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How Do Dogs Become Obese

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Dog obesity has many causes, including nutrition, age, breed predispositions, medications and underlying health issues.
  • Up to 30% of the general dog population in the USA is obese today.
  • Obesity can strain joints, increase the risk of diabetes mellitus, heatstroke, shortened lifespan, cancer, heart disease and hypertension in dogs.
Written by Jay
BsC (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare graduate with a passion for advocating for misunderstood animals.
Zoo and wildlife doctor in veterinary medicine passionate about animal welfare and preventive medicine.
Published on
Thursday 17 March 2022
Last updated on
Thursday 11 May 2023
how do dogs become obese
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In the United States, obesity is one of the most common preventable diseases that dogs suffer from. Shockingly, up to 30% of all dogs are considered obese. You might be wondering, “How do dogs become obese?” Well, there’s no single answer.

Some causes are straightforward, like overfeeding or not enough exercise. Other times, underlying health problems, breed tendencies, medications, or age play a role. If you want to know more about how to keep your dog at a healthy weight, keep reading

What is Obesity in Dogs

In the case of obesity, it means that your dog has an excess of body fat, which is a significant concern for our pups. Unfortunately, the numbers don’t lie – up to 30% of dogs are obese at any given time, and one in three dogs could be overweight according to Banfield Pet Hospital.

Obesity can shorten your dog’s lifespan by two years, making it a serious issue that pet owners need to be aware of. So, how do dogs become obese?

Possible Causes And Effects of Dog Obesity

Dog obesity is caused by various factors. While some dogs become overweight by eating an inappropriate diet, others may gain extra pounds due to underlying health issues or medications.

Possible Causes

Perhaps the most important cause of obesity overall is nutrition. The number of meals, the giving of table scraps, and the quality of the diet all affect your dog’s weight. Unfortunately, your pet’s favorite treats are often a source of extra calories that will contribute to their obesity. However, food alone isn’t the only factor that plays a role in pet obesity.

Research shows that certain dog breeds are more prone to obesity than others. These dog breeds include Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers, Cocker Spaniels, Beagles, Basset Hounds, West Highland White Terriers, and Cairn Terriers, among several others. Conversely, certain breed groups like sighthounds appear to be largely resistant to obesity.

So far, one gene has been found to encourage obesity in Labrador Retrievers. The gene is called the pro-opiomelanocortin gene (POMC) and, in Labradors, it can mutate. The mutation is associated with food motivation, weight, and adiposity – in short, the mutation causes your dog to still feel hungry after eating.

Age is another important factor in pet obesity. As your dog ages, their lean body mass declines along with their metabolic rate, which comes with a decrease in their daily energy needs. If your dog’s food intake does not decrease along with these things, weight gain is more likely to occur. The end result of this is more obesity in older dogs.

Some medications contribute to obesity in dogs. For example, phenobarbital, an anticonvulsant, causes increased appetite in dogs. Similarly, glucocorticoids contribute to fat deposition and weight gain. If your dog is taking a medication that seems to be affecting their weight, it’s best to talk to your vet for advice.

Possible Effects

One of the effects of obesity in dogs is the strain on their joints. Many overweight dogs develop serious joint problems or find that their pre-existing joint issues get much worse when they put on extra pounds. This is because being overweight puts extra pressure on the joints, making it far more likely that osteoarthritis will develop. Obesity, however, also affects non-weight-bearing joints, too. Overall, joint pain and loss of mobility will affect your dog’s quality of life. As a result, your pooch will need medicine to manage their pain, and potentially surgery if possible.

Obese dogs are at a higher risk of developing diabetes mellitus than other dogs. Like in humans, diabetes is a disease that occurs when there is not enough insulin in the body. Insulin is an important hormone that keeps your dog’s blood sugar (glucose) at the right level. Without this hormone, your dog’s blood sugar levels increase to potentially dangerous levels. As such, dogs with diabetes often present with a number of symptoms, including being thirsty, liver disease, problems with walking, weight loss, and vomiting.

