Your dog is your best friend. It's only natural to want to treat them to all the delicious food and treats that life has to offer. However, like people, obesity is a serious issue when it comes to our four-legged friends. While you make think your little chubby pup is adorable (and we do, too), managing their weight is a critical part of being a responsible pet owner. In this article, we'll cover everything you need to know about obesity in dogs and why it is so important to prevent the condition well before it develops.
Definition of Obesity
According to Webster's dictionary, obesity is defined as “a condition characterized by the excessive accumulation and storage of fat in the body.” We often hear the word casually thrown around, but the condition is no laughing matter. In fact, obesity can greatly affect your dog's overall health and quality of life. Therefore, preventing obesity is absolutely imperative.
Luckily, experts believe obesity to be the most common preventable disease in dogs. Yet, an estimated 25-30% of all dogs are classified as being obese. That's over a quarter of the entire canine population. It's a staggering number if you stop to think about it. Furthermore, approximately 40-45% of dogs between the ages of 5 and 11 years old are considered to be overweight. This brings us to our next point: overweight vs obese.
Overweight vs Obese Dogs
Veterinarians classify whether a dog is overweight or obese based on their ideal body weight. If the dog weighs 10-20% above their ideal body weight, they are considered to be overweight. If the dog weighs 20% or more above their ideal body weight, they are considered to be obese. Obesity doesn't just happen overnight. It is important for pet owners to maintain regular check-ups to monitor their dog's weight and make appropriate dietary and lifestyle changes when necessary. Ignoring the issue will not correct it.
Symptoms of Obesity in Dogs
While many pet owners may think of obesity as simply a fat dog, there are more specific symptoms to be aware of. By recognizing these symptoms in their early stages, dog owners can work to effectively reverse their pup's weight gain.
Tell-tale signs of obesity often include:
- Excessive weight gain
- Inability to feel the ribcage
- Increased body fat
- Swollen abdomen
- No visible waistline
- Decrease in mobility
- Lack of grooming
- Respiratory issues (difficulty breathing)
- Lethargy and depression
How Does a Dog Become Obese
Here at Honest Paws, we firmly believe that prevention is the best medicine. With that said, in order to prevent obesity, pet owners must have a thorough understanding of what exactly causes it to develop. It may surprise you that dogs can become obese due to a number of factors, not just eating too much.
First, there are several physiological causes that can result in obesity in dogs. While many of these causes may not be entirely avoidable, it is important for pet owners to understand whether their dog is at an increased risk of becoming obese and taking additional precautions in managing their weight.
Age and obesity often go hand-in-hand. The older the dog gets, the less active they become. The less activity in their daily lives, the higher the risk of obesity. We wish that we had the ability to stop time and keep our furry friends young and healthy forever. Yet, the fact of the matter is, aging takes its course whether we like it or not. With that said, it is incredibly important for pet owners to maintain physical activity in their dog's life, especially as they get older. With obesity comes a greater risk of secondary health issues that older dogs are more susceptible to. Veterinarians typically diagnose obesity in dogs between five and eleven years old.
Additionally, certain breeds are at a higher risk for obesity solely based on their genetics. These dog breeds include:
- Many terrier breeds
- Labrador retrievers
With that said, just because you own one of the aforementioned breeds doesn't mean they are definitely going to have weight issues. Moreover, any breed or mixed breed is capable of becoming obese. Understanding the risks associated with your dog's specific breed is an important part of being a responsible pet owner and should not be overlooked.
Lifestyle & Environmental Causes
Most people are aware of the lifestyle and environmental causes of obesity. These causes are absolutely preventable and should be at all cost.
Perhaps the most common cause of obesity is overfeeding. This also includes table scraps, treats, the number of meals given per day, feeding high-fat foods, and lack of variation in the food. When dogs are fed more calories than they are able to exercise off, weight issues are likely to occur.
