Hardly a day passes without a news story mentioning America’s obesity epidemic. And what’s true for our people is, sadly, also true for our pets. By some estimates, more than half of dogs are overweight and 25 percent of dogs are obese. As with their human counterparts, dogs typically get fat because they eat too much and exercise too little. But unlike their humans (well, many of us anyway), dogs love walks as much as they love cookies –– and the former can go a long way toward shedding pounds and reducing the risks associated with extra weight.
This article will tell you how to tell if your dog is overweight, what breeds are most susceptible to becoming overweight, and how to help manage your dog's weight.
Dogs of any age can suffer from obesity but it is understandably more common in less active pets. Obesity-related health problems abound and can include but are not limited to heart disease, a reduced life span, ruptured cruciate ligaments, labored or difficult breathing, fatigue/exercise intolerance, greater risk for heat stroke/heat exhaustion, and osteoarthritis.
Some diseases are also known to contribute to obesity. These include but are not limited to cardiac disease where exercise intolerance plays a role, brachycephalic syndrome in short-nosed dogs where respiratory compromise limits exercise, and orthopedic diseases that similarly hamper normal activity levels.
Signs and Identification
Identification of canine obesity is generally undertaken by implementing a charting method called body condition scoring, which results in a score between 1 and 5 or 1 and 9, depending on the specific chart applied. In both cases the idea is the same: 1 represents a too-thin dog; 5 or 9 is a morbidly obese one; 3 and 5 are considered ideal; while any dog scoring greater than 4 or 7 is considered overweight, respectively.
The idea behind determining a body condition score in dogs has to do with identifying what’s ideal for each individual animal.
Any dog can develop a weight problem, but some breeds seem predisposed. These include but are not limited to Beagles, Labrador Retrievers, Pugs, and English Bulldogs.
A weight loss program designed by a veterinarian for a dog’s individual needs is the ideal approach to weight loss in dogs. Typically, this weight loss is achieved via a two-pronged approach: diet and exercise. There are several dietary strategies for helping dogs lose weight:
Feeding dogs smaller meals more often. This helps dogs burn calories more efficiently. However, no more food per day should be fed. Instead, owners should use measuring cups to divide their dogs’ daily rations into three or more feedings.
Feeding dogs less of their regular food per day is another option. If a dog is being overfed (such as when owners don’t measure the amount of food), simply cutting back to a measured amount of food per day can facilitate weight loss. However, consult your veterinarian to make sure you are not underfeeding your pet by cutting back too much.
Instead of feeding a dog less food, gradually switching him or her to a low-calorie food may be more effective for some.
Engaging in calorie-burning activities can be incorporated into most weight loss plans. But some dogs have medical conditions that limit the type, quantity, or intensity of exercise they can safely do. Consult your veterinarian before starting any weight loss exercises with your dog, particularly if your dog has been a “couch potato” or has a history of medical problems. Popular exercises include:
- Playing with other pets
- Walking or jogging
- Running off-leash (only in controlled areas where this can be done safely and legally)
- Swimming (great for arthritic dogs)
- Tricks for low-calorie treats
As with human weight loss, the easiest way to deal with canine obesity is to prevent it. Ask your vet to assess your dog’s weight and give you guidelines of what your dog’s optimum weight range is.
This article has been reviewed by a Veterinarian.