Obesity - or excessive body fat resulting in an overweight
condition - is sadly an extremely common and preventable problem
affecting our pets, with more and more cases seen every year.
Canine obesity is in fact the most common nutritional disorder
seen in dogs. As with humans, it's caused by an imbalance of
taking in more energy than giving out. This can give rise to a
persistent and potentially life threatening energy surplus.
How to know if your dog is overweight
Signs of canine obesity include owners struggling to see or feel
their dog's ribs, spine or waistline; abdominal sagging; a bigger,
rounder face; a reluctance to go for walks or lagging behind;
excessive panting; and the dog appearing tired and lazy. Grossly
overweight dogs may even need assistance getting up and down, in
and out of vehicles, and often refuse to move or play games.
Problems associated with obesity
Vets see these problems all too often, with obese pets posing
greater risks from anaesthetic and surgical complications, heat or
exercise intolerance, complications from cardio-respiratory
disorders, hormone problems, skin disease, cancer, urogenital
disorders, even early death. Canine obesity may even contribute to
tracheal collapse and laryngeal paralysis too.
Common canine problems suffered as a result of obesity include
diabetes (where the pancreas fails to secrete enough insulin in
order to regulate blood glucose levels); heart disease (caused by
high cholesterol levels); as well as arthritis directly affecting
mobility, making it even harder for your pet to lose weight.
Until fairly recently, fatty tissue was thought to be just a
relatively lifeless energy store and insulator; but we now know it
secretes hormones affecting appetite, inflammation, insulin
sensitivity and bodily function, as well as influencing water
balance and blood pressure leading to kidney disease and high blood
Factors contributing to canine obesity
Excess energy is stored primarily as fat but many other factors
also contribute to canine obesity including age, sex, reproductive
status, inactivity, owner's decisions on dog's food intake, diet
and palatability, environment, lifestyle, and any underlying
disease that impairs exercise and results in excessive weight gain.
Some breeds, appear to have a higher incidence of obesity,
indicating that genetics may play a major part, with unneutered
adult dogs often weighing less than neutered dogs of the same breed
Neutering is usually carried out at a young age - the same time
as a natural decrease in growth and energy needs. Oestrogen also
slows down fat production, with predictably decreased levels post
spaying, so owners who are unaware of this change and continue to
feed their pets the same amount of food will usually see a weight
gain in their dog.
Like us, aging dogs become less active needing less daily energy
too, so it's no surprise that if food intake is not decreased
proportionately, they can easily pile on the pounds.
Feeding table scraps and other fatty treats may encourage many
pets to overeat and gain excessive weight; in some adult dogs, up
to half the calories they need are supplied as human food,
particularly in toy breeds.
Surprisingly, few owners are still unsure about how much to feed
their dog, failing to measure food accurately, and sometimes in
denial about how much they feed. The size of cup used to measure
dry food and the size of bowl used for feeding also affect the
amount of food fed to a dog; with owners given a large cup and bowl
often providing more food than when a small cup and bowl are
The social setting of meals can also influence eating behaviour,
with most dogs increasing their food intake when eating alongside
other pets in what's known as 'social facilitation'. That said,
being an 'only dog' has also been associated with the risk of
obesity, which is probably due to being spoilt rotten by its
Ways to prevent obesity
If your dog is overweight then carefully start changing his
feeding habits; increasing exercise (e.g. more or longer walks, or
take up a canine activity such as agility or flyball); looking at
the type of food and his intake; creating a feeding plan; and
incorporating regular visits to your vet for weight loss advice and
to have free weight checks and record your success.
Diets rich in protein and fibre but low in fat are typically
recommended for weight loss, as it gives the dog the feeling of
being full, but also provides them with more energy. Replacing
traditional treats with carrot sticks is a great healthy way to
Divide your dog's daily amount into several meals and try not to
feed them too late, as they won't burn many calories when
Ensure every family member is given their own pet feeding
instructions and never leave any food lying around. Remember, when
introducing a new food, do it gradually over a seven-day period,
mixing new food with the old, and always check the daily
Avoid feeding scraps from the table or any leftovers, and always
check the daily recommended feeding guide on the packaging and
weigh out the daily amount at the beginning of the day. You can
then give 'treats' from this amount during the day, so you don't
When your animal starts to lose weight, you will notice he is
happier, more inclined to exercise, and has a lot more energy. So
don't hesitate to book an appointment with your vet for advice and
a healthy eating plan that helps your dog battle the bulge.
Why not exercise with your dog, so you get fit together, find
more information here.
This article was written by Marc Abraham and was originally
published in the Crufts Magazine - www.thecruftsmagazine.com.
Marc Abraham is a vet based in Brighton. He regularly
appears on UK television. For more information about Marc
please visit www.marcthevet.com.
Who can I contact for further advice?
The Kennel Club is not a veterinary organisation and is unable
to provide general or case specific veterinary advice. If you
have any questions regarding any of the issues discussed in this
article then please contact your local veterinary practice for