« Dog obesity: what happens to a fat dog? » | This article presents pet owners with a condition their pets may suffer from: obesity. We discuss how dogs become obese and provide general advice about this serious medical condition, so owners can take steps to help their dogs.
- This blog is intended as a source of general information for pet owners. It does not constitute specific veterinary advice towards a particular medical case. If you are concerned with a particular aspect of your pet’s health, please, book a video appointment to talk with a qualified veterinarian.
Obesity in dogs: Yes, it's a serious problem
So, how did my dog got fat?
There are many reasons why a dog may gain weight, other than just by eating too much. Initially, it is good practice to determine whether a medical condition could be involved in the process.
Here are some medical conditions that can cause cause increase in weight:
- Hormonal diseases
- Types of cancers
- Taking some types of medications
- Accumulation of fluids in some parts of the body
- Pregnancy (although, not strictly a « medical » condition)
Veterinarians will be able to establish whether one of those conditions might be present. Some tests such as general and/or more specialised blood tests will be indicated, as well as diagnostic imaging which can range from X-rays to MRI, depending on the suspected underlying conditions.
A dog who registers a gradual (or sometimes sudden) increase in weight over the course of time, may do so because it has increased its body fat to excessive levels. Most of the time, because it’s gradual, pet owners will not notice the problem straight away. So, it might take a while before one realises their dog is victim of obesity.
A pet whose body fat represents more than 20% – 30% of its body weight is diagnosed with obesity. This is not considered a healthy situation for a pet (neither it is for humans, although criteria are different) and can trigger a lot of complications which are called comorbidities.
Obesity in pets is often attributed to several causes which include genetic predispositions, neutering, lifestyle and some metabolic issues. The cause is too much food ingested (excessive amounts) and not enough energy spent, leading to production of fat.
Genetic predispositions: some breeds of dogs are more likely to become obese, such as Labradors, Cairn terriers, Cocker spaniels, Dachshunds, Shetland sheepdogs, Basset hounds, Beagles, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Scottish terriers (learn more about this directly from the GODogs research here).
Neutering: suggested by a modification in feeding behaviour, with increase in food intake, coupled with a decrease in physical activity; it tends to affect female dogs more than males
Lifestyle: by lack of concern for providing appropriate opportunities to exercise (spend energy) and a suitable diet (too high in calories, feeding too often, inappropriate portion size, inadequate type of food, multiple dogs receiving food at the same time)
Metabolic issues: having diseases impairing the proper functioning of chemical reactions in the body
Pet owners can assess whether their dog has likely become obese by observing and having a feel around their dog’s body. They may notice:
- their dog’s body is larger than it should normally be
- no apparent waist when their dog is viewed from the side or above
- the base of the dog’s tail feels thick when palpated
- « abdominal fat pads » either hanging or noticeable when palpating the area
- a thickened layer of body fat around the rib cage, rendering the ribs « invisible »
Veterinarians can help owners evaluate their dog’s body score with more accuracy. Consequently, veterinarians will help pet owners to understand and monitor their obese dogs, especially once they are set on the path to recover their healthy weight and shape.
How does obesity threaten my dog's health?
It follows a similar pattern to that of humans. Obesity threatens dogs because being overweight increases significantly their risk of suffering from serious associated medical conditions, such as (non-exhaustive list):
- diabetes, hypothyroidism and other hormonal diseases
- arthritis, bone fractures and intervertebral disk disease
- cardiovascular problems
- troubles breathing, tracheal collapse, brachycephalic airway obstruction syndrome
- skin-related problems due to difficulties to groom properly
- urogenital conditions including troubles giving birth
Obesity also increases the risk linked with general anaesthesia. Hence, it is understood that obese animals have lower life expectancy than those that maintain their optimal healthy weight.
In humans, it is established that obesity significantly affects lifespan, such as it increases an individual’s risk of dying younger than the average non obese person. Furthermore, people suffering from obesity are also likely to suffer from type2 Diabetes Mellitus, cancer, heart diseases and high blood pressure. Currently, this is reflected in the current pandemic where, unfortunately, obese people are more likely to succumb to Covid19.
Numerous studies have been published, demonstrating that reducing the food intake in dogs, help them live a healthier longer life.
For example, in a study where they fed one group of dogs 75% less food than the second group, who was allowed to receive food ad libitum, results showed that restricted dogs lived a median of 13 years as opposed to the group of dogs with not food restriction who lived a median of 11.2 years. The studies also found out that dogs who are limited in their food intake have reduced risks of hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis. 
How can I make my obese dog better?
Owners can help their obese dogs by doing several things:
- Consulting their veterinarians for an initial assessment of the situation
- Obtaining a tailored weight loss management plan from their veterinarians
- Following the plan, being actively aware it will take hard work and patience to fully resolve
- Tracking their dog’s progress with regular vet checks and not giving up halfway in the process
- Making sure the situation does not relapse once their dog’s optimal weight is reached
- Addressing any underlying associated medical condition they may have
- Offering a special type of diet which would be low in fat, richer in proteins, fibres and micronutrients
- Allowing plenty of outdoor/indoor exercise and play (running, jumping, swimming, chasing balls, longer walks, ect…)
- Giving up on treats, extra food and such unhealthy feeding habits, highly likely associated with weight gain
- Feed dogs separately, so they might not be tempted to « steal » from each other, or finish a plate
- Constantly monitoring the situation, which is the most important parameter for a successful outcome and long-lasting result