Written by Ella White
We all want to see our pups living happy, healthy lives. But sadly, obesity is now one of the most common problems for dogs. Like in humans, it’s the result of excessive body fat that leads to your pet being overweight. It’s usually caused by your dog taking in more energy than they release, and although it’s usually a nutritional disorder, it can be a symptom of other problems.
If your overweight dog does not overcome their obesity, it can lead to detrimental health issues that will have lasting effects on their quality of life. Here’s how to tell if your dog is obese, and what you can do about it.
Obesity in dogs is the same as obesity in humans. It’s an accumulation of body fat that leads to excess body weight. And though not all heavy dogs are obese or even overweight, the two often go hand in hand. And since it’s easier to measure a dog’s body weight rather than body fat, that’s the best way to gauge whether or not your dog is obese.
Obesity can shorten your dog’s lifespan from 6-12 months – in fact, a study on Labrador Retrievers found that even moderately overweight dogs lived almost two years less than their healthy counterparts. Obesity increases your dog’s chances of developing diseases, and can even lead to death.
Fat has been found to be an active tissue, so as long as your dog is carrying too much of it, it can cause detrimental damage to their health. It secretes hormones that cause inflammation, and creates oxidative stress on the tissue.
A few of the illnesses and diseases linked to obesity in dogs include:
The most obvious causes for obesity in dogs are the same as those in humans – too much food or an unhealthy diet, and a lack of physical exercise. By eating too much, or a diet that is too fatty, their excess energy is stored as fat in the body. But a dog’s propensity to become obese is determined by various factors including:
However in some cases, obesity can also be an indicator of some disease, including hypothyroidism and overactive adrenal glands known as Cushing’s disease. Similarly, diseases that impair their ability to exercise can result in weight gain.
There are also some breeds that have a higher likelihood of becoming obese, so your dog’s genetics may play a part too.
The first step to helping your dog overcome their weight issues is to understand and acknowledge the problem. If you’re not sure whether your dog is a healthy weight, the first port of call should be to consult a vet.
But there are also some things you can look out for at home. Signs that your dog might be overweight include:
In most healthy dogs you should be able to see or feel their rib cage through their skin – check behind their shoulder blades where it should feel like the knuckles on your hand. You can also ask your vet to carry out body condition assessments that use a scoring system to ensure your dog is making progress with their weight loss.
The easiest ways to prevent obesity in your dog is to take them for longer, more frequent walks and to feed them a healthier diet. If your dog is already overweight, try more exercise, little and often but don’t do too much too quickly. Activities like agility or hill climbing are great for keeping your dog healthy but when they’re already overweight, these activities can put additional stress on their already overworked joints. And when feeding your dog, weigh their food, and make sure the ingredients are healthy. You might even benefit from a feeding plan and signing up for regular weight checks.
A dog’s diet should be high in protein and fibre, but low in fat. This will help them feel full while providing all the energy they need for walks and exercise. Consider switching to healthy treats or even dog-safe veggies, and make sure the whole family is on board and won’t feed them scraps.
Feeding leftovers from the table might seem like a nice treat for your dog, but it makes it easy to lose track of how much they’re eating. Make sure you stick to set meal times and keep their dinner as far as possible from bedtime so they aren’t sleeping on a full stomach. There are also plenty of other reasons you shouldn’t be letting your dog eat human scraps which you can read all about here.
Preventative methods can also help a dog that is already obese begin to lose weight. However, you’ll need to be very strict and structured in your feeding and walking routine. Check the ingredients of their food and make sure that it delivers all the nutrients they need – an air-dried food made from pure animal protein, like Front of the Pack’s dog food, is tasty and nutritious and made without any fillers or additives that can be detrimental to your dog’s health and weight.
Then you can make sure that your dog is fed the exact amount of food at the same time of day, twice per day. Resist the urge to feed them treats or snacks, even if they whine – just remember it’s all for their own good. If your dog does deserve a treat for good behaviour, make sure they account for no more than 10% of your dog’s daily calorie intake. Fresh or frozen green beans, carrots, and broccoli are all healthy snacks that your dog will enjoy more than you might think!
To keep track of their weight loss, take your dog for weigh-ins every 2-3 weeks. This way you can understand how much progress is being made and ensure that the weight loss isn’t too rapid. It can also help you make adjustments to their new diet.
Once your dog is at their ideal body weight the healthy routine isn’t over – you’ll need to maintain it. Speak to your vet about the best diet and portion size that will work for your dog’s unique weight control needs. You’ll begin to notice that your healthier dog is also a happier dog that enjoys mealtimes and walkies more than ever.