Obesity in Dogs

In recent years, the problem of canine obesity has increased significantly. In fact, it is the most common medical condition in companion animals. What exactly defines canine obesity? A dog can be classified as overweight when their weight is greater than 15% of what it should be. A dog can be classified as obese when their weight is greater than 30% of the ideal weight. Studies conducted worldwide have shown that between 22% and 40% of dogs are overweight or obese. More often than not, obesity is the result of too much energy consumed and not enough expended. As few as five pounds above the ideal body weight can put your dog at risk for developing some serious medical conditions.

The Causes

Obesity in Specific Breeds

Are some breeds more prone to obesity than others? According to recent studies, the answer is yes. The following dog breeds have been proven to be predisposed to obesity:

  • Cairn Terriers
  • West Highland White Terriers
  • Scottish Terriers
  • Shetland Sheepdogs
  • Basset Hounds
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
  • Dachshunds
  • Beagles
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Labrador Retrievers

Obesity and Age

Just as in humans, age becomes a factor in canine obesity problems. As a dog gets older, lean body mass declines. This results in the dog needing less fuel for energy every day. For example, the average 7 year old dog needs 20% less energy than a young adult does. If the amount of food that the dog eats isn’t decrease to match the lower energy needs, weight gain happens as a result. In addition to this, a dog’s metabolism is also reduced as he or she ages. As the result of a combination of these two factors, obesity is often the result.

Obesity and Nutrition

Logically, dietary factors are also a contributor to obesity in dogs. One of the aspects to consider include the number of meals and snacks you feed your dog. Feeding your dog table scraps as well as cooking and eating in front of them has also shown to add to the problem. Another thing that commonly happens is the owner buys cheap dog food and feeds their dog too much of it.

An interesting survey study was conducted for 829 dog owners. They were asked to judge if they thought their dog had a weight problem or not. What they found in the study was that obese dogs were twice as likely to have obese owners. Many dog owners did not consider their dog to be obese, when the dog’s body mass index showed otherwise. This misconception about a dog’s weight can be a big obstacle in weight management.

Additional Risk Factors

  • You may be surprised to learn that neutered dogs are more likely to become obese than those that are not. According to veterinarians at DVM.360, when a dog is neutered, the amount of circulating sex hormones is lessened and the animal’s metabolism is slowed in response. They go further to say that due to hormonal changes, the part of the brain that becomes satisfied after the dog eats is affected.
  • Certain medications can also become a contributing factor to canine obesity. For example, phenobarbital causes the dog to want to overeat.
  • Obese dogs are often higher in age and are more likely to be female and neutered.
  • Not surprisingly, obese dogs get less exercise than those of a normal weight.
  • Studies have shown that dogs who have older owners are more likely to become obese.
  • Hypothyroidism can cause your dog to become overweight. If you want to rule this out, request a blood test for hypothyroidism from your veterinarian.

The Consequences of Obesity

Reduced Life Span

Just as with people, obesity has an effect on how long the dog is likely to live. One study worked with a group of Labrador retrievers. One group was fed 25% less food than the other group. The group with the smaller amount of calories lived 1.8 years longer than the control group. The dogs that were fed less also had improved glucose tolerance and a reduced risk of orthopedic problems such as osteoarthritis.

Endocrine Disease

Hypothyroidism and diabetes mellitus are conditions that go hand in hand with dogs who are obese.

Orthopedic Disorders

Orthopedic diseases such as osteoarthritis are the most commonly experienced result of obesity in dogs. According to a recent study, the amount of food a dog eats has a significant effect on whether they will get osteoarthritis or not, and dogs whose feeding was unrestricted had the most severe cases.

High Blood Pressure and Cardiopulmonary Disease

Hypertension has been reported in 23% to 45% of obese dogs. Overall, obese dogs have a significantly higher blood pressure level than other dogs do. Obesity also has an impact on the ventricular function in the dog’s heart. It has a negative effect on respiratory function and in small-breed dogs, obesity is a risk factor for the trachea to collapse.


According to veterinarians at DVM.360, some studies have shown there to be a direct correlation between obesity and cancer in dogs.

Treating Excess Weight in Dogs

Dietary Adjustments

  • In order for dietary changes to help bring success, the plan should be tailored individually to each dog. A realistic goal should be set that is based on the pet’s ability to reach the goal. The goal shouldn’t automatically be set at the dog’s ideal weight.
  • It is also important that as calories are reduced, that the protein content is not. If the protein content is diminished, lean muscle tissue may be lost during weight loss. Ask your veterinarian how many calories your dog should be consuming each day.
  • Ideally, the dog’s calorie content should only be reduced by about 20%.
  • Have your veterinarian point you in the right direction for a reduced-calorie dog food. The ingredients and nutrients in therapeutic diets vary widely, so be sure your dog will be getting enough protein, vitamins and minerals. Recent research proves that diets high in protein will help maintain lean body mass during weight loss and improve success in losing weight.
  • Using a measuring cup when giving your dog food is highly recommended. Just choosing to fill up the bowl is not a good course of action. Even worse, some pet owners just keep the bowl full all of the time.
  • According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, feeding your dog as little as 10 extra tiny kibbles of food per day can add up to 1 pound of weight gained per year. As few as 30 extra calories a day translates into 3 extra pounds gained per year.
  • Don’t forget about the fact that most dog treats are full of fat and calories. If you give your dog treats, you may want to factor in 10% of their daily calories to come from treats.


  • In addition to calorie reduction, increasing the amount of energy that is burned through exercise is key. Try low-impact walking, chasing a ball or tossing a Frisbee with your dog.
  • With an obese dog, start an exercise program slowly. Gradually increase how long and how intensely the dog is exercising, a little at a time. Be aware that if your dog has severe orthopedic or heart problems, he may or may not be able to exercise effectively.
  • Try exercising with your pet! If you make exercise a priority for the both of you, weight loss may be shared as a common goal.


Currently, there is only one weight-loss drug that is approved for dogs in the United States, Dirlotapide. It works as an appetite suppressant. It is only intended to be used temporarily. It may have significant side effects and certain health problems may inhibit some dogs from being able to take it. In addition to this, any weight that is lost with the help of this medicine may be gained back again if appropriate changes are not made in the dog’s caloric intake and exercise routine.


  • Don’t reward an obese dog by giving him table scraps or people food.
  • To bulk up your dog’s food, try salt-free canned vegetables. Or if your dog will eat them, provide cooked broccoli or carrots.
  • If your dog has trouble getting up on furniture, provide a ramp or stairs to encourage healthy activity.
  • If your dog has joint problems, due to his weight, ask your veterinarian about prescription options.
  • Make sure that your obese dog has a comfortable bed to sleep in, to provide orthopedic support.