Obese dog in front of treats

What to do if your dog is obese? 

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What should I do if my dog gets fat?

By Dr Hester Mulhall MA, VetMB, MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

There's been a big increase in overweight dogs in recent years. But by working on their diet and how much exercise they do, you can help them return to a healthy weight.

One of the trends behind dogs becoming overweight is pet ‘humanisation’, which means that pets are increasingly being considered part of the family, and has led to owners feeding their pets more treats and calorific human food. To help a dog who is overweight and in addition to working on their diet, it's also important that pets are getting enough exercise.

If you are concerned that your dog is overweight, you should seek advice from a vet about the best programme for weight loss.

What happens if a dog is overweight?

When a dog is overweight, they are essentially carrying extra fat on their body. Some of this will be sitting beneath the skin, but some of this is also coating their internal organs. This can have lots of different effects because fat is not an inert tissue: it is actively involved in the hormonal mechanisms around the body, and excess fat can interfere with these processes working correctly.

Overweight dogs are at risk of increased joint disease because of the extra strain from carrying excess weight. They are also more prone to other health problems including certain heart and respiratory conditions, diabetes, kidney disease, skin disease and certain types of cancers. Anaesthesia and surgery are often more risky in overweight patients and associated with greater complications.

How long do obese dogs live?

The life expectancy of an obese dog will depend on factors such as breed, severity of obesity and whether they develop any additional conditions. Obesity is associated with decreased life-expectancy in dogs and it is best to tackle weight loss as early as possible. However, dogs of any age can be successful with a suitable weight-loss programme.

How to determine if your dog is obese

The best way to determine whether your pet needs to lose weight is to use a body condition score chart. These use a combination of visual assessments and touch to work out whether your pet is in ideal condition, too thin or too fat. Most vets will be happy to advise you how to use a body condition chart so that you can keep track of your pet’s condition at home. Vet practices are also happy for you to stop by the practice regularly to keep track of your pet’s weight using their scales. Using a combination of body condition scoring and weight checking is ideal.

What do I do if my dog is obese?

If your dog is obese they will need to lose weight at a controlled rate (roughly 1% a week). You should speak to a vet practice about a suitable regime for your pet, as this can take into account any other health conditions that they might have. Keeping a food and exercise diary for your pet and making sure to accurately measure food (ideally using scales) can help you to monitor the weight loss progress when each diet or exercise change is implemented.

Why is my dog so obese?

Inactivity and too much food are the most common reasons for dog obesity. It can be difficult to fit walks into our chaotic lifestyles, and it is very common for dogs to be receiving more treats than we realise from multiple members of the family. Another factor is not calculating the correct amount of food to feed your pet. Pet food manufacturers usually give guidelines on the back of the packet to help you work out how much food a pet should be fed, depending on their size and activity levels. However, this is only an approximate guide and each pet will have different exact requirements. It is important to be accurate with food quantity because a few extra kibbles each day can make a big difference, especially to a small dog.

In a small number of cases, hormone conditions can be associated with weight gain and decreased activity levels, so a vet may suggest testing for one of these if they think it might apply to your dog.

Can a dog die from obesity?

Obesity can cause a range of other health conditions, some of which can be fatal. Generally, these conditions will worsen over time so early intervention can help to reduce the risk of these developing. Do fat dogs die early? If left untreated, overweight pets have a higher risk of dying at a younger age. If you are worried about your pet’s weight, you should speak to a vet and get the right support to help your dog lose weight.

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