Obesity is the most common of all preventable health conditions in dogs.
While an entire industry has spawned around weight loss in humans and animals, obesity comes down to a simple imbalance. If your dog takes more energy onboard than he consumes, he will put on weight.
In the United States, roughly one-third of the overall canine population is obese. Among senior dogs, almost half weigh more than they should.
What qualifies as obesity in dogs, then?
I. What Is Obesity?
75Obesity is a condition involving the accumulation of extra body fat. When your dog piles on surplus fat, this typically leads to an increase in weight.
Luckily, it’s easier to use your dog’s weight than body fat to assess whether he needs some weight management.
Dogs weighing 10% to 20% more than their ideal body weight are considered overweight. If your dog is 20% of more above his ideal body weight, he is obese.
Canines have narrow ideal weight ranges that differ from breed to breed. Even relatively minor weight gain in smaller breeds can quickly lead to obesity.
We’ll look next at some of the common markers indicating a potential weight problem in Rover.
II. Is My Dog Overweight?
- Examine your dog’s body shape
- See if you can feel Rover’s ribs
- Check for fat pads
- Look at your furball from the side
- Consider your dog’s behavior
- Weigh your pooch and consult a body conditioning chart
1) Examine your dog’s body shape
The first and simplest method of determining if your dog is overweight is to examine the shape of his body.
Look down on your dog from above. If he appears oval-shaped, chances are he is overweight. If, by contrast, he has a defined waist and straight sides, he’s likely operating within a healthy weight range for his breed and life stage.
2) See if you can feel Rover’s ribs
Fit dogs will have reasonably prominent ribs that are easy to feel without needing to press too hard.
In overweight dogs, on the other hand, a layer of fat covers the ribs, making them difficult to feel without firmly pressing.
3) Check for fat pads
If you spot visible fat sacks between your pup’s legs when he walks, this is a sign of obesity.
The same applies if you feel fat pads on your dog’s hips when you’re rolling around with him.
4) Look at your furball from the side
If you view your dog from the side, his waist should be raised rather than hanging downwards. His abdomen should not be at the same level as his chest.
5) Consider your dog’s behavior
When a dog becomes overweight and then obese, his activity levels typically plummet.
If you’ve noticed a change in Fido’s behavior and he’s spending more time sitting, seems to find it tough moving around, and exhibits difficulties breathing, all these are indicators of obesity developing.
6) Weigh your pooch and consult a body conditioning chart
The most direct method of determining whether your dog is obese is a formal weigh-in at the vets.
All breeds have different optimum weights.
Your vet can then compare your dog’s weight with a BCS (body conditioning chart). Scores using this system range from 1 through 9. 1 represents a dog that’s very underweight, while dog’s scoring 9 are extremely overweight. A target score using this BCS is 4 or 5.
III. What are the Health Risks for Overweight Dogs?
Allowing your dog to remain obese raises his risk of a number of serious health conditions.
- ACL issues
- Heart conditions
- Skin diseases
- Risk under anesthesia
- Quality of life and lifespan
Torn ACLs (anterior cruciate ligaments) in dogs require surgery to repair. Obesity is one of the leading causes of this canine ligament condition.
Weight gain in dogs often leads to high blood pressure, and can ultimately precipitate heart disease.
Canine obesity is also associated with breathing problems. Overweight dogs are more likely to suffer from laryngeal paralysis or a collapsing trachea. If these conditions are left untreated, they can be deadly.
If your dog is overweight, he’ll be putting extra pressure on his joints. As the cartilage in his overburdened joints starts deteriorating, this can lead to arthritis.
Obesity can heighten your dog’s risk of some tumors like lipomas (benign fatty tumors), bladder cancer, and breast cancer.
Many overweight dogs develop folds of skin. These can bring about infection and irritation as bacteria accumulate.
Often, overweight dogs also develop poor quality coats. It becomes increasingly difficult for overweight dogs to efficiently groom themselves.
Risk under anesthesia
If your dog requires surgery, he’ll be at increased risk of complications under anesthesia. His heart and lungs will be forced to work much harder.
An overweight dog under anesthesia may sleep too deeply, or he might struggle to sleep deeply enough.
Quality of life and lifespan
The most serious issue of all with obese dogs is linked to lifespan: overweight dogs can die two years earlier than those at healthy weights.
Beyond this, his quality of life will be impaired. Exercise will get more challenging and less enjoyable, health conditions will likely manifest, and Rover will ultimately die sooner than if he were not overweight.
What, then, can you do about an overweight dog?
IV. How To Combat Canine Weight Loss
If you consult with your vet and he confirms your dog is overweight or obese, you’ll need to formulate a workable weight loss plan. You have two overarching goals here:
- Reduce your dog’s caloric intake
- Increase the amount of exercise your dog gets
If your dog has not been getting enough exercise, start by introducing some ten-minute walks each day to get him going. You can increase the frequency and pace of these walks until he’s walking for up to two hours each day, depending on his breed and life stage.
At the same time, calculate how many calories your dog needs each day to lose weight so you can accurately measure his food.
Schedule Rover’s mealtimes for the same time each day. Don’t allow your dog to free feed, as this will encourage overeating. This type of grazing works well for some dogs, but it’s inadvisable when obesity is an issue.
It’s also vital not to feed your dog too much at each meal. Once you have calculated your dog’s caloric requirements not just to maintain weight but to lose a few pounds, you’ll just need to portion out the right amount each mealtime.
You don’t need to completely eliminate treats. Look for healthier options, though, and exercise a light touch. Be certain to subtract these treats from your dog’s overall daily caloric intake, or you’ll end up undoing all your hard work.
There are many dog foods designed to support weight loss, so you may consider switching to one of these specialty formulas. These foods are low in calories, high in protein and fiber, and contain moderate levels of carbs. Fat content is low, too.
When you’re transitioning to a new dog food, start by giving Fido 25% new food with 75% old food for two or three days. Then, mix in 50% old food and 50% new food for a few days. Increase this to 75% new food and 25% old food before switching to all-new dog food after ten days. Transitioning gradually will minimize the chance of any stomach upsets in Rover.
The other important element is to regularly weigh your dog so you can stay on top of his weight and make changes as required. While it might be tempting to use your regular bathroom scales, you’re better off heading to the vets or purchasing a dog scale.
Remember, if you overfeed your dog and allow him to become obese, you’re killing him with kindness. Not only will you increase your furball’s risk of the health conditions listed above, but you’ll also reduce his lifespan.
Instead, consider a biologically-appropriate weight loss dog food combined with plenty of exercise and a sharp reduction in table scraps. These simple changes alone should rapidly bring your dog’s weight back within a healthy range.
If you are reduced to changing your dog’s food, remember to do this slowly over the course of ten days. And remember, exercise is also crucial if you’re looking to trim some excess fat from your furball. If he starts expending more energy than he consumes, he’ll lose weight. Whether or not you need to switch up your pup’s food, you can easily control his weight and prevent the above health conditions from blighting his life.