Obesity in Dogs: What to Know

Is your dog 'too fat'? If it has a round belly and a waist that is wider than its chest, then chances are it is suffering from obesity, a condition in which one is considered having too much body fat or excess weight. Obesity is an increasing problem in humans, with over 300 million clinically obese adults worldwide based on data from the World Health Organization (WHO), but a recent study reveals that it also poses a significant health issue in dogs.

According to Dr. Craig Thatcher, veterinary nutritionist at Virginia Tech, whose research was published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine (JVIM), the prevalence of obesity in dogs is between 22 and 40 percent. This translates to making one-third of dogs in the US obese, says Science Daily News, an online news magazine. Such figures are staggering enough to raise concern. Thus, pet owners and veterinarians should always be on the watch.

Obesity generally refers to an excess of body fat that causes health problems and impairment of body functions. However, its incidence varies from one pet to another due to differences in breed and size and several other reasons.

Interestingly, the factors that lead to obesity in dogs are the same as those of humans. These include: increased caloric intake, inadequate exercise, age, genetic predisposition, environment, and lifestyle.

An article by Pet Tales Magazine summarizes why pet obesity happens: "The amount of calorie ingested is more than the amount of calories burned so that the excess energy is stored as fat tissue in the body." But Thatcher adds that genetics can also increase a pet's risk of becoming overweight. For instance, when measuring obesity, it is important to take into account that breeds like Labrador retrievers and cocker spaniels are genetically more likely to carry extra pounds than other pooches.

Like humans, dogs suffer from health complications associated with being obese. Some of which include: diabetes, heart disease, heat intolerance, decreased stamina, liver disease, skin problems, and joint complications. All these mean one thing: obesity can decrease the quality and the length of your pet's life.

But don't you worry! You can help your dog fight obesity. The first step is to consult the veterinarian, especially if you feel that your pet may be overweight. Your vet will make an assessment based on your dog's size, frame and Body Condition Score (BCS), a 9-point scale that determines the animal's ideal body weight (1 - extremely thin; 5 - ideal; and 9 - obese). BCS is like the equivalent of Body mass index (BMI), which is often used to compare levels of obesity in humans by measuring the weight of a person according to height.

Also, look out for signs of obesity in your dog. An indication is the inability to feel your pet's ribs when you run your hands over its chest. A round abdomen, which is a result of excess abdominal fat, is another sign. An animal of normal weight should have an abdomen, tucked up nicely from the chest up to the hips.

The next step is to initiate a wellness program. Together with pet owners, veterinarians can advise an effective weight loss plan. They can make a pretty good plan that is safe and fit for your pet! The program should include the following:

1. A balanced diet

  • Giving pets high-fiber, low-fat foods, with the owner carefully monitoring intake

2. Adequate exercise

  • Initiating daily walks with your dog (This can help pet owners stay fit too!)
  • Giving it increased playtime; chew toys provide hours of fun for your pet
  • Physical therapy by using equipment like underwater treadmills

3. Recondition pets' eating habits/behavior

  • Correcting pets' begging or stealing behavior when it comes to food
  • Rewarding desirable behavior
  • Giving treats that are low in carbs and fat such as Sasha's Flexi Bites and Greenies treats

As in any weight loss program, this requires 100% commitment. Thus, pet owners should be willing to devote their time to comply with the requirements of the program. They should carefully monitor their pets' progress to determine if they are effectively losing weight.

If you want your pets to live longer and healthier lives, don't let them grow 'too fat.' Save them while you still can. Get them off the obesity track straightaway.