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Obesity in Dogs

What is Obesity in Dogs?

Obesity in dogs is characterized by an excessive buildup of body fat, leading to health issues. Dogs are classified as overweight if they exceed their ideal body weight by 10% or more, and they are considered obese if they surpass 20% of their ideal weight. Excessive body weight is associated with various diseases in dogs.

What are the risks associated with obesity in dogs?

As many as 65% of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese, carrying significant health risks. Obesity contributes to various conditions in dogs, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Kidney disease
  • Respiratory compromise
  • Reduced exercise capacity and heat tolerance
  • Elevated risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Altered response to insulin
  • Higher susceptibility to anesthetic complications
  • Diminished quality of life
  • Expressing affection by indulging dogs with treats may inadvertently lead to a shorter lifespan and decreased quality of life if the surplus calories result in obesity.

Symptoms and Types

Obesity manifests through various signs, such as:

  • Increased weight
  • Reduced energy levels compared to normal
  • Decreased tolerance for exercise
  • Tightness of the collar or harness compared to previous fits
  • Difficulty in feeling the ribs or observing a diminished “waistline” (a slight indentation in the belly just ahead of the hind legs)


The primary cause of obesity in dogs is excessive feeding, which encompasses the regular intake of wet or dry food, dog-specific treats, and human food leftovers or “table scraps.” Insufficient exercise can also lead to canine overweight issues. Some medical conditions like hypothyroidism and hyperadrenocorticism, also known as Cushing’s disease, can trigger obesity.

Moreover, certain dog breeds have a predisposition to obesity, including:

  • Golden Retriever
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Dachshund
  • Beagle
  • Boxer
  • Pug

Is My Dog Overweight?

If you have concerns about your dog’s weight, it’s advisable to arrange a weight assessment and examination with your veterinarian. If you notice extra padding over your dog’s ribs or if you’re unable to discern a slight indentation just in front of the hind legs, it’s likely that your dog is carrying surplus weight.


Veterinarians typically assess your dog’s weight and track any patterns indicating weight fluctuations over time. They may employ a measurement technique called body condition scoring.

Two commonly used scales include a five-point scale (where three signifies ideal) and a nine-point scale (where four to five is ideal). Ideally, your dog should exhibit an hourglass figure when observed from above, indicating an ideal body weight.

Additionally, veterinarians might conduct laboratory tests to identify underlying conditions contributing to weight gain, such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease. In cases of sudden weight gain, your veterinarian may also suggest x-rays to examine for abdominal fluid or masses.


The fundamental aspects of addressing obesity include adjustments in exercise routines and dietary habits. Depending on the severity of obesity and your dog’s current fitness level, it may be necessary to gradually increase the amount of daily exercise. Typically, most dogs can safely engage in 15-30 minutes of exercise per day initially, with the duration and intensity gradually escalating as the dog sheds weight and improves fitness. While simple walks suit many families, exercise can encompass indoor or outdoor fetch, swimming, and running. For older dogs, shorter exercise sessions may be more appropriate.

Dietary modifications should be overseen by your veterinary team. Decreasing or eliminating extras like treats and table scraps is beneficial, and often, a change in the type and/or quantity of food is necessary. Numerous weight loss diets exist, some requiring a prescription from your veterinarian.

A reasonable objective is a weight loss of 1-2% of body weight per week, ideally reducing fat stores while preserving lean body tissue. While dog food labels provide feeding recommendations, these serve as guidelines only, as individual dogs may require more or less food than suggested to maintain optimal body condition. Controlled meal feeding, rather than free choice, helps regulate caloric intake. Consistently using a measuring cup ensures accurate and appropriate feeding quantities.

Instead of entirely removing treats, alternative options like baby carrots, frozen green beans, pumpkin, or low-calorie dog treats may be considered, pending approval from your veterinarian.

Medications are typically unnecessary for obesity treatment unless your dog has conditions like hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease, in which case regular examinations and laboratory tests assist in determining the suitable type and dosage of medication.

Recovery and Management

Upon reaching the ideal weight, your veterinarian might suggest transitioning to a maintenance diet. Sustaining regular exercise and moderating extra treats and snacks remain important.

Preventing obesity from occurring in the first place is, of course, the optimal scenario. This can be achieved through structured meal times, avoiding excessive treats, and ensuring consistent exercise for your dog. Exercise not only benefits your dog’s health but also provides physical and emotional well-being for both you and your pet.

While preventing or addressing obesity demands effort, the rewards of an extended and healthier life are invaluable for both you and your dog.

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