Lack of Proper Exercise
Additionally, a lack of proper exercise (especially when paired with overfeeding) can lead to the development of obesity. Improper physical activity can also lead to a slew of secondary issues, including behavioral problems and joint issues.
Finally, obesity can occur when the pet owner is unaware of the healthy weight that their dog should be at. Again, obesity doesn't happen overnight. However, it is entirely possible for the dog owner to not fully recognize their fur baby is gaining a bit of weight over time. That "bit of weight" can go from an extra few pounds to full-on obesity without the owner completely realizing it, particularly if they don't know what is a healthy weight for their dog.
Next, several diseases can lead to the development of obesity in dogs. The most common diseases include:
It is incredibly important to be aware of any pre-existing health conditions your dog has and understand how it may affect them in a multitude of ways. Dogs with certain diseases that can lead to obesity should be fed a specific diet in order to promote weight management.
Additionally, certain surgeries can lead to the development of obesity in dogs. For instance, neutering and spaying cause a decrease in sex hormones and, therefore, a decrease in energy expenditure. This surgery can also lead to increased hunger. As we discussed, a lack of exercise and overeating are a recipe for obesity.
Furthermore, surgeries that cause a lack of mobility can also lead to weight issues, depending on the length of recovery time. In these cases, pet owners should consult with their veterinarian regarding whether decreased meal portions may be an effective way to prevent weight gain.
Finally, certain medications are known to cause weight gain in dogs. The most common medications associated with weight gain are Phenobarbital and Glucocorticoids. Phenobarbital is an anticonvulsant that is used to control seizure activity. However, it can cause a decrease in feeling full after meals, which leads to overeating. Glucocorticoids can cause abnormalities in the way in which fat is stored, thus leading to weight gain.
Effects of Obesity: Why It's No Laughing Matter
Now, we know just how cute pudgy pups can be, but obesity is nothing to shrug about. It can lead to a slew of secondary conditions that can greatly affect your dog's quality of life.
For starters, overweight dogs are almost guaranteed to have joint problems. The excess weight puts increased pressure on the bones, causing chronic inflammation of the joints. Therefore, obesity is also associated with an increased risk of developing arthritis.
Like its effects on people, obesity can also cause an increased risk of heart problems in dogs. When a dog is significantly overweight, their heart has to work harder to function effectively. The excessive amount of stress on the vital organ can also lead to secondary issues such as abnormally high blood pressure (hypertension) and heart disease.
Obesity is also directly tied to the development of all kinds of cancer and the formation of malignant tumors.
Additionally, overweight dogs are at an increased risk of developing diabetes mellitus which can lead to the need for life-long medications in order to manage the disease.
Quality of Life
Moreover, obesity has a tremendous impact on the dog's quality of life. Obese dogs are unable to play and run around. They may be able to jump up on the couch or even stand up easily. Many face depression and complete disinterest in doing typical dog things. Obesity greatly limits their ability to live a full, happy life.
Obese Dog Lifespan
Speaking of which, obesity also impacts how long the dog is able to live. Obese dogs have a decreased lifespan, ultimately due to the number of secondary health issues that develop. The degree in which the lifespan is shortened typically depends on the breed of dog and the severity of their weight gain. In a life-long study of Labrador retrievers, experts found that obesity decreased the lifespan by up to two years. That's a scary statistic when you stop to think about it.
Increased Veterinary Costs
Finally, due to the multitude of health issues that can result from obesity, pet owners should expect increased veterinary costs. Dog owners may also have to administer life-long medications to manage whatever secondary health condition developed as a result of obesity.
Good Fat vs Bad Fat
As you may know, not all fat is "bad." Dogs need fat for their bodies to function properly. Good fat is also referred to as brown fat where as bad fat is referred to as white fat.
Preventing Obesity in Dogs
If you keep up with our articles, you know how strongly we feel about preventing diseases before they develop. Obesity is no different. The fact that experts consider obesity to be the most preventable common disease in dogs speaks volumes to us. It is absolutely imperative that dog owners take the necessary steps to prevent obesity and, therefore, prevent the development of countless secondary health conditions.
