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Is my dog obese? Everything you need to know about dog obesity

obese brown chihuahua sitting down

The best way to prevent obesity is to know when your dog is starting to gain weight

© Montri Nipitvittaya - Shutterstock

Obesity is a disease that can seriously impact your dog's health. Check your dog is a healthy and find out more about the causes and treatments for obesity.

By Dr. Katy Ellison MA VetMB MRCVS

Updated on the

Obesity causes are many and varied but it is almost always preventable. So, is my dog obese? Spending every day with your pooch can make it tricky to spot weight gain. Combine that with the large numbers of overweight dogs out for walkies and it is easy to see why you may think that your dog’s large dimensions are normal. Read on to find out how to check if your dog is a healthy size and what to do next.

What is obesity?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines obesity as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health. Our dogs are no different to us and obesity has as much of an impact on dog health as it does on human health. 

What are the risks with obesity?

Being overweight or obese puts your dog at risk of many health problems, including:

How do I know if my dog is obese?

The study showed that being unable to tell if your pooch is an obese dog, a morbidly obese dog or merely a little on the heavy side, is one of the main factors driving the rise in pet obesity. 

1. Weigh your dog

Putting your pooch on the scales is a good starting point and very useful for measuring trends in weight loss. However, weighing your dog does not really answer the question, is my dog obese?

2. Visually inspect your dog

  • Check their ribs - next time you are giving your dog a fuss, run your hand over their rib cage. You should be able to feel their ribs easily, but they should not be sticking out or too prominent.
  • Check for a waist – your dog’s body should narrow behind the rib cage into a ‘waist’. 
  • Check for an abdominal tuck - when viewed from the side your dog’s belly should rise in front of their back legs. If they are obese, their ribs will be covered under a layer of excess fat, and they will have no shape to their body. 

3. Body condition scoring chart

This is a more formal method of measuring your dog’s body condition and a useful method of assessing weight in dogs. Check out this great tool created by Purina to calculate your dog's body condition score

What happens if your dog is obese?

As your dog’s body weight increases, you will notice that their energy levels will begin to reduce, and they may lag behind on walks. With the extra weight they are carrying this is no surprise. Unfortunately, the heavier they get, the less energetic they become and so a vicious cycle of weight gain starts. Before you know it, your pet is 20% heavier than in their prime and they are considered obese. The extra weight puts a strain on the body and your dog’s health may start to decline.

What are the symptoms of obesity in dogs?

Obesity symptoms in dogs are often mistaken for signs of old age. The most common ones are:

  • Slowing down on walks
  • Joint stiffness
  • Shortness of breath

If you have any concerns about your pet’s health, you should always consult your veterinary surgeon.

How do you treat an obese dog?

Weight loss is a priority if your dog is obese. Ideally feed them an obese dog food and make sure to feed them less in calories than they burn off during daily exercise and your pooch will soon start to shed the pounds! 

How long do obese dogs live?

Obese dogs have a significantly shortened lifespan compared to their leaner friends. A study by Purina revealed that on average, dogs who were an ideal bodyweight throughout their life, had an increase in their lifespan of 1.8 years. Keeping your pooch in tip top slim condition is likely to give you precious extra time with your pet – there can be no better incentive to keep your dog trim than this!

What are the factors contributing to canine obesity?

What causes obesity is a very important question, because rates of UK obesity in pets are continuing to rise. The more sedentary lifestyle of us humans impacts on our four-legged friends too. If we are not going for long walks to burn off excess calories, then the chances are that they aren’t either. How about snacking? Does your pooch gaze at you with pleading eyes when you reach for the biscuit tin? Remember that one custard cream for your Jack Russell Terrier is the same as you eating half a packet. With lockdowns and an increase in working from home, resisting ‘puppy dog eyes’ has never been harder.

How can you prevent obesity in dogs?

As with many things, prevention is better than cure! Start as you mean to go on by making sure your pup leads a healthy lifestyle from day one. Here are our top tips:

  • Measure out your pup’s food, don’t feed ‘ad lib.’
  • Walk them twice a day whatever the weather unless they have any underlying health issues. If in doubt, check with your veterinary surgeon.
  • Only feed suitable dog treats or low calorie food such as raw carrot as a snack
  • Resist begging! Maybe your pooch would be just as happy with some fuss or a game of fetch instead?

What diet should I put my dog on if he is obese?

A feeding plan for an obese dog is super important to make sure that the dog is losing weight safely. There are many dog weight loss diets available but always be sure to use a high quality balanced diet from a reputable brand, such as Purina. It is best to consult your veterinary surgeon for advice on an obese dog diet. 

What exercises does my dog need to do if he is obese?

Exercise is a very important part of a health plan for an obese dog, but it is a good idea to build up exercise levels slowly, especially if your pooch is a bit of a couch potato! Why not try:

  • Find a new walking route to make the daily routine fun
  • Add a game of hide and seek into your pooch’s daily schedule
  • Increasing the length of walkies by 5 minutes per week
  • Buy a new toy to keep them active
  • Hide their food in a treat ball

An obese dog chart, in which you keep a note of food intake, exercise levels and weight may be useful to keep track of your dog losing weight.

Your dog’s weight is in your hands! Start their new healthy living plan today and look forward to many more happy years together!

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