Guide to Preventing and Treating Dog Obesity

According to VCAHospitals, 25% to 30% of dogs are obese, and as dogs age, their obesity rates increase. Nearly half — 40% to 45% — of dogs aged 5 to 11 are considered overweight. While some on social media may find an image or video of a chubby dog cute or entertaining, others may be unsure about what a healthy dog should look like. As a pet parent, it’s time to ask a few questions. Is your dog overweight? How can you tell if you’ve got a fat dog? We answer those questions and help you understand how you can treat and prevent obesity in dogs. 

Is My Dog Fat? Identifying Signs of Dog Obesity

Humans aren’t alone in the battle of the bulge; obesity in dogs is a real issue that requires addressing for the health and well-being of your pet. When dogs weigh 10-20% above their ideal body weight they are deemed overweight, above 20% of their ideal body weight, is considered obese, according to VCA Hospitals

What exactly is obesity? It’s an excessive accumulation of body fat. How can you tell if your dog is obese without having to weigh him all the time? Veterinarians use one of two scales ranging from 1-5 or 1-9 called the body condition score (BCS) to determine obesity in dogs. The higher the number, the greater the level of obesity. The BCS uses visualization and palpation in order to body weight; you must look at and feel your pet. The simplest measure is rib coverage. 

First, stand above your dog and look at your pet’s waistline. It should curve in behind the ribs, similar to an hourglass. Next, you’ll need to sit on the floor and observe your dog from the side. Does your pet’s belly slant upward or is it saggy? Palpation requires you to feel your dog’s ribs. With open hands, place your thumbs on your dog’s backbone and spread your fingers across each side of the ribcage, where you should feel a thin fat layer. 

To compare the way a healthy pet’s ribs should feel, make a fist with one of your hands and feel the raised knuckles with your other hand. Another way to determine if your pet is on the hefty side is by petting your dog from head to tail or petting your dog’s backside. You should be able to feel the backbone or pelvic bone without needing to apply much pressure.

Additional symptoms of obesity in dogs include lethargy, unwillingness to play and walk, inability to get in and out of the car or their beds, excessive panting and a sagging belly. If your dog displays any of these signs, it’s time for a visit to the vet.  

Health Risks of Overweight Dogs

Just like humans, being overweight can lead to a slew of health problems. Overweight dog problems can include:

  • Diabetes
  • Cardiac problems
  • Bone and joint issues
  • Cancer
  • Urinary bladder problems

An estimated 50 million dogs are overweight, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, and although not all will suffer from the above-named conditions, excess weight can affect the quality and length of your pet’s life. 

One of the most common causes of obesity is a combination of too many consumed calories and insufficient exercise. Other reasons behind obesity include:

  • Breed: Certain breeds like basset hounds, dachshunds, Labrador retrievers, beagles, and pugs have a predisposition to obesity. 
  • Age: As dogs age, they are less likely to get routine exercise and may have poor dietary habits making it more difficult to lose weight.
  • Nutrition: Dietary factors such as the number of meals and snacks can lead to excessive weight gain.
  • Overweight or obese owner: An obese owner is more likely to have an obese dog.

If your dog is gaining weight for no apparent reason, it could be because of an underlying genetic or health issue, such as a thyroid disorder. If you have done nothing to change your dog’s diet, and they’re inexplicably gaining weight, it’s time for a visit to the veterinarian. 

Should I Put My Dog on a Diet? Treating Obesity in Dogs

Of course, daily exercise and avoiding table scraps can help your dog reach and maintain an ideal weight. However, merely restricting your pet’s food intake or placing your dog on a diet can cause your pet more harm than good. Consulting with your veterinarian before you switch up your pet’s diet to ensure the changes meet your dog’s nutritional needs. Here are a few helpful tips for addressing or preventing obesity in your dog:

  • Track how much you feed your pet with a measuring cup. This practice shows you and your vet whether you’re under- or over-feeding your dog.
  • Set a schedule to feed your dog. 
  • Opt for low-calorie snacks.
  • Restrict between-meal snacks.

If your pet is obese and unable to play fetch or other high-energy games, swimming (with a life vest) or going for a walk, no matter how short or slow can make a difference and are great ways to start getting your dog moving and in better health. Adding a supplement to your pet’s water may aid in weight management. The advantage of a water-based supplement is that it has no calories of significance, so you don’t worry about putting on additional weight on your dog.

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