Maintaining a healthy weight isn’t just a concern for humans; it’s a dangerous and rising health epidemic that’s putting our canine friends at risk. Apart from having vast health and wellbeing implications, obesity can cut years off your dog’s life.
Being just 10% overweight decreases a dog’s lifespan by one-third and predisposes them to multiple ailments such as heart, kidney and liver disease as well as diabetes, arthritis, and cancer.1
How does obesity kill dogs?
While dogs don’t die “of obesity”, it’s the major cause of or a contributing factor to a raft of deadly and debilitating health conditions that can be life-altering. These include:
Cancer is the number one killer of dogs today.2 Although pet parents have little control over age-related or genetic predispositions, there are strong links between obesity and preventable cancer in dogs.
Significantly overweight dogs are more likely to develop bladder and mammary cancer, whereas some benign types of tumors, such as lipomas, also occur more frequently in canines that are overweight. In rare cases these tumors can become malignant.3
Obesity can cause insulin resistance, resulting in diabetes in dogs which can be challenging to manage and can vastly reduce their quality of life.4
Heart and Lung Problems
Obesity puts strain on the cardiovascular and respiratory system, increasing the likelihood of breathing difficulties, high blood pressure and heart disease in dogs.
Excess weight puts strain on a dog’s joints, which can lead to arthritis, reduced mobility or lameness.5
Overweight dogs are more prone to gastrointestinal problems, including pancreatitis and liver disease.
Immune System Suppression
Canine obesity can weaken the immune system, making dogs more susceptible to infections and other illnesses.
These conditions, combined with minor obesity-related conditions like skin and coat problems and heightened heat intolerance, can vastly affect a dog’s wellbeing.
How do dogs become obese?
You don’t know your dog is overweight
One problem causing the rise in canine obesity is the disconnect between a pet parent’s perception of their dog’s condition and their actual weight. Many dog parents don’t realize that their pet is at risk.
According to recent studies, 81% think their dog’s weight is ‘normal’,6 whereas the data indicates the majority of dogs (56%) in the United States are overweight or obese7. It’s a misconception that can pose serious risks — if you don’t know your dog is overweight you won’t remedy the problem and could possibly exacerbate it.
“As so many dogs are now overweight, it skews our perspective of a healthy dog size,” says Laura Ward, DFA’s nutritionist. “We get used to seeing larger dogs, so that dogs of a healthy size then appear underweight. This amplifies the issue, making it more difficult for pet parents to identify their dog’s healthy weight.”
Nutrition and portion control
Food and feeding habits are the main cause of unhealthy dog weight gain. Poor quality, calorie-dense food can cause a dog to put on pounds, as can overfeeding or giving in to a dog’s begging behavior.
Dogs are hard-wired to be scavenger eaters, meaning they feed opportunistically and are constantly on the hunt for food. This instinct, combined with bad nutrition, excessive portion sizes and a general lack of exercise, is often what tips the scale.
How do I help my dog lose weight?
Luckily, dog obesity is not a final diagnosis. There are many things we can do to avoid and reverse it.
Speak to your vet
Firstly, consult your vet. Regular check-ups are essential for early detection and an informed treatment plan. Vets can advise on a balanced, portion-controlled diet that’s specifically tailored to your dog’s individual needs.
Certain breeds and age groups are more prone to obesity, whereas anything from muscle condition to neutering can also affect your pet’s nutritional needs,8 so a professional opinion is a key part of learning your dog’s individual risk factors.
Change their feeding habits
Addressing the food you choose and how much your dog eats is the most effective way to address and prevent obesity. If you’re looking to bring their weight down, a dietary change can help.
“I recommend a food which contains quality protein sources, reduced fat and calories, combined with high fiber, to help dogs feel full for longer,” says Laura. “After all, hungry dogs are going to scavenge or beg more, which is counter productive for weight loss measures.
“Weight loss specific foods contain more vitamins and minerals to make sure that when smaller portions are fed, nutrients are provided in the quantities needed.”
Treat monitoring can also help: avoiding high calorie processed dog treats and opting for fresh vegetable rewards like cauliflower, broccoli and kale.9
Make sure they take regular exercise
Staying active is key to your dog’s general wellbeing and experts recommend a minimum of 30 to 45 minutes of exercise every day, although more is preferred. It can be anything from a walk to a run, a game of fetch or climbing some stairs. The important thing is to keep your dog on the move regularly.
For pets already experiencing joint discomfort from their weight, canine water therapy can help. Hydrotherapy allows dogs to strengthen and condition their muscles and build endurance10 without placing stress on their joints, making it easier to get their fitness levels back on track.
Monitor your dog’s weight
You won’t know if your efforts are working and your dog is losing weight healthily without regularly recording what their weight is. If you can’t do this at home, you can get it done at your vet, groomer or even some pet stores.
“Getting your dog on the scales regularly allows you to see any differences in their weight,” says Laura. “Combined with photos, this is great to track their weight loss progress over time and see what’s working and what isn’t.”
As pet parents, it’s our responsibility to keep an eye on the health and wellbeing of an overweight dog. Obesity does need immediate attention, but it’s something that can be reversed gradually with a little love and care. If you’re unsure whether your dog is at risk, see your vet for a professional opinion. After all, a healthier dog will mean happier days together for years to come.