How To Help Your Overweight Dog

Is your dog looking a little chubbier lately? Do they seem less energetic? Have a decreased appetite? Are they experiencing an unusual loss of hair or thinning of their coat?

If your dog has exhibited any of the above signs, it might just have a weight problem.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a substantial population of dogs across the globe who are overweight. In fact, research conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention shows that over 50% of canines are either overweight or obese in the U.S. alone.

In addition to the apparent physical aspects of appearance and mobility, excessive weight gain in dogs can develop several health problems – ranging from manageable to severe.

While gaining a bit of extra weight might not necessarily indicate a problem, your dog gaining an excessive amount of weight might be a sign of a severe illness, or it may just be that your pooch is consuming way too much food.

Ultimately, whatever the reason for the weight gain, you'll need to take it seriously as a pet owner. Whether a poor diet or a disease causes your dog's extra pounds, you'll need not only to be aware of all the things that can cause weight gain but also know how to identify when your pup is overweight and what you need to do about it.

Common Causes of Weight Gain in Dogs

Age- Generally speaking, older dogs have an above-average tendency to gain weight instead of their younger counterparts.

Lack of exercise- Not getting enough exercise is a common reason why many canines gain weight. Between a decrease in a dog's metabolic rate and a lack of activity as they age, the extra calories they consume end up being stored as body fat.

Diet- Weight gain caused by a poor diet (with or without the proper nutrition) might occur slowly, so over time, weight gain will become more apparent.

Hormonal imbalance- Many hormonal disorders such as an under-active thyroid or overactive adrenal glands can cause weight gain.

Overeating- A dog's metabolism will slow down as they age. Subsequently, when a dog overeats, its ability to burn off calories diminishes, accelerating weight gain.

Chronic illness- Some pups are simply predisposed to disease, and others will develop chronic conditions over a period of time. According to studies, weight gain is a symptom of several chronic illnesses.

Weight Gain Associated with the Following Illnesses:

  • Thyroid Disease
  • Cushing's Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Heart Disease
  • Certain forms of cancer - especially intra-abdominal cancers

Spayed or neutered- Dogs that have been 'fixed' are also more likely to be obese because the after-effects of these surgeries can affect a dog's energy level, expenditure, and metabolism.

Genetics- Some breeds such as Bulldogs, Basset Hounds, Labrador Retrievers, Spaniels, and Dachshunds are prone to gaining weight- especially in their senior years.

Lifestyle and family environment- Frequently, pet owners themselves who are overweight or obese might not assess when their dog is overweight. In fact, studies show that overweight pets were almost twice as likely to have overweight owners.

Common Disorders, Conditions, and Symptoms Associated with Excess Weight Gain:

  • Osteoarthritis (arthritis)
  • Increased frequency of joint injuries
  • Lung disorders
  • High blood pressure
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Immune dysfunction
  • Dry skin/coat
  • Dull eyes
  • Behavioral changes


How Can You Tell If Your Dog Is Overweight?

Refer to the American Kennel Club Breed Standard- The AKC standards can help you determine the accurate weight, ideal body condition, and proper diet for your dog breed.

Rib test- Run your hands around your dog's flanks and abdomen. You should be able to feel the ribs. If you cannot feel them because of a thick layer of fat cushioning the ribs, your dog is overweight.

Hourglass-shaped waist- Looking at your dog from above, you should clearly be able to spot their waist. However, overweight dogs will have no discernible waist and no distinction between the stomach and chest. Therefore, if your dog's waist looks thick or straight and doesn't resemble an hourglass shape, your pup is more than likely overweight, depending on the breed.

Abdominal test- While looking at your dog from the side when he is standing, his shape should be wider at the chest and thinner at the abdomen. If you do not see his abdominal area tucked up toward the rear, this could indicate excessive weight gain.

Lack of interest in physical activities- If your once active dog seems lethargic and would rather sleep all day or becomes uninterested in playing and running outdoors, extra pounds might be keeping your dog from being active.

Excessive breathing- If your dog is panting excessively or having difficulty catching its breath when engaging in any physical activity, it could be an indicator of being overweight.

Diminished stamina- Overweight dogs simply do not have the energy to remain active. So, if your dog tires quickly from playing or has difficulty participating in regular activities, weight gain is probably the cause.

Tipping the scale- Simply weighing your dog at home will help you determine if your canine is overweight by referring to a chart (online or provided by your vet) with healthy weight ranges for your dog's particular breed and size.

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention provides a helpful weight chart on their website:

Mobility issues- If your pup passes on climbing the stairs to the second floor, takes a few attempts to jump on the couch, needs help getting into the car, or would rather sleep than go out and play, excessive weight can cause limited or decreased mobility.

What You Can Do To Help Your Overweight Dog

  • Always consult with your veterinarian- Whether the weight gain results from an illness, overeating, lack of exercise, or improper diet, your veterinarian can determine the underlying cause and make appropriate recommendations.
  • Keep your dog active- Allowing your fur baby a sufficient amount of exercise for their breed and age can help your dog burn off calories and stay at an optimal weight. You don't have to run marathons- simply taking daily walks, providing opportunities to run off-leash in a safe environment, or even playing a game of fetch with a tennis ball or stick can all provide your pooch with enough exercise.
  • Limit treats- Too many treats, whether you use them as a reward or training tool, can add extra calories to your pup's diet. Treats that are low calories/low fat are optimal.
  • Reduce table scrap intake- Whether your pup is begging or you voluntarily share your food, table scraps are like candy to a canine. Limiting table scraps will help your pup maintain their weight by controlling extra calorie intake.
  • Customized diet- Your veterinarian can recommend a weight management plan designed specifically for your dog's individual needs. The plan should include suggested nutritional dog food brands along with a clear idea of how much your dog should be eating at every meal, as well as how often. Generally, recommendations for a quality dog food that will help your pup lose weight contain above-average protein, below-average fat, and below-average calories.

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  • Manage your dog's appetite- It will be essential to determine the difference between begging and hunger. Although many pet owners are prone to giving in when a dog is begging for food, begging dogs are not always hungry. Many dogs just beg for attention. If your dog simply has a hearty appetite and requires more frequent feedings- provide them with nutritional food and decrease the portions.
  • Food accessibility- Avoid using self-feeders or providing free-choice food that is available 24 hours a day (even dry kibble). Measure food in proper portions according to your veteran's dietary recommendations. *Introduce any 'new' food into their diet gradually.
  • Make exercise fun! Exercising with your dog can not only be a fun way for both of you to keep fit, but it can also strengthen the bond between the two of you. Obstacle courses, ball throwing, playing fetch, and tossing the Frisbee are all activities that dogs enjoy.

In many cases, excessive weight or obesity cannot only affect a dog's quality of life it can also lead to serious illness, disease, or potentially life-threatening conditions. So if your dog has gained 10% to 15% above their ideal body weight or your dog has a sudden and noticeable weight gain, it's time to give your veterinarian a call.

While it may be true many pet owners think their pudgy pooch is just the cutest thing ever, excessive weight on any breed of dog is simply not healthy. The good news is…monitoring your pup's weight regularly and maintaining your dog's optimal weight at every stage of their life can actually increase their life expectancy.

What does that mean for you and your beloved dog? It means you can enjoy your canine's companionship for many years to come, especially when you provide them with a nutritious diet, allow opportunities for daily exercise, and schedule regular visits with their veterinarian.


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