Obesity in Dogs

We hear about the epidemic of obesity in humans all the time.  There is also an epidemic of obesity in dogs.  A dog that is ten to fifteen percent above his ideal weight is considered obese.

Dogs that get too much food, or too rich a food for their activity level, lack the ability to exercise, or that have a tendency to retain weight are the most at risk for becoming obese.  Just as in humans, obesity can result in severe health problems such as reducing the dog’s lifespan, even if the dog is only moderately obese.  Excess fat in the body affects multiple areas, including the bones and joints, the digestive organs, and the organs responsible for breathing.

Obesity is now common in dogs of all ages, but is most commonly seen in middle-aged dogs, generally those between the ages of five and ten.  Neutered and indoor dogs also have a higher risk of obesity than intact or outdoor dogs.

The symptoms of obesity are simple:  weight gain, excess weight, an inability or unwillingness to exercise, and an above average score on the body conditioning index.  This index runs from 1 to nine, with anything above seven considered obese.  One is starving.  Five to six is ideal.

Obesity can have several causes.  The most common is that a dog eats more calories than he expends in a day.  This may be because he is fed too much, or too rich a diet, or too many treats.  Obesity is more common in older dogs because they slow down and need fewer calories, but are often fed what they have always gotten.  Other possible causes of obesity are low thyroid, problems with insulin absorption, problems with the adrenal glands, and neutering.

A dog is diagnosed as obese by measuring his weight and his body condition score and comparing them to the breed standard.  If the dog weighs significantly more than his standard calls for, or his body condition score is above seven, he is diagnosed with obesity.

Dogs have trouble losing weight just like humans.  The difference is you can control everything he eats.  In treating obesity, first the dog is screened for the medical problems that can make him obese.  If no medical problems are found, then diet is addressed.  There are special diets made for obese dogs that are high in protein and fiber but low in fat.  Protein stimulates the metabolism and fiber fills the dog’s stomach so he is not hungry.  The veterinarian may also recommend a diet that contains a reduced amount of the dog’s regular food and a reduction in the amount of treats the dog eats.  Finally, a gradual increase in exercise is recommended.  It needs to be gradual because going from couch potato to marathon runner too fast will injure the dog.  Your veterinarian can recommend a schedule for increasing exercise that is safe for the dog and will induce weight loss.

Obesity is not something you treat once and it goes away.  This is a problem that will have to be managed for the rest of the dog’s life.