Obesity is an extremely common problem, affecting 20 percent to 40 percent of American dogs. Obesity results in metabolic and musculoskeletal diseases, reducing quality of life for many dogs. The most effective weight-loss programs combine reduction in calories with an increase in exercise.
Common names: Obesity, Overweight.
Scientific name: Obesity
All dogs are susceptible to obesity. However, those that are fed a high-calorie diet (especially including table scraps) and those that get minimal exercise are more at risk. In addition, some breeds, such as beagles, Labrador retrievers and dachshunds, are predisposed.
Obesity affects 20 percent to 40 percent of all American dogs.
Obesity is common in dogs throughout the country.
Clinical signs (primary, most to least frequent, scientific term, synonyms)
Visible excess body fat, Loss of visible ‚Äúwaist‚Äù, Ribs that cannot easily be felt under their layer of fat.
Clinical signs (secondary, most to least frequent, scientific term, synonyms)
Exercise intolerance (though this can also have other causes), Arthritis (though not all dogs with arthritis are overweight), Respiratory difficulty (especially in breeds such as pit bulls and pugs).
Causes (scientific, common term)
Excessive intake of calories, Insufficient exercise, Genetic predisposition.
Organ systems affected (most to least affected)
Musculoskeletal system (joints), Respiratory system, Cardiovascular system (heart).
Palpation (feeling with the fingers) and visual examination.
Pregnancy, Hypothyroidism, Cushing's disease, Insulinoma (pancreatic tumor), Intestinal parasites (causing the belly to appear swollen), Fluid in the abdominal cavity (known as ascites).
Obesity is an extremely common problem, affecting 20 percent to 40 percent of American dogs. Indeed, pet parents may be so used to seeing overweight dogs that they have difficulty recognizing that their own dogs are overweight. Although there can be medical problems that cause dogs to gain too much weight, such as diabetes and hypothyroidism, most cases of canine obesity are simply a result of eating excess calories. Dogs that eat table scraps are at greater risk than those that eat only dog food, but it is very possible to overfeed a pet that only eats dog food, even a ‚Äúlight‚Äù formula.
Although some pet parents think of obesity as only an aesthetic concern, in fact, carrying too much body fat can put a lot of strain on a dog's joints, heart and respiratory system, and lead to painful and debilitating disease. Dogs susceptible to hip or elbow dysplasia and lumbar disc disease are especially at risk and warrant strict weight control to reduce degeneration of these key joint areas.
Effective treatment of canine obesity begins with education of the pet parent. Pet parents must simply remember that, to lose weight, a dog must burn more calories than he or she consumes. This means that the dog must eat less, eat a lower-calorie food or exercise more. The most effective weight-loss programs combine all three.
Many weight-loss diets are available without a prescription; however, it is necessary to check the nutrition information carefully, as some light formulas are actually quite high in calories and fat. Reduction in the amount of food offered must be done gradually. Adjust the amount of food provided so the dog loses weight gradually without appearing hungry (this may require feeding less than the food manufacturer recommends).
If a dog can't be weaned off table scraps, high-calorie foods should be replaced with lower-calorie diets such as carrots or other vegetables. Increasing exercise is a very important part of a weight-loss program, and it is certainly the most fun for the dog. Formal programs such as agility training provide great exercise, but so do running, walking, playing Frisbee in the park, swimming and playing with other dogs. A good weight-loss goal is one percent of a dog's body weight per week (for example, an overweight 50-pound dog should ideally lose half a pound per week).
In some cases, a dog will not lose weight despite an owner's best efforts. In these cases, the dog should be taken to the veterinarian for evaluation. Blood tests may be run to rule out hormonal disease (such as hypothyroidism or Cushing's disease), and a prescription weight-loss diet may be prescribed. For some cases, a veterinarian may prescribe a newly approved weight-loss medication for dogs (dirlotapide) as an adjunct to diet and exercise.
Obese dogs require a well-designed and monitored weight-loss program. The pet parent is the key to success. Consult with a veterinarian to tailor such a program to match the current health of the obese dog.
With disciplined application of changes in diet and eating habits, plus regular exercise, gradual weight loss will follow. Long-term weight maintenance remains key to long-term health.
Gossellin, J, Wren, A, Sunderland, SJ. Canine obesity: an overview. J Vet Pharmacol Ther. August 2007; 30 Suppl 1(0): 1-10.
Kahn, CB ed. Obesity. In: The Merck Veterinary Manual. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck and Co, Inc. 2005; 1932-33.
Mlacknik, E, Bockstahler, BA, Muller, M, Tetrick, MA; Nap, RC & Zentek J. Effects of caloric restriction and a moderate or intense physiotherapy program for treatment of lameness in overweight dogs with osteoarthritis. JAVMA. December 2006; 229 (11): 1756-60.
Andra Gordon-Gatica, DVM
Steven Hansen, DVM, MS, MBA, DABVT, DABT
© 2007. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)