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A Guide To Obesity In Dogs

Aimee Labbate
  • Aimee Labbate

  • RCVS: 700039


What are the risks of obesity in dogs?

Canine obesity is a common problem in the UK – vets estimate that approximately half of all dogs are overweight! If your dog is carrying excessive weight then it puts them at a higher risk of developing various health conditions and it may reduce their overall lifespan.

How do I know whether my dog is overweight?

While weighing your dog is certainly helpful, it can still be difficult to know whether they are heavier than they should be, based on their size and frame. This is where body condition scoring (BCS) is very helpful and one of our vets can show you how to do this. The technique assesses the dog’s level of fat cover, scoring them from 1-9, with 1 being emaciated and 9 being morbidly obese. Below is a helpful chart produced by Purina showing how to perform body condition scoring in your dog.

By running your hands over your dog’s body, you can assess their level of fat cover over their ribs, spine and pelvis and therefore determine their ‘score’. Dogs should ideally be around the middle of the range, scoring 4-5.

Why is my dog overweight or obese?

Most dogs are overweight as they are simply eating too much food and not doing enough exercise! This means that they are not burning off the excess calories that they are consuming, meaning this excess energy is stored as fat. For most dogs, eating less and being more active will normally result in them losing weight and therefore getting closer to their ideal body condition.

There are certain health conditions, such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease, that cause dogs to gain weight. These conditions are also associated with other symptoms such as coat changes, lethargy and increased thirst – please speak to a vet if you are concerned.

Dogs tend to be less active as they get older, hence obesity is more common in dogs over 2 years of age. This is one of the reasons why it is important to feed your dog a diet that is appropriate for their life stage, to ensure they are getting the correct number of calories each day.

Some dogs are less able to exercise, for example due to an underlying medical condition or arthritis (which is exacerbated by obesity) – for these dogs a careful diet plan is key. Please speak to one of our vets about a weight management plan for your dog.

When dogs are neutered their metabolic rate decreases slightly, therefore they need a little less food each day. Neutered dogs hence have a tendency to gain weight if their calorie intake is not reduced slightly after neutering.

Certain medication such as steroids can increase appetite as a side effect and can therefore predispose to weight gain.

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What are the health risks of obesity in dogs?

Being overweight or obese is associated with an increased risk of various health conditions including arthritis, heart disease, urinary incontinence, cruciate ligament disease, breathing problems, heatstroke, injury and back problems, as well as a shortened lifespan.

How can I help my dog lose weight?

Gradual and steady weight loss is best. Your vet can help to draw up a specific weight management plan for your dog. Regular visits to the vets can help to keep you on track with the weight loss, which can be difficult to appreciate since you are seeing your dog every day.

Any weight management plan is likely to include feeding measured amounts of a suitable diet together with increased exercise. There are various weight loss diets available for dogs – a selection are available in our shop by following this link.

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