Is My Dog Fat?

What is obesity in dogs and is it hurting my pet?

Obesity is defined as an abnormal accumulation of body fat that is more than 20% over the individual’s ideal body weight.  The branch of medicine that studies obesity is called bariatrics. Obesity is a problem that many dogs deal with and is caused by many different factors: too much food, lack of mobility or exercise, or medical conditions that cause weight gain. If left uncontrolled, prolonged obesity can lead to a shortened life span of the dog.  The extra fat and weight can cause problems in multiple areas of the body, including joints and bones, the ability to breathe properly, and the digestive organs. Obesity can happen at any age but is most commonly found in dogs ages 4-10. Animals that have been spayed or neutered also have a tendency to be overweight due to the lower metabolism and no decrease in calories to compensate.

Causes of obesity:

The most common cause of obesity is being overfed.  They are taking in more calories than the body can burn off.  Each animal has its own level of metabolism and that can correlate with the amount of exercise they receive.  Is your dog a couch potato or is he running marathons with you? Is your dog 2 years old and very active, or are they 9 years old and more sedentary? 

What type of food are you feeding?  Is your food a true weight-loss food, or is your dog’s food more of a high-performance style of food?  Does your dog get treats all day in addition to their normal amount of food? Does your dog have medical conditions that do not allow them to be active or diseases that cause weight gain on their own? These are all factors that can contribute to your dog being overweight.

What medical conditions can cause weight gain?

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s Disease)
  • Insulinoma
  • Spaying or neutering

What diseases can result from long-term obesity?

  • Diabetes Mellitus
  • Hip and Knee Arthritis
  • Cranial Cruciate Rupture (ACL is the more common term)
  • Disk Disease
  • Heart Disease

How do you diagnose obesity?

Your veterinarian can do a simple exam to determine if your dog is obese.  They will use a scale of 1-9 or 1-5. The ideal score would be a 5 and 3 respectively.  They will examine the amount of fat overlying the ribs, the amount of fat around their abdomen, and also their weight compared to other breed standards.

What can I do to decrease my pet’s weight?

Once you have a diagnosis of obesity, you can start by decreasing your dog’s overall calorie intake and increasing their activity level. They may even do some diagnostic blood work to look from a disease that may cause weight gain.  Decreasing calories includes not only the amount of food you feed but also the amount and type of treats you are giving. It is all about calories in and calories out. Increase your dog’s activity level to what is comfortable for you and them.  If they suffer from arthritic conditions, marathons are not for them.

You can also change their food to weight management food.  Please ask your veterinarian what food would be appropriate for weight loss.  Not all weight loss foods are designed the same. There are also low-calorie prescription foods and also newer foods that aid in increasing your pet’s metabolism.

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