For most Australian dog parents, pet desexing is simply part of being a responsible owner. The procedure is in fact mandatory in some states and territories. It can help to manage undesirable behaviour traits, while also avoiding the possibility of unwanted litters — and unwanted dogs are a real problem in Australia, with some 44,000 dogs euthanised each year. Although the need for desexing might be perfectly clear, some dog parents might find themselves dealing with unexpected consequences in the months following the procedure. Although the desexing was successful and went entirely as expected, why is your dog piling on the kilos?
The removal of a dog's reproductive organs can trigger weight gain in some cases. The removal of these organs also eliminates your dog's ability to produce sex hormones such as oestrogen or testosterone, depending on their gender. Additionally, their ability to create leptin (a hormone that helps to inhibit hunger) can be diminished. These chemical changes bring about shifts in your dog's overall metabolism.
This shift means that your dog's metabolism has been affected by the desexing procedure, which is an expected outcome. However, this slower metabolism means that your dog's nutritional needs have changed. Their appetite may increase (sometimes significantly), while their slower metabolism means that weight gain becomes more likely.
As your dog's nutritional needs have changed, their diet should similarly change. Many dog owners overlook this important fact and continue to feed their dog precisely the same diet they were consuming prior to being desexed. It could be assumed that this diet is appropriate for the dog's age and size, but this may no longer be the case.
It's not as though you must reduce your dog's food intake after they've been desexed. Although it can seem like this is the most effective way to sidestep the possibility of post-desexing obesity, this approach isn't necessarily in your dog's best interests. It's better to ensure that your dog's caloric intake reflects their recent metabolic changes.
Calorie counting isn't just for humans, and it can be extremely helpful to ask your vet about the ideal daily caloric intake for your dog, determined by their age, size, and any metabolic changes brought about by their desexing. This allows you to meet your dog's dietary needs without consigning them to a life of obesity. And of course, it should go without saying that your dog should be receiving enough exercise to help stave off significant weight gain.
It's not a foregone conclusion that dogs will become obese after desexing, and the possibility should not deter you from having your dog desexed. It's simply important to be aware of the potential issue, allowing you to take steps to prevent it from affecting your dog's life. If you have any questions about pet desexing, reach out to a vet in your area.