Reviewed By Joana Garrido DVM
Dog obesity is so prevalent to the point that it has become an epidemic.
A 2007 dog obesity statistics by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) show that a whopping 43% of dogs in the US are obese. Another survey was carried out in 2018, the number increased to 50%.
With the alarming and continuous rise of dog obesity throughout the years, pet owners need to be more aware of its serious and life-threatening effects and ensure that their canine companions maintain a healthy weight.
What Is Dog Obesity?
Dog obesity is a condition where canines accumulate too much fat in their bodies. It leads them to put on excess body weight.
There is no definitive definition of obesity in vet practice. However, dogs that weigh more than 30% of their ideal body weight are considered obese.
On the other hand, pooches weighing 10% to 20% are categorized as overweight.
What Are the Risks Posed by Dog Obesity?
For a long time, the adipose tissue or body fat is thought to be inactive energy storage and insulator. But recently, scientists discovered that fat is in fact biologically active.
It produces inflammatory hormones, which increase oxidative stress. This triggers many negative changes in the canine body processes such as blood pressure and water balance regulation.
So what happens when a dog is obese? When a dog is obese, he becomes more susceptible to developing a series of crippling health problems such as:
- Patella dislocation
- Cranial cruciate ligament rupture
- Breathing issues ( reduced respiratory function and tracheal collapse )
- Exercise and heat intolerance
- Diabetes mellitus
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Kidney stone formation
- Skin problems
Obese and overweight dogs are also in more danger of anesthetic risk during surgeries. That is because the standard dose of anesthesia for canines is formulated according to lean body mass.
Do Obese Dogs Have Shortened Lifespans?
Yes, overweight dogs’ life expectancy is much shorter than lean canines because of their propensity to develop multiple serious ailments throughout their lifetime.
This severely lowers their quality of life, which is the gravest consequence of excessive weight gain.
You might be wondering right now: “How long do obese dogs live?” Obese dogs tend to live much shorter than lean dogs, around 6 to 12 months.
However, a study examining the lifespan of neutered dogs shows that obesity reduces canine life expectancy more than we expect.
Causes of Obesity in Dogs
Overfeeding pooches with either dog food, treats, or table scraps is the most common cause of obesity.
However, other numerous factors can lead dogs to gain excess weight including:
- Lack of exercise
- Pre-existing medical conditions such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease
- Neutering and spaying
- Breeds that are predisposed to obesity like Pugs, Beagles, and Labrador Retrievers
- Old age
A research study also suggests that the official breed standards in kennel clubs may have contributed to dog obesity. Results show that 1 out of 5 show dogs is overweight.
How Do I Know If My Dog Is Obese?
To know if your dog is obese, take time to examine his body. If his ribs and waist are not visible and he has a protruding belly, then your furry pal is obese. Another indicator is the excess fat deposits on the neck and limbs.
However, it would be best to check with the vet so they can definitively confirm if your dog is suffering from obesity.
They will run an assessment test called body condition scoring (BMS). To do this, the vet will closely examine your dog’s body to know which part of the scoring system he belongs.
The BMS system can range from 1 (emaciated) to 9 (obese) with an ideal body score of 5. The higher the score assigned to him, the more body fat he has. Then his results will be compared to that of the ideal BMS of the breed.
The vet will also run other tests to determine if your dog has any underlying ailments causing him to gain weight. X-rays might be performed to check if your dog’s prominent belly contains fluids or just fats.
9 Ways to Prevent Obesity in Dogs
Preventing obesity in dogs involves making adjustments to their diet and exercise activities as well as keeping track of their weight regularly.
Here are helpful tips to help your canine companion maintain a healthy weight.
1. Consider Switching to a High-Protein, High-Fibre, Low-Carb Dog Food.
Many commercial dry kibbles for dogs contain many carbohydrate fillers, making them fattening to dogs. So consult with the vet to find a better alternative for this type of dog food.
Wet food and raw feeding are good options since they commonly consist of high-protein and low-carb ingredients. Adding fiber to the diet can also promote a satiety effect and reduce caloric density. Thus, they provide your dog enough energy for the day without leading him to gain weight.
If you have your eye set on grain-free dog food, note that they tend to be loaded with carbohydrates because they use ingredients like sweet potatoes, legumes, and tapioca as replacements for whole grains such as wheat and corn.
The AAHA Nutrition and Weight Management Guidelines provide recommendations for high-protein, low-carb dog food options that can aid in weight loss. You can find more information about these guidelines here.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that every dog’s nutritional needs are unique, and consulting a board-certified veterinary nutritionist can provide personalized guidance to help you make the best choices for your pet’s health.
2. Cut Back Food Slowly.
If your dog has been eating too much pet food for a long time, do not abruptly reduce its amount drastically the next mealtime.
It will negatively affect his metabolism, allowing him to gain weight easily, so losing weight becomes a challenge.
Thus, we advise you to minimize the amount of food your dog eats gradually. For small dogs, cut back around ¼ to ½ teaspoon per meal. For medium to large dogs, ½ to 1 tablespoon for every meal will do. Do this until you have reduced his food to its appropriate amount.
3. Establish a Feeding Schedule.
Free feeding your furry pal sets him up to develop dog obesity. So always set a mealtime schedule to keep him from gorging on food all day.
Let him eat for 20 to 30 minutes before taking it away. Do not offer heavy meals during nighttime since canines do not burn many calories when they are asleep.
If your family members are taking turns in feeding your pooch, pack your dog’s portioned meals into separate containers to prevent them from overfeeding him.
This strategy is also applicable if you are going on a trip and a dog sitter is looking after your dog. Alternatively, you can invest in an automatic pet feeder with a timer.
