According to a 2014 survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, more than half of all dogs are overweight or obese. A dog is considered overweight when their weight is 15% or more above the ideal. Dogs are obese when their weight is 30% or more above the ideal weight for that animal.
Generally, obesity occurs when there is an imbalance between the amount of energy consumed versus the amount of energy expended, although studies show that other factors can also contribute to the problem. Obese dogs tend to be older, female and spayed. As one might expect, they tend to receive less exercise than their healthy-weight counterparts.
According to the study, OPET: Owners and Pets Exercising Together, by Beyers, Wilson, Stephens, Goodie, Netting and Olsen, “A significant breed predisposition to obesity has been shown in certain breeds including Cairn Terriers, West Highland White Terriers, Scottish Terriers, Shetland Sheepdogs, Basset Hounds, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Dachshunds, Beagles, Cocker Spaniels, and Labrador Retrievers. Conversely, certain breeds, particularly sight hounds, appear to be resistant to the development of obesity.”
Dogs that have been spayed or neutered also may have a greater tendency to gain weight, possibly due to the change in metabolism and loss of hormones. It’s important for dog owners to be aware of this possibility and make certain their dogs maintain a healthy weight after surgery.
Age can also be a factor in obesity. As dogs age, their activity level decreases and they lose lean body mass. Dog owners should work with their veterinarian to adjust the animal’s food intake as it ages.
Dog Obesity and Health Issues
Unfortunately, obesity can contribute to or cause serious health problems in dogs. Among the health problems that are made worse by obesity are:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Respiratory issues
- Orthopaedic problems
- Some forms of cancer
Obesity has also been shown to contribute to an overall shorter life span for dogs when compared to the lifespan of healthy-weight dogs.
Is My Dog Obese?
Dog owners can access a variety of resources to determine if their pet is obese. Online, they can look for “body condition charts” from responsible sources to get a visual idea of how their dog should be shaped. Generally, dogs with an ideal weight are well proportioned. You should be able to easily feel their rib bones, spine, and pelvic bones, but they should not be visible or protruding. There should be a visible tuck at their waist.
Of course, the best way to tell if your dog is overweight or obese is for them to receive regular check-ups from their veterinarian. Your dog’s veterinarian is able to determine the animal’s ideal weight and provide you with a plan for reaching that ideal weight if the animal is overweight, obese or underweight.
Helping Your Dog Lose Weight
Just like with people, it’s important that dog owners have a healthy plan to reduce their dog’s weight if the animal is overweight or obese. They should consult with their veterinarian to determine how to best decrease the animal’s caloric intake and increase exercise and activities. This is likely to be a long-term project that will be most successful with regular monitoring and adjustments to diet and exercise. Today, there are even foods designed to help dogs lose weight. Again, your veterinarian can help determine the best approach for your dog.
It’s important that exercise programs be started slowly and increased gradually. Walking, ball-tossing and socializing at dog parks are good, low-impact ways for dogs to increase a dog’s activity levels. As your dog becomes more accustomed to the activity, the duration can be slowly increased.
The one thing pet owners want to be sure to avoid is yo-yo dieting. Repeated gaining and losing weight is not health for the animal and can lead to other health problems.
An active dog at a healthy weight will be a happier and healthier dog and will likely have a longer life to share with its human family.