Fat Dogs and Malamutes

I think it's funny when I hear someone brag how BIG their Alaskan Malamute is, and it's fat. Ok folks, occasionally it's coat, sometimes it's actually a giant mal, but more often it's just an overweight dog. It's rare to find a person that can look at a Malamute and ACCURATELY judge it's weight - especially when the dog is of normal size (not a giant). Coat can change so much over the coarse of a year, even an owner needs to put his hands on the dog and feel, to be sure he isn't too skinny or too fat. It's important you do.

An overweight dog is prone to many health problems. Malamutes are very susceptible to diabetes, joint and arthritis problems, liver disease (from too much fat), heat stroke, and decreased overall life expectancy. All these things are  preventable in many cases!

Many Alaskan Malamutes develop thyroid disease at some point in their lives, so if your Malamute suddenly (or even gradually) begins to gain weight without an increase in food, it may be a thyroid problem. It's a common breed issue, so if you KNOW you're not overfeeding, get it checked. Thyroid supplementation is easy and relatively inexpensive.

With Alaskan Malamutes, because they tend to like food way too much for their own good, you'll find  it's sometimes difficult to keep their weight down. Rarely can you find a Malamute that can "self feed" without becoming overweight. Sometimes an only dog can, but if there are other Malamutes in the house, it's unlikely.  Competition will tend to make most Malamutes overeat. Typically they'll steal anything that isn't nailed down - cat food included. If you have a Malamute that's a picky eater, consider yourself lucky!

Often, if you cut back rations, they'll just start poop-eating in the yard or raid a garden or munch crab apples dropped from an ornamental tree. Holly wouldn't be the healthy, zoom around the yard bunny hunter she was at 12 were she overweight. Keeping her weight at a good level has been good for her health - and difficult. With her unanticipated diet supplements of bunny every few days, it's difficult. Since I can't seem to stop the bunny-hunting, I had to decrease her kibble when she went on a spree. Problem solved. I guess she liked having a "raw" diet sometimes.

So how can you tell if an Alaskan Malamute is overweight with all that coat? Simple - put your hands on them. First place to start is the hip bones. If you can feel them and they feel sharp and "boney" with definite valleys between them, he's probably too skinny. If you can barely feel them, or not at all, he's too fat. But wait, there's more. Work your way to the rib cage. This can be a little more challenging because coat can be so heavy it's often hard to feel ribs on a skinny dog, so make sure you get down under the hair to feel for ribs. If you still don't feel them, he's too fat.

Next, look for "tuck". The photo of "Hootie" is an example of a dog with NO tuck. You should be able to see where the rib cage starts and where it ends. Where it ends should be "tucked" up more. Even with coat, it should be apparent. And if your dog's legs seem short for his body, that may not just be his structure, but fat. A Malamute shouldn't look like a barrel. If you look down at the dog's back from above, he should be visibly wider at the shoulders and actually quite narrow just before the hips. If he's the same front and back, or worse, looks like a plump hairy sausage - it's time for a diet. Hootie
Rescue dog Hootie, a FAT mal...(notice no tuck at all)

Lastly, do a serious evaluation when he's wet in the bathtub or after a major coat blow.  That's when it's easiest to see if you are overfeeding or not - and adjust accordingly. 

Many people are in denial about their dog's weight and it's easy to think, it's just coat. Get someone else's' opinion - and NOT your vet. Vets see way too many extremely fat dogs and when a dog is chubby, are prone to say it's fine. Ideally you want your dog on the thinner side. If the vet says he's just right, odds are he's chubby and could stand to lose a few pounds.

A phenomenon I've noticed is that some dogs, as they gain weight, want more and more food. If they are at a correct weight, they don't act nearly as starving. I'm not sure what causes this, but I've seen several do it. Shadow would be ravenous if he got the least bit chubby, but at a good weight he didn't steal or eat everything in sight. You would think  it'd be just the opposite.

Another phenomenon is that sometimes the skinniest people often have the fattest dogs. I wonder if this is compensation - they can't seem to deny their dog the treats they would like themselves but won't indulge. These are the same people that say they know he's fat, but continue to overfeed him and wonder why he's breathing hard when he just walks up the stairs.

Lastly, spaying and neutering are great for your dog. You should always do this if it will not be bred. However, in many Malamutes it DOES tend to make them gain weight. I suspect this is because the hormones of an intact animal keep their activity level and metabolism high for breeding. Regardless, a spayed or neutered dog doesn't HAVE to gain weight, if you are careful to watch what you feed and keep their activity level up, they can stay as slim as any intact dog.  Just because you have a big dish, doesn't mean you have to FILL it. Measure the food...most homebody (non-working) mals that spend their time running around the yard and hanging out on the sofa eat very little. Our 65-75 lb. girls tend to eat about 1- 1 1/4 cups of high quality food 2x a day...the boys, slightly more. THAT's ALL. Of course they'll get a leftover here or there .... or a treat...but their actual dog food is not that much. (and you'll notice the bag will say feed like 6-8 CUPS 2x a day...OMG what a sumo dog you would have if you did that!). Also, quality of the food makes a difference as well. We were feeding Purina and had to almost double the amount they got because so much of it was just filler. Since it has gone downhill we have changed to a lesser known, but better food and could cut the amount given in half.

So now you've discovered your dog really is overweight - it's not just "coat". What do you do? He looks at you with those sad eyes, and convinces you he's starving. He could waste away any moment....don't give in! Malamutes are world class at gaining sympathy and making you feel guilty. Hang tough! Once he realizes you are not the soft touch you used to be he'll adjust. He may never quit mooching, but he'll eventually learn when you do and do not cave in. Kudos to those of you that are strong enough to not feed from the table or refrain from sharing your Doritos.mulatuck

Time to start a Malamute weight loss program and odds are he'll love it. Go for several walks a day, get him out of the house and throw toys around the yard for him to chase (he's probably not going to fetch balls, so get that thought out of your head). Put him to work pulling you on roller blades or get a lightweight cart. DO something. If your dog is an only dog, this is even more important. Two dogs may wrestle and expend energy playing, but a lone dog doesn't have that option. You will have to be his playmate.

In the food department it's simple. Feed less. Yes, some Alaskan Malamutes are essentially "air ferns" - those kitschy plants that you never had to water or feed because they take nourishment from the air. Some Malamutes are like that too - especially those with thyroid issues (and there are many). So you cut him back to 1/2 to 1 cup of low cal food at each meal and fill his dish with fresh green beans and broccoli. And measure that half cup - a half cup is a LOT less than you think it is. (and yes it will look pathetic in his dish - hence the green beans to fill it up). If you give treats during the day, it may have to be  less for him to lose weight. Of course, always consult with your vet to make sure there are no underlying health problems that would not allow you to cut his food back. A LOT of Malamutes have thyroid issues which make them gain weight easily. Use common sense and always feed a good quality food (read the bag to find out how many calories and how much fat the food has - you may be surprised). I remember once long ago, Penny was eating 1/2 a cup a day and was still GAINING weight from eating apples and poop in the yard...it was difficult to get her weight under control.

The hardest thing of all will be no people food for awhile. If you MUST, make that Dorito chip the size of a baby fingernail - nothing bigger. He will enjoy it just as much as a big chip, because it came from you, but it won't ruin his weight loss program. It's all about Malamute portion control.

As for bunnies and moles in the yard, if he's as prolific a hunter as Holly, just adjust the food the best you can and remove all bodies as soon as possible. Clean up the poop and hope he doesn't start eating grass and bugs...you're in it for the long haul, and your Malamute's health - it's tough love time.