4. Go for Low-Calorie Treats.
There is no need to completely restrict your dog from eating treats. Just make sure to avoid store-bought treats since they are often high in calories.
Instead, use fresh fruits and leafy vegetables like strawberries, brussels sprouts, and baby carrots as dog treats. Other healthy alternatives are lean protein meats such as fish, chicken, and turkey.
Aside from being low in calories, these foods offer more nutrients and better bioavailability compared to processed dog treats.
Related article: 5 Homemade Sugar-Free Diabetic Dog Treats
5. Keep Your Dog Busy to Reduce Food Begging Tendencies.
Many dog owners are weak to the pleading eyes of their furry pal. However, there is a good way to keep pooches from constantly begging for food outside mealtimes.
Distract your dog by initiating playtime or a training session. Taking him out for a walk or giving him is also a good option if he is not averse to this idea. Your canine companion won’t have time for food begging if he is busy enjoying his time with you.
6. Incorporate Light Exercise During Mealtimes.
Inserting small exercise activities during feeding helps your dog lose weight while providing extra mental stimulation. Here are some good ideas you can easily do at home:
- Place your dog’s feeding bowl far away from his sleeping area. Also, change its location every mealtime to encourage your dog to walk and move around.
- Instead of using a regular food bowl, place your dog’s food in a puzzle feeder or a treat dispensing toy. This will prevent him from gulping down his food in one go and make him feel more satiated, which decreases food begging habits.
- Turn your dog’s mealtime into a simple training session by brushing up on basic commands. Use his food as training treats.
7. Do Not Skip Giving Your Dog Exercise.
Exercise is one of the best ways for canines to burn off extra calories. Most dogs can tolerate an hour of exercise. However, it can be adjusted according to the age, health, and activity levels of your dog.
Active dogs such as herding, sporting, and working breeds can go for up to 1 to 2 hours of exercise. Sedentary dogs, elderly dogs, and dogs with joint problems can have at least 30 minutes of exercise.
Puppies, on the other hand, require shorter exercise sessions to protect their fragile bones and ligaments from injuries. Generally, they will need 5 minutes twice a day per month of age.
8. Map Out a Suitable Exercise Plan for Fido
When planning your dog’s exercise routine, it’s important to consider any medical conditions that could make certain types of exercise detrimental to their health.
For instance, brachycephalic or flat-nosed dogs are prone to overheating and exercise intolerance, so they should avoid intense exercise to avoid heat stroke.
Additionally, arthritic dogs and older dogs may experience joint pain and soreness, so their exercise activities should be low-impact to prevent straining their muscles and tendons.
It’s always a good idea to consult with your vet to come up with a safe exercise routine for your dog, especially if they have a chronic illness.
9. Have Weekly Weigh-Ins at Home
Weighing your dog once a week aids in checking if his current diet and exercise routine are effective in keeping him slim. It also helps you spot unexplainable rapid weight loss or weight gain quickly.
To get your dog’s weight, follow the following steps:
- Weigh yourself.
- Weigh yourself while holding your pooch.
- Subtract your first measurement from the second measurement.
Once you have acquired this information, compare it with the ideal body weight of your dog’s breed, which is provided in the American Kennel Club’s breed standards.
Using a simple human weighing scale is enough to accomplish this task. However, this might not be feasible for pet owners of large and giant dog breeds. So visit the vet once every 2 weeks for weigh-ins.
Show your dog’s weight records to the vet monthly so they can assess if he is maintaining a healthy weight.
All of these tips are also applicable to overweight or obese dogs. By following them diligently, these canines will be able to reach their weight goals.
But keep in mind that weight loss journey is a slow process. It can take nearly 3 months for them to shed a significant amount of pounds. Do not rush and be patient since it will yield positive results in the long run.
What Happens When Your Dog Reaches His Weight Loss Goal?
It is critical to note that roughly 40% of obese dogs that lose weight gained it back within 12 months.
Thus, once your pooch finishes his dog obesity treatment, keep him strictly on food portion control and avoid feeding him high-calorie treats. Table food scraps should be kept away from him as well.
Regular exercise and weigh-ins are a must to ensure that he stays slender and healthy throughout his life.
FAQs About Dog Obesity
1. What Are the Complications of Obesity in Dogs?
The health complications of dog obesity include cancer, diabetes, Orthopedic problems and heart disease. These illnesses severely lower the quality of life of canines, which in turn shortens their life expectancy.
2. Is My Dog Obese?
You can tell if your dog is obese by visually examining and palpating his body. If his waist and ribs are indiscernible because they are hidden under layers of fat and his belly is abnormally enlarged, he might be suffering from obesity.
3. What Is the Best Thing to Feed an Overweight Dog?
High-protein and low-carb foods are the best things to feed an overweight dog. These include fruits, leafy vegetables, and lean meats. They supply energy without contributing to weight gain.
4. What Supplements Help Dogs Lose Weight?
L-carnitine is one of the supplements that can help dogs lose weight. According to research, it stimulates fat burning in dogs by encouraging the conversion of adipose tissues to energy.
While L-carnitine supplements for dogs are out in the market, this weight-loss compound naturally occurs in fish, poultry, and dairy.
5. How Fast Should Obese Dogs Lose Weight?
APOP states that a healthy weight loss in obese dogs is around 1 to 5 pounds per month depending on their size and health condition.
If your dog is losing weight much slower than expected, get him checked by the vet. Adjustments will be made to ensure that he sheds the appropriate amount of pounds monthly.
Obesity is a continuously growing health problem in dogs. Determining whether or not your dog is overweight or obese is the first step to addressing this issue.
Making appropriate changes in his diet and exercise coupled with regular weight checks with the vet play a significant role in achieving his weight loss goals.
If you need healthy food options for your obese dog, our Fruits and Veg section has a list of food you might be looking for.