Overweight Dogs: Understanding and Treating this Canine Health Problem

Overweight Dogs
A Real Canine Health Problem

“You can prevent obesity in dogs, as well as other dog diseases, by providing
proper diet and ample opportunities to exercise.”

Overweight dogs are an increasingly common and serious canine health problem. According to a study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 44 percent of dogs are either overweight or obese.

Dogs that have too much body fat are prone to developing a wide range of dog health problems including hormonal disorders like Cushing’s disease, skin problems, congestive heart failure, cancer, and musculoskeletal diseases like osteoarthritis, cruciate ligament ruptures and intervertebral disk disease.

Overweight dogs also have a decreased quality of life and often die at a younger age than do animals that maintain a healthy weight.

Overview/Snapshot of the Disease

Any dog can become overweight if he routinely takes in more calories than he burns off, but some breeds frequently develop weight problems. At risk breeds include Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Beagles, Dachshunds, Cocker Spaniels, Pugs, Basset Hounds, Miniature Schnauzers, Springer Spaniels, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Chihuahuas.

Because weight gain typically occurs slowly, many owners are not aware that their pets have become overweight and that their health is

Symptoms of Overweight Dogs

Dogs that are overweight typically tire easily. Obese pets may become short of breath or pant excessively with even limited amounts of
activity. Hot weather tends to make these symptoms worse.

Owners can examine their dogs at home to determine if they are at a healthy weight. Most dogs that have an ideal body condition meet the following criteria:

  • Ribs are not visible but can be easily felt just under the skin
  • When looking down on the dog from above, the abdomen is a little narrower than the chest and hips (i.e., an “hour glass” figure)
  • From the side when the dog is standing, the chest is closer to the ground than the belly (i.e., the abdomen is “tucked up”).

Causes of Overweight Dogs

Just like people, dogs gain weight when they eat more calories than they burn off. Owners may be feeding too much dog food, or the food may be too calorie-rich and fattening for the dog’s activity level. Excessive amounts of treats and table scraps can also play a role. A lack of exercise is also usually part of the problem.

Changes in a pet’s lifestyle without a commensurate change in diet frequently lead to weight gain. For example, dogs that are spayed and neutered frequently need fewer calories after their surgeries, perhaps because of changes in hormone levels or reduced roaming behavior and exercise.

A dog’s caloric needs will vary as his activity levels change with age or with the seasons, and unless an owner closely monitors the situation, significant weight gain can occur quickly. Sometimes owners will switch dog foods but fail to adjust the amount their dogs are eating. If the new food has more calories per cup than the old and no other changes are made, weight gain is inevitable.

Treatment of Overweight Dogs

If you feel your dog is significantly overweight, you should take him to the veterinarian before initiating a weight loss program, especially if you are noticing low energy levels, poor coat quality, or skin problems. In some cases, a medical problem like canine hypothyroidism may be to blame for your dog’s condition.

Even if your dog is otherwise healthy, your vet can help in many ways including:

  • Determining the healthiest rate of weight loss for your dog
  • Formulating a plan for exactly what and how much your pet should be eating
  • Offering a prescription-only diet that is much more fat and calorie restricted than those available over the counter
  • Prescribing medications that can help your pet feel full while dieting or that relieve pain and encourage exercise

If your dog only needs to lose a few pounds, cutting back on his current food by about 15% or switching to an over the counter “diet” food might do the trick.

All dogs that need to lose weight should get increased amounts of exercise. Owners should also replace calorie-rich treats and table scraps with healthier snacks like raw baby carrots, air popped popcorn, pieces of rice cake, or sliced apples.

Prevention of Overweight Dogs

You can prevent obesity in dogs, as well as other dog diseases, by providing a proper diet and ample opportunities to exercise. This applies
to pets of all ages. Chubby puppies may be cute, but their increased percentage of body fat puts them at risk for continuing weight problems as
they get older.

Monitor your dog’s weight and body condition regularly. If you can catch weight gain before too many pounds have been added, simple changes like a small reduction in the amount you are feeding or an extra couple of walks during the week may be all that is needed to correct the problem.

Consulting Veterinarian: Jennifer Coates, DVM

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