortunate deer leftover from a mountain lion or urban coyote. These calories added to the treats we gave her for being a hard-working dog. Altogether, Molly quickly became a national statistic.

Just the Facts

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) claims that 52.6 percent of US dogs are overweight or obese while 57.6 percent of cats in the US are overweight or obese (watch out for those fat cats). For dogs, that percentage amounts to 57.5 million dogs that are overweight or obese. This compares to 68 percent of American adults, who are overweight or obese, amounting to roughly 148 million people.

The APOP website offers a list of the negative effects of obesity in dogs:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Heart and Respiratory Disease
  • Cranial Cruciate Ligament Injury
  • Kidney Disease
  • Many Forms of Cancer
  • Decreased life expectancy (up to 2.5 years)

While we all love our dogs, those of us with service dogs have a significant investment to protect. A service dog takes years to conform to the owner’s needs. The service dog becomes indispensable for independence and survival in some cases. Protecting the dog and caring for the animal is a high priority.

The thought of losing 2.5 years due to obesity and poor feeding habits shocked us into a lifestyle change for Molly.

How Can I Tell If My Dog is Obese? 

The PetMed website offers a guide to tell if your dog or cat is obese. It provides a guide based upon a few questions. Of course, it is no substitute for your vet’s professional judgment.

The APOP website provides two useful tools. One tool gives you an idea of the number of daily calories a cat or dog should consume when between the ages of 1 and 7 with less than 30 minutes of aerobic activity a day. The second tool is a list of calories in various pet foods and treats. Since there is no requirement for nutritional information to be posted on animal food packages, this list can come in handy.

While researching this issue, I stumbled on two important pieces of information. First, one website said that reducing the volume of food your animal eats to control weight can result in malnutrition if done over time. This is why the prescription food is important for helping Molly.

The second tidbit I learned is that grapes and raisins are toxic to dogs. I knew chocolate is bad but I did not know grapes and raisins also were killers.

I told you I needed a Doggy for Dummies book!

Going Forward

We regularly hear from VA doctors, let’s go forward. It is good advice for Veterans and for ignorant pet owners, who overfeed their dogs. I am ashamed I let Molly get so tubby. On the positive side, Dr. “Stand In” told us that she believes Molly is maybe only two years old at most rather than four or five, as we were told on a previous visit to the vet. That gave us the encouragement we needed to step up the nutrition and fitness program for Molly. After losing my cat this week, I could not bear the thought of losing Molly and the vet told us that at her current weight, she would give Molly only 16 months of life.

Now, if only the French made a metabolism-burning, energy-boosting, feel full-up without-the-extra-calories food for humans!

Post your Comments: 

What do you do to manage your pet’s weight? Please comment below.  

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.