Obese dachshund dog

What to do if you have an obese dog.

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What should I do if my dog is obese?

By Dr. Pete Wedderburn, BVM&S CertVR MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

Do you think your dog is overweight or obese? The first stage to helping an overweight dog is recognising there is a problem. Here's how you can help your pet get back into shape.

As many as two thirds of pet carers do not realise that their animal is overweight or obese. So if you've been wondering if your dog is and what you can do about it to get him to slim down, then that's already a great start.

There are well-known, recognised steps to creating a weight-loss programme to help your pet reach a healthy weight, and this article is designed to get you started.

What is the difference between overweight and obese?

Dogs are classified as being “overweight” when they weigh 10-20% over their ideal body weight. They are “obese” when they weigh 20% more than their ideal body weight. The easiest way to judge a dog’s body weight is by carrying out a body condition score assessment. This uses a simple visual method of assessing the body fat over a dog’s ribs, waistline and abdomen.

How many dogs are overweight or obese?

Excessive body weight in dogs is shockingly common. A 2019 poll of vets across the UK by the PDSA (the veterinary charity The People's Dispensary for Sick Animals) revealed that 46% of dogs seen by the vets were overweight or obese. In addition, a 2018 study of adult dogs at pet shows found that 65% of dogs were overweight and a further 9% were obese. As such, these figures suggest that millions of dogs in the UK are overweight or obese. 

Why is my dog so obese?

As in humans, the fundamental cause of excessive body weight is too many calories being consumed and not enough calories being burned up by physical activity. The PDSA study found that a lack of exercise and accidental overfeeding were the main reasons for excessive body weight in dogs. Almost three in four (72%) owners had overfed their pets, while over a third (35%) were not aware of the recommended food quantities for their pet’s breed or size. In addition, nearly half (44%) of pet owners had caught one pet taking food from another pet’s bowl. 

Can a dog die from obesity?

Obesity does not directly cause death, but many health problems are made worse by obesity, including breathing difficulties, skin problems, diabetes and joint disease. These medical conditions can be life shortening in themselves and they also have a significant negative impact on quality of life. Many obese pets are euthanised early because their quality of life has deteriorated so much because of the impact of their extra body weight on conditions such as those listed above. 

How long do obese dogs live?

While it’s impossible to predict how long any individual dog will live, a 2019 study of over 50,000 dogs found that the lifespan of dogs that were overweight was up to two and a half years shorter when compared to dogs at their ideal body weight. Dogs that are obese are likely to have even shorter lives than those that are just overweight.

Do fat dogs die early?

To put it bluntly, yes, fat dogs do die early. So if you want your dog to have the longest, healthiest life possible, you should focus on helping them reach a healthy weight. Pet obesity prevention is the ideal, rather than waiting until a dog is obese before tackling the issue.

What is the best way of getting my overweight dog to lose weight?

The first step is to consult a vet and have your dog professionally assessed. Veterinary nurses are also trained to do this. Your pet will be weighed and their body condition score will be assessed. This will give you a baseline to work from and a target to aim for.

You then need to focus on the basics of a weight control programme: giving your dog less food and more exercise.

How much food should I give my overweight dog?

You should be guided by the veterinary professional who has assessed your pet, but the number one rule is that you need to start measuring exactly how much food you're giving to your dog. You can do this by weighing the food on scales or by using a measuring cup that has a mark to indicate the recommended weight of food to be offered. You should only feed your dog the recommended amount of food, avoiding all table scraps or other treats, other than low-calorie treats (eg green beans) that may be suggested by your vet clinic. The aim is to reduce the daily calories that your dog is taking in.

What sort of food should I give to my overweight or obese dog?

To start with, your veterinary team may recommend that you continue with the same diet as before, but in reduced quantities. Sometimes simply measuring the daily food intake is enough to create change. In other cases, you may be advised to feed your dog a special type of food. There are various options that include food that is higher in fibre (making the dog feel more “full” with fewer calories) and other foods that have a special nutrient profile designed to create a greater sense of fullness. In dogs that may not need to lose so much weight, so-called “light” diets may be recommended. These have a lower number of calories than standard foods. 

What sort of exercise should I give my overweight or obese dog?

A veterinary professional will advise you on what is best suited to your dog but, in general, around 30 minutes of exercise twice a day is the goal. This could be in the form of a daily jog, an energetic walk or even a playtime, all of which can be very advantageous when it comes to improving the health of your dog.

How long will it take my overweight dog to reach their ideal weight?

A weight loss plan can take many months to get a dog to reach their target weight. You need to continue to have regular weigh-ins at your vet clinic and you need to remain disciplined. Remember, the best way to love your dog is not to give them food: cherish them with your attention instead. They will love you just as much and, if they are at their ideal body weight, they will have longer and happier lives.

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