First, exercise! One of the most important responsibilities of being a dog owner is making sure they get plenty of physical (and mental) stimulation. It's remarkable how much of a difference an extra 20 minutes of exercise can make for your dog's health and happiness.
With that said, difference breeds require different levels of physical activity. A chihuahua will not need the same amount of exercise as a golden retriever. We recommend consulting with your vet regarding their professional recommendations as far as the amount of time your individual pup needs.
Additionally, as we previously mentioned, older dogs are at a significantly higher risk of developing obesity due to a lack of exercise. It is incredibly important that dogs of all ages, but particularly aging dogs are receiving the necessary amounts of physical activity in order to maintain a healthy weight.
Diet Diet Diet!
Diet. Is. Everything. We cannot stress this enough. Your dog's diet truly affects every aspect of their well-being. It is essential that dog owners feed their furry companion the best food source as possible. Many experts recommend a raw food diet that is full of all of the vitamins and minerals your dog needs to live a long, healthy life.
After ensuring that your dog's food source is up to the necessary standards, pet owners should make sure they are not inadvertently overfeeding their dog. It may be surprising just how little dogs need if they are being fed high-quality food. We recommend talking to your veterinarian regarding exactly how much your food your dog needs rather than solely following the guidelines on the label.
Furthermore, countless studies prove that excessive table scraps and treats are direct causes of obesity in dogs. We know that you want to shower your four-legged friend with all of the deliciousness this world has to offer, but it can truly have adverse effects on their health. We highly encourage our readers to think twice before treating Fido to more food than they need.
Knowing Your Dog's Risk
Finally, we want to reiterate that pet owners must have a thorough understanding of their dog's individual risk of disease. This includes obesity, heart problems, eyesight issues, etc. By knowing that your dog is at a genetic predisposition for becoming obese, pet parents can make sure they are taking the extra, necessary steps to prevent it.
Fat Dog: What Else You Should Know
Before we close, there are a few other important facts that dog owners should understand regarding obesity.
An Indicator of Disease
While obesity can certainly cause the development of a slew of ailments, it can also be an indictator of a pre-exisiting disease. For instance, obesity is a symptom of both hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland) as well as Cushing’s disease (overactive adrenal glands). If your dog is gaining excessive amounts of weight and is getting proper exercise and eating appropriately, it is imperative to have your veterinarian rule out the possibility of other diseases.
Understanding Appropriate Weights
Additionally, it is extremely important for all dog owners to understand the healthy weight their dog should be. This can prove to be more challenging than it may seem. The vast majority of images that we see on a daily basis of "healthy dogs" are actually those who are overweight. Therefore, it can be challenging to recognize that your pup could afford to lose a few pounds. We highly recommend taking your dog into your veterinarian for a weight evaluation. Your vet has specific tools for measuring body fat and can make an accurate assessment of your dog's current weight.
Obesity in Dogs: A Final Thought
When all is said and done, we know that you only want the very best for your furry companion. As a responsible pet owner, it is absolutely essential to manage your dog's weight appropriately. Obesity may not seem like a 'life or death' condition, but trust us when we say it is. Of course, a little treat here and there isn't going to cause your dog to become obese overnight. However, those treats and unhealthy, fatty foods tend to add up quite quickly. If your dog is already struggling with their weight, we encourage you to avoid adding any additional calories into their daily intake.
Furthermore, here at Honest Paws, we truly believe that prevention is the best medicine. Whenever health conditions, such as obesity, can be avoided it is our job to make sure we take every necessary step to do just that. Implementing regular exercise and switching food sources may be required and a bit time consuming, but certainly worth the efforts.
At the end of the day, your dog relies solely on you to ensure their happiness and well-being. It is imperative that you're doing all you can to do so, including managing their weight.