Obesity in Dogs:
A Serious Health Risk

Snapshot: Obesity in Dogs
Here's a quick overview if you're in a hurry. Come back later when you have time to read the complete guide.

  • Diagnosis: To determine if your dog is obese, run your hand along his side. You should be able to feel the ribs and to see and feel a "waist" at the end of the rib cage. Ask your vet to conduct a blood test to be sure the weight gain is not related to health issues like hypothyroidism.
  • Causes: Obesity in dogs is caused by the dog taking in too many calories, either in food or treats or both.
  • Treatment: Regular exercise and a high-quality, reduced calorie food are needed to help your best friend lose weight.

Obesity Defined

Obesity in dogs occurs most often in dogs five years or older; in other words, in middle-aged or senior dogs. A dog is considered obese if he is 20-25 percent overweight. The Australian Cattle Dog shown here is considered obese.

Obesity in dogs can be determined by running your hand along your dog's side. You should be able to feel the ribs, but they should not be protruding or too easily felt. You should be able to see and feel a "waist" at the end of the ribs. If a dog is overweight by a few pounds, you should be able to feel his spine. If he is significantly overweight or obese, you will not be able to feel the spine and cannot see or feel the dog's "waist."

It's a wise idea to have your vet perform a blood test to determine if your dog's weight gain is caused by a malfunctioning thyroid or other health issue. If no underlying cause if found, it's time to work with your vet to set a weight goal based on your dog's size, breed and age and devise a food plan to help your best friend overcome dog obesity.

Causes of Obesity in Dogs

While weight gain is sometimes caused by a medical issue such as hypothyroidism, the most common cause of obesity in dogs is overeating, either dog food or treats or a combination of the two, combined with a lack of adequate exercise.

Health Risks

An overweight dog can fall victim to a number of health issues including diabetes, heart problems, arthritis, cancer and skin problems. Don't put your best friend at risk. Help him or her lose weight.

The Fat Gene's Role in Dog Obesity

Some breeds may inherent a gene that makes it more likely they will become overweight. These are Labrador Retrievers, Basset Hounds, Beagles, Golden Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, Cairn Terriers and Dachshunds.

If your dog is one of these breeds, don't give up and assume that fatness is their destiny. Providing regular exercise, controlled rations of healthy food and no treats (or healthy treats in limited amounts) will be necessary to get your best friend at a healthy weight. Give your dog pieces of orange, apple or carrots for low-cal, healthy treats.


Dogs lose weight the same way people do: With reduced calorie intact and increased exercise. Also like people, a slow, steady weight loss is the best remedy for obesity in dogs. A rapid "crash diet" approach is not healthy for dogs or people. If your dog has been a couch potato, then start slow with the exercise and gradually increase. Depending on your dog's weight, prior activity level and age, walking to the corner and back several times a day may be all the exercise he can handle for the first week. Build your dog's exertion level gradually and under the advice of your vet.

Don't overlook dog training as a form of exercise. Just going through the "sit," "come," "down" can wear out a dog because it is mental AND physical exercise. So mix up the exercise routine with walks and basic training—especially good for indoors when the weather is not cooperating.

In choosing a reduced-calorie food for your dog, choose wisely. Although many vets sell Science Diet, this company is popular because it spends its money on advertising rather than healthy ingredients. Consult sites such aswww.dogfoodadvisor.com or www.dogfoodanalysis.com for unbiased comparisons of dog food and their ingredients. Examples of quality dog foods include (but are not limited to) Blue Buffalo, Wellness, Innova and Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul. While this last one has a clunky name (and is based on the popular book of the same name), it is a quality food that sells for much less than most high-end dog foods. And they offer a reduced-calorie version.

A diet that is high in protein, low in fat and moderate in carbohydrates will help your dog retain muscle and lose fat


The best way to treat obesity in dogs is to head it off before it's an issue. In other words, if your dog is not overweight today, stay vigilant and make sure this does not become a health issue. Feed quality food and in the right portions. Use treats sparingly and make sure they are high-quality as well.

Your canine best friend deserves to live a long and healthy life. He is counting on you to look out for his best interests!

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