The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) estimates that 54% of dogs in the United States are clinically overweight or obese, (that’s 42 million dogs!) and this number is increasing every year.
It’s important to be able to recognize obesity in your own dog, and know the necessary steps you can take to help them lose weight and prevent future complications.
What is obesity in dogs?
Obesity is a nutritional disease that significantly increases the risk of other serious health issues in your dog. To recognize obesity in a dog, look for these signs:
- Noticeable weight gain at any point after your dog reaches 2 years old
- A weight which is significantly more than the breed standard (If your dog weighs 10-15% more than the average healthy weight for their breed, they are usually classed as obese)
- Inability to see the hourglass curve of your dog’s stomach when looking from above
- Shortness of breath, or seeming reluctant to exercise
You may not notice the weight gain if it happens over a long time, and it’s often groomers who first flag the issue to dog owners.
What are the risks of obesity in dogs?
Even a pound or two of excess weight can take its toll on your pet, and over time can lead to severe health problems. Some of the most common problems that can be triggered by obesity are:
- Problems exercising, such as low stamina and difficulty breathing
- Intolerance to heat (this in turn can trigger other issues such as fainting or dehydration)
- Damage to joints and bones, even leading to lameness in some extreme cases
- High blood pressure (also known as Hypertension), which increases the risk of heart failure
- Liver disease
- Increased risk of various cancers
- Decreased life expectancy
What causes dog obesity?
The most common causes of obesity in dogs are lack of exercise and a poor diet. An especially significant cause is feeding dogs fatty, “human,” snacks like crisps, sausages or bacon. The fat and additives in these foods are difficult for your dog’s digestive system to break down and, combined with the added calories, can cause your dog’s body fat to quickly increase.
There are also some underlying diseases which can cause obesity, but these conditions only make up around 5% of the total reported obesity cases in dogs. Talk to your vet if you are concerned that one of the following diseases may be responsible for your dog’s weight gain:
- Cushing’s disease (Hyperadrenocorticism)
- Adult onset diabetes
Unfortunately, some dogs are predisposed to obesity due to their genetics. For example, Retrievers have been bred to not recognize when they are full, so that they would always be keen to work for food and fetch game for their hunting owners.
The following dog breeds are most prone to obesity:
- Golden Retriever
Does neutering cause obesity in dogs?
It is a common misconception that neutering or spaying causes obesity in dogs. While neutering is not a direct cause of obesity in dogs, the change in hormones does slow down the dog’s metabolism, meaning that they do not need as much food to sustain themselves.
As long as food intake is slightly reduced after neutering or spaying, there should be no risk of obesity. Your vet can advise you on how much less you should be feeding your dog to ensure they maintain a healthy weight.
How can I help my dog lose weight?
If you want to help your dog lose weight, it’s important to firstly check that your dog is getting the right amount of exercise. All breeds need at least 20 minutes of exercise daily, and many need significantly more. Research your breed online to find out how much is daily exercise is recommended to manage their weight.
Next, ensure that the food you feed your dog is of high quality, without too much excess fat, and consider reducing the amount given to your dog daily.
Treats are a great for rewarding your dog and encouraging good behavior, but keep an eye on how many treats or snacks your dog gets during the day, and be sure to reduce the amount your dog is eating at mealtimes to make up for these added calories. APOP have a dog calorie needs checker on their website where you can see how much food your dog should really be eating every day – it’s much less than you’d think!
Finally, resist those puppy dog eyes! Stay strong and don’t give in to your dog begging for your food leftovers – they don’t know what’s good for them, but you do. Many human foods can even be toxic to dogs, so it’s important to keep them well out of reach know the symptoms to look out for if your dog has eaten something they shouldn’t.
If obesity is diagnosed by a veterinarian, they will carefully analyze your dog’s current exercise regime and diet. They will put together an exercise routine for you to follow with your dog, and may prescribe a special diet to help them shed the excess pounds.
What’s the best dog food for weight loss?
Your vet can advise you on the best diet for your dog if they are overweight. There are many diet dog foods available; some breed specific, or prescription only.
If you’re looking to research some waistline-friendly dog foods yourself, a great place to start is Dog Food Advisor. This website is written by trained canine nutritionists and ranks and reviews hundreds of dog foods that are available across the U.S.
These reviews show the composition of the foods, so you can easily see which ones have lower fat content. Look out for foods which also have high dietary protein and fiber contents, as these will help keep your dog feeling fuller for longer and are easily digestible.
If you are happy with your existing dog food, try reducing your dog’s intake by 25% and making sure that this is further reduced on days when your dog has been given lots of treats.
Learn more about healthy diets for dogs, including what constitutes a complete and balanced diet and top 10 feeding tips.