Groomer to Groomer

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The Fat Dog

By Mary Oquendo

Yeah, I have a fat dog. Reno, a German Pinscher, is not what we would call a fussy eater. In fact, if he could, he would eat the wallpaper off the wall. In order for my other dogs to eat peacefully, Reno is crated during meal times.

Needless to say, his weight had been an issue long before he adopted us. His ideal weight is 30 pounds. His heaviest weight was 50 pounds. Reno is not alone. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention ( estimates that 54% of dogs and cats in the U.S. are either overweight or obese.

As groomers, it is our concern, because these overweight pets in our care usually come with medical issues. Such injuries and illnesses directly related to excess weight can impact our workday. In addition, that extra weight the pet is carrying puts more of a strain on our bodies, particularly our backs. In the U.S. alone, there were 185,270 back injuries reported to Workmen Compensation in 2010. As many of us are sole proprietors or independent consultants, out of work also means out of income. A serious back injury can be career ending.

For the pets, it is not just fat deposits; it can affect metabolic, hormonal, and other vital organ systems, none of which you want to rear its ugly head while grooming. The laundry list of complications includes but is not limited to the following:

  • Decreased life expectancy by as much as two and a half years
  • Osteoarthritis and other joint issues (I use an orthopedic mat on the grooming table to help relieve some of their joint stress while standing.)
  • Heart and respiratory conditions
  • Heat intolerance (something to take into consideration while drying them)
  • Exercise intolerance (It becomes a catch-22. They need to exercise, but if they do, they run the risk of severe medical problems.)
  • Dermatological issues involving the skin and coat
  • Compromised immune function
  • Increased risk for surgical and anesthetic procedures
  • Increased risk for cruciate ligament and vertebral disc ruptures
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Kidney disease

How can they get so overweight in the first place? They get heavier the same way it happens with us.

1. The owner may not realize just how overweight their pet is

A 15-pound DSH cat is the same as a 220-pound, 5’4’’ woman. A 90-pound female Lab is similar to a 220-pound, 5’9’’ man. For more weight translations, visit

2. Too many calories consumed vs. the number being used

While lifestyles differ, the average 10-pound cat needs between 180-200 calories, a 10-pound dog between 200 and 275, a 20-pound dog between 325 and 400, and a 50-pound dog between 700 and 900. Your mileage may vary. How many people are even aware of the number of calories in the food they feed their pets? (

3. Poor feeding habits

If you listened to Reno, he would tell you that we hardly ever feed him, and he’s hungry. Sometimes it’s really hard to ignore those big eyes, but the bottom line is that we gave him too many high-calorie treats and table food. Even good quality pet food can be overdone.

4. Both neutering and aging slow down metabolism

5. Hormonal disorders such as Cushing and hypothyroidism

6. Breed disposition

Beagles, Cocker Spaniels, Collies, Shelties, Basset Hounds, Dachshunds, and Labrador and Golden Retrievers are simply more prone to weight gain than other breeds. Notice that German Pinschers are NOT on the list.

A pet at its ideal weight will have a discernible waist, and you can easily feel the ribs. If the pet’s ribs are visible, the pet is underweight, but that is a totally different article.

How do we help? When approaching pet owners, it is important to be non-judgmental. If you put them on the defensive, they will shut down and not listen to you. You can teach, but you cannot make someone learn. Put yourself in their position and relate rather than condescend. It will not be easy for them or the pet. Think about how hard it is for us to lose weight. Help the owners focus on association. Did you know that one pig ear is equivalent to six cans of soda or that one biscuit is the same as two large cookies filled with extra cream?

Other suggestions:

  • Offer diet and nutrition tips in your newsletter. Don’t have a newsletter? Now is the time to start. Here’s your first tip: for every treat you give your pet, put another into a cup. At the end of the day, you will see how much extra food your pet is getting.
  • Team up with a local veterinarian or nutritionist and offer weight management classes. This is a win-win for everyone.

The other half of a successful weight management plan is exercise. Before any type of exercise program is implemented, a veterinarian should check the pet. Do you have room in your facility to set up a pet gym? There are several companies that specialize in pet exercise equipment. If you do have room, make sure you have health waivers from their vet and a staff that is pet first aid certified. Not your cup of tea? There are many other options:

  • Have a representative from a pet equipment manufacturer visit your shop for a seminar and receive a commission from any sales.
  • Team up with a pet sitter that offers exercise walks. Many pet sitters are now offering year-round hikes and other forms of exercise as part of their service.
  • Team up with a kennel, rehabilitation, or daycare facility that has exercise or agility equipment.
  • Team up with local breed clubs that want to advertise agility events.
  • Recommend hiring a responsible college kid to exercise their pets.
  • Dog parks are usually open year round but are not suitable for all dogs. Donna Gleason (CPDT-KA) of has a recorded webinar on dog park behavior, which every pet owner should watch before taking his or her pets to one. It is found at
  • Recommend interactive toys for cats to put them in motion.
  • Recommend a simple walk around the block at the end of the day.

In order for any weight loss program to be effective, there must be consistency and commitment on the part of the owner. Help them by being their cheerleader and the person they come to for advice. Currently, Reno has lost 10 pounds. Go Reno! ✂