Heatstroke is dangerous for any dog, but obese dogs are especially at risk of suffering from it. Any hot environment can cause heatstroke in dogs, but hot cars and areas with little shade are especially risky for dogs. A dog with heatstroke will be unwilling to move around, drooling, vomiting, seem uncoordinated, and collapse. If your dog is suffering from heatstroke, it is vital to get to an emergency vet right away. Without quick treatment, heatstroke can cause death in any dog.

The other effects of obesity on dogs include a shortened lifespan, a higher risk of cancer, a higher risk of heart disease, and hypertension. The bottom line is that obesity is a risk factor for many problems in dogs, so it should be avoided wherever possible.

effects of dog obesity
If your dog is suffering from heatstroke, it is vital to get to an emergency vet right away.

Prevention and Management of Dog Obesity

Prevention is always better than cure. To prevent obesity in dogs, owners should be vigilant of how much they feed their dogs, exercise them often, and be sure to take them for vet check-ups to rule out any underlying conditions. However, obesity is not always easy to prevent, or some owners might realize it too late. This is where management becomes important.

There are several ways to manage obesity in dogs. One of the most common methods is using a therapeutic diet, typically one that is high in protein and low in fat. A special diet can help your pup to lose weight, so it’s always worth talking to your vet about prescription food if your dog is becoming overweight.

Another common management method is underwater treadmill therapy. One study found that a healthy dog walking for 30 minutes in water burns 2.5% more calories per day. Talk to your vet about starting your pup on an exercise regime that suits their health status and breed!

Some medications can also help with weight loss in dogs. For example, Dirlotapide prevents lipoprotein formation and can reduce a dog’s appetite. The starting dose for this drug is 0.05mg/kg for 14 days. After the dog achieves their goal weight, it’s recommended that the drug use continues for 3 months. During this time, you and your vet will find the optimal level of food intake and exercise necessary to keep your pooch at their ideal weight.

How Do Dogs Become Obese: FAQ

Still wondering how dogs become obese? Feel free to check in with our Frequently Asked Questions for more details. If in doubt about your dog’s weight, it’s always best to ask your vet for advice.

What are the symptoms of obesity in dogs?

If your dog is overweight, there are several things you might notice. These include being unable to see or feel your dog’s ribs, spine, and waistline, a rounder face, and abdominal sagging. As well as this, overweight dogs are often reluctant to exercise and may lag behind on walks. This is because they tire more easily. However, because this last symptom can also indicate joint problems, it’s important to see your vet if your dog’s activity levels change.

What is the normal amount of body fat for a dog?

For most dogs, there should be a thin layer of fat covering their ribs, pelvis, and backbone. Their waistline and tummy tuck should be obvious with gradual curves. In contrast, an overweight dog will have a thicker fat layer that you may need to apply pressure to in order to feel the ribs. This way of checking your dog’s body condition is called Body Condition Scoring (BCS).

What food can I give to help my dog lose weight?
What food can I give to help my dog lose weight?

A vet can prescribe a special diet to help your pup to lose weight. These therapeutic diets are high in protein but low in fat, and must be given in strict serving sizes if your dog is to lose weight. Feeding too much will cause your dog to not lose weight, and feeding too little will result in malnutrition.

How often should an obese dog eat?

Unless your vet says otherwise, your dog should be fed two to three meals per day as normal. However, you must monitor your dog’s caloric intake and portion sizes closely. Do not go above the recommended amount, and avoid giving treats.

Why is my overweight dog always hungry?

While some dogs simply love to indulge in a tasty meal, several diseases can cause increased appetite in dogs. These include hyperadrenocorticism, diabetes mellitus, pancreatitis insufficiency, and also intestinal parasites. If your dog shows signs of illness, it’s important to talk to your vet right away

dog obesity prevention
To prevent obesity in dogs, owners should be vigilant of how much they feed their dogs

To summarize how dogs become obese, dog obesity can arise due to overfeeding, underlying health conditions, and a lack of exercise. If your dog is putting on a lot of weight, it’s best to ask your vet for advice.

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