by Susan Strickland, Landenberg, Pennsylvania
Seventy pounds! Seventy pounds? Reba was standing on the veterinarian's scale looking more like a huge pot-bellied pig than a Corgi. The scale fluctuated between 69.5 and 70.2 pounds as Reba shifted her weight. The vet techs appeared from the examination room. Seventy pounds? A 70-pound Corgi? They wanted to see the scale themselves. Someone went to get the vet so she could see the 70-pound Corgi also. The whole situation would have been funny if it hadn't been so sad and disgusting. Reba laid down, resting her tremendous bulk, while everyone gawked at her.
Only the day before, Reba's owners had called to ask if I ever take a dog back that I had sold as a puppy, if the owner's didn't want it anymore. I said yes, absolutely. They came over in the afternoon. The husband carried her from the car and put her in my fenced yard. I couldn't believe her size. I didn't want these people to stay any longer than necessary. I didn't want to talk to them or look at them; I was so annoyed. The wife never got out of the car, and they left the dog they had owned for two years, seemingly with no emotion at all. They had told me on the phone earlier that Reba was unmanageable, didn't get along with other dogs and was a little overweight. If they even mentioned the weight, I figured Reba must be obese, but I was not prepared for what I saw.
It was a hot, humid, summer day when Reba arrived and she was very hot. When we tried to move her into the house, we hit our first snag. I put a choke collar and leash on her and tried to get her to move. Her neck was so swollen with fat that it was pushing her ears forward onto her head, and the collar just slipped off over her head. If I pulled her forward, the collar would slip off. If I tried to pull to the side, she would roll upside down with her feet in the air. When I would roll her over, she would get up and "run" a short distance. Whenever this happened, we would herd her in the right direction. Finally, we managed to get her in the house and settled in.
It quickly became clear that I wasn't set up to deal with Reba's special needs. But there was no way I could place her in a permanent home in her condition. Her health was at too much risk with her current weight. I put the word out with friends that I needed a place for Reba to live while she started her reduction program. Thankfully, I found a place for her with two wonderful people, George and Nancy Stephens, who were interested in doing rescue work. And, happily for Reba, they have central air-conditioning, no stairs going outside and a tremendous amount of patience and caring.
Nancy and I moved Reba out to Nancy's car with the help of a German-Shepherd-sized harness that I had borrowed from a friend. Even the harness would start to come off over her head if we tugged in the wrong direction. Whenever she didn't want to move, Reba would just roll over on her back like a beached whale. It took both of us to lift her into the car.
Once Reba was in her new temporary home, it was time to do some research on her condition. The Stephens' made Reba her own web page and asked for dietary advise on the Corgi-L, the internet Corgi chat line. I checked with friends who had dealt with obese dogs before. I also called the vet who had taken care of Reba for the past two years. Reba was purchased in August 1996 as an eight-week-old puppy. According to the vet records she was neutered on November 1, 1996. At that time she was on free feeding and was already too heavy. In January of 1997, she was seven months old and was 34 pounds! Her vet suggested to the owners that she receive no more free feeding and no table scraps. His suggestion for feeding was two cups of food twice a day. I know this vet meant well and was trying to help, but anyone who has ever had Corgis knows that this amount was way too much. Even my most active dogs don't get this much, never mind a neutered house pet.
Not surprisingly, by September of 1997 Reba was even heavier, 53 pounds. At that time, the vet suggested dropping the food to three quarters of a cup of dry food plus one-quarter can of canned food twice a day. Unfortunately, this still was not low enough to drop weight. Also, I only know the vet's advice on feeding, and not what the dog was actually being fed. At the September vet visit, the owners complained they were having trouble with "attitude and housebreaking." The vet's receptionist commented that it was clear Reba was dominant over her owners, and if she sneered at them, they would back down. She had learned how to get her own way. I also learned that Reba's owners had another dog, a Chow mix.
After talking to friends who had dealt with such problems, although no one had seen a 70-pound Corgi before (60 pounds seemed to be the previous record), we put Reba on a diet of Hills RD, a canned reducing food. A vet check, blood work and urinalysis have shown her to be as healthy as a dog in her condition can be.
For Reba, losing weight could be almost as dangerous as keeping her current weight. She must be monitored carefully to make sure she is losing steadily, but not too fast. And when the day comes that she can start eating dry food again, the transition must be made extremely slowly to prevent bloat. Knowing Reba's parents, she should weigh about 25 to 27 pounds (according to George's calculations, 280 percent less than her 70-pound weight).
Obese dogs are subject to skeletal problems, heart problems, joint problems (mostly hip and elbow), metabolic problems and a host of other chronic problems that a vet could better explain. It can also cause incontinence in females (and it has in Reba), digestive problems (she came to me with loose bowels), and difficulty breathing. Reba at 70 pounds panted heavily all the time, even in air-conditioning, and could only move around briefly without having to lie down and rest. Her throat and chest were always wet with drool, her armpits damp and sore under rolls of fat and her rear messy with poop.
Reba was a victim of abuse! Abuse by overfeeding. She is certainly an extreme example of obesity in a Corgi, but I see obese Corgis all too frequently. When asked by new, prospective Corgi owners what health problems there are in the breed, obesity is coming near the top of the list more and more.
Let's face it, when it comes to food, Corgis have no sense. They will eat themselves into oblivion, and then tell you they're hungry. Two things one should never pay any attention to: a Corgi's appetite and the feeding recommendations on the dog food bag. In the Corgi breed standards, Pembrokes are listed as 25 to 30 pounds, and Cardigans as 25 to 38 pounds. There are certainly dogs at the high and low ends of these weights. But, if owners are unsure whether their dog is overweight, they should weigh the dog and, if possible, get advice from someone who is familiar with the breed. If your dog has lost his waist, he is probably getting too heavy. Or, if he reaches a certain weight, a red flag should go up. For example, if you have a Pembroke who weighs 40 pounds and it is not oversized, it must be overweight. As soon as it is confirmed that the dog is overweight, the food should be cut back, and he should be weighed weekly to be sure the diet is working and that the weight is coming off gradually and consistently.
The feeding recommendations made by breeders to the owners of a new eight-week-old puppy must be adjusted as the dog gets older, and must be based on the activity level and metabolism of the individual dog. Once it is noticed that the dog is putting on too much weight, THE FOOD MUST BE CUT BACK. This includes all the food the dog is getting, including treats, table scraps, the cat's food that isn't kept high enough, the other dog's food the Corgi is stealing, the snacks the kids are slipping to the dog, etc. Corgis cannot open the refrigerator. They cannot run to the store for snacks. It is totally up to the owner what they eat. If they are gaining weight, getting fat or already obese, the only sure cure is less food. More exercise also helps, but realistically, most people do not increase exercise enough to make a difference. When putting a Corgi on a diet, since they are so obliging about eating just about anything, giving them such low-calorie items as green beans in their dinners to add volume, or carrots as snacks, is easy.
Reba is slowly but surely losing weight and becoming more of a normal Corgi. She gets along well with the other two Corgis she lives with, uses her weight less and less to get her own way, plays with toys and, for Nancy and George, who she owes so much, she greets them each morning with snuggles and kisses. She still has a long way to go, but she's full of Corgi spirit, and hopefully her plight will inspire other Corgi owners to take another look at their pets, feed them a little less and love them a lot more.
Published in The Welsh Corgi Annual 1998.
Read here about Reba's life with her new owner.