Obesity in Dogs: What You Need to Know if Your Favorite Canine is Overweight
Obesity is a real concern in humans and pets alike. Being overweight increases the risk of joint pain, heart disease, diabetes mellitus, etc. It also reduces the overall life span of our furry family members. One study showed obese dogs live 2 years less than dogs maintained at their ideal body weight. We often show love with food, but if you want to spend as much healthy, quality time with your dog as possible, we need to reconsider how we show affection!
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
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What is Obesity?
Obesity is defined as excess fatty cell (adipocyte) accumulation. Dogs are considered obese when they weigh more than 20% above normal. Dogs that weigh 10-19% above their normal weight are considered overweight.
Muscle mass weighs more than fat, so you need to look and feel your dog’s body to assess their body condition score and not just look at the scale. Body condition scores are on a 1-5 or 1-9 scale and look at your dog’s body shape from the side, looking down over your dog, and feeling their ribs and back bones. Please see this great handout with descriptions and pictures on how to assess your dog’s body condition score:
Negative Effects of Obesity in Dogs
Did you know fat tissue is considered an organ? This organ/fat can secrete pro-inflammatory mediators, lead to chronic inflammation, heart disease, joint pain, reduced insulin release, reduced life span, and reduced serotonin levels. Serotonin is a feel-good hormone and reduced levels will cause an increase in appetite.
Dogs that are obese have an increased risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, joint injury such as cruciate ligament tears (CCL injuries), and back injuries such as intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), just to name a few!
How to Prevent Obesity in Your Dog
Feeding a high-quality diet in proper proportions and keeping your dog active is key to prevent them from becoming overweight or obese. All dog foods have different levels of fat, protein, carbohydrates, and caloric content. Following the guidelines on the bag is a good way to start if your dog isn’t already spayed/neutered. If your dog is spayed/neutered, they require fewer calories and will typically need to be fed less than the recommendation on the bag of food. Many vet clinics have a staff member trained to help guide you on the best diets and correct volumes to feed your pup!
Keeping your dog active is very important! Your pet needs to burn off more calories than they take in to lose weight. If your pet has been a couch potato, be sure to start an exercise routine slowly and work your way up. Brief 10 minutes walks a few times a day is a good way to start. A recent study has shown dogs often bond more with a family member who walks them compared to a family member that just feeds them.
For ideas to keep your dog busy, check out our related articles:
Helping Your Dog Lose Weight
If your pet is older and obese, a thorough physical exam and blood work is recommended before starting an exercise routine. Your dog may have underlying issues like joint pain, heart disease, or high blood pressure, that should be addressed before beginning an exercise routine. Some dogs will become obese due to a hormonal imbalance such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s Disease, and blood testing can help diagnose these conditions so appropriate treatment can be started.
Reducing caloric intake is the other key to help your dog lose weight. There are a variety of prescription diets that can help pets lose weight. Some are high in fiber, others are high in protein and low in carbs similar to Adkins style diets.
Be sure everyone in the household is aware of the diet plan and have one designated person be responsible for feeding all the meals. This reduces the risk of your dog being fed multiple times by different family members. Don’t forget dog treats, table scraps, and access to other pet’s food all contain calories and need to be eliminated or worked into the daily caloric amount your pet is allowed.
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