Overweight Dog Problems

Overweight Dog Problems

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Obesity is a major health concern

Obesity is the most prevalent nutritional challenge facing our canine population, with approximately half of our dogs being classified as overweight or obese. A dog is considered obese when they have accumulated excess body fat and are 15-20% overweight. Excess body fat affects dogs’ quality of life and longevity by predisposing to, or exacerbating existing, conditions such as Osteoarthritis, Heart and Lung disease, Diabetes mellitus and some Cancers. Studies have shown that overweight and obese dogs live an average of two years less than their ideal-weight counterparts.

Prevention is better than cure

Labrador retrievers, Shetland sheepdogs, Golden retrievers, Springer spaniels, Dachshunds, Basset hounds and Pugs are all cited as breeds more prone to obesity. Puppies, especially those in the ‘at risk’ breeds, should be weighed regularly in order to prevent rapid growth rates and obesity from developing. An overweight puppy is more likely to become an overweight adult dog. Allowing rapid growth and obesity in puppyhood, especially in the large and giant breeds, can contribute towards Developmental Orthopaedic Disease and ongoing arthritis.

Recognising obesity

Whilst preventing a weight issue from developing is ideal, it’s never too late to initiate a weight loss program if your dog has become overweight. Recognising that your dog is overweight is the first crucial step in getting them to their perfect Body Condition Score (BCS). Frequent weighing, in order to maintain their slim young adult weight, and regularly assessing their BCS is ideal.

Body Condition Score

To estimate your dog’s Body Condition Score, observe them from the side and from above and palpate along the spine, ribs, hips and underside to feel the amount of overlying fat. You should be able to feel them through a thin layer of fat but they should not protrude. With your dog standing, view them from above, they should be wider at the ribs and narrower at the waist and when viewed from the side, an abdominal tuck should be evident.


BCS is based on a 9 point scale where 4-5 represents optimal body condition associated with 15-25% body fat. Lower numbers reflect degrees of under-condition and higher numbers are associated with over-condition and too much body fat.

Obesity is an inflammatory state

Obese dogs are at higher risk of developing arthritis because they carry a disproportionate amount of weight for their frame size, thus placing excessive stress on their joints. However, the relationship between osteoarthritis (OA) and obesity goes beyond the wear and tear created by carrying extra weight. Fat tissue secretes pro-inflammatory chemicals that lead to systemic inflammation and researchers have shown this increases inflammation in the articular cartilage. In addition, OA is associated with increased oxidative stress and obesity has been shown to promote oxidative stress. Research shows that when dogs with OA lose weight, they experience a decrease in pain and lameness and an increase in joint mobility.

Canine Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of joint disease in dogs. It causes pain and reduces mobility and in severe cases will be debilitating and limit their quality of life. An arthritic dog might be hesitant when rising, jumping, running or walking. All too often these signs might be overlooked and put down to normal ageing but if your dog is showing changes in behaviour and activity level, a thorough veterinary exam is indicated to diagnose the problem and initiate a management and treatment plan. Getting your dog to their ideal weight will play a huge part in managing this painful, inflammatory condition along with allowing appropriate exercise, providing a comfortable and supportive dog bed and managing their pain with medication provided by your vet.

Weight loss

Working with your vet you can determine your dog’s ideal weight and from there calculate the amount of daily calories your dog needs to safely achieve this goal. Weight loss schedules should be tailored to the individual and monitored but for most dogs a safe and realistic goal may be up to 1% weight loss per week. Therapeutic diets designed for weight loss are low in calories and fat, with other nutrients increased to avoid deficiencies. Protein is often increased to help maintain lean body mass and possibly promote satiety along with moderate or high fibre level.

Alison graduated from Cambridge University, in Veterinary medicine and surgery, in 1999. She initially worked in mixed practice before concentrating on domestic animals for the next 16 years. When Alison isn’t working as a vet, she is helping The Red Dog Company make the very best dog beds and accessories available.

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