Sadly, one of the most commonly seen health problems in dogs today is obesity. This fact is particularly troubling since obesity is purely preventable. Experts report that as much as 30% of the dogs in the United States could be classified as obese. They also assert that nearly 50% of dogs in the 5-11 year old age range are considered overweight.
What is the Definition of Obesity?
Obesity is defined as additional fat that is stored on the body. When a dog carries excess fat, his weight begins to increase. So, excess fat and excess weight are true companions.
Measuring a dog’s body weight is a simpler evaluation than trying to get an accurate measurement of the amount of fat a dog is carrying. As a general guideline, veterinarians note a dog is overweight when their body weight is 10-20% higher than it should be. Anything higher than 20% is considered to fall within the obese category.
Why is Obesity a Concern with Dogs?
When a dog suffers from obesity, it increases their chances of contracting disease and also has an effect on their overall longevity. Conventional wisdom has long taught that overweight dogs would have a shorter life expectancy than their fit counterparts with the leaner dogs living 6-12 months longer. Though it was originally believed that these statistics only related to dogs that were obese, a recent study with Labrador Retrievers indicated that even dogs that carry only a mild to moderate amount of excess fat can see a reduction in their lifespan by up to two years.
In the past, fat had a less negative connotation as scientists believed it was tissue at rest that held energy calories and contributed to the overall mass of the body. However, it is now known that fat tissue is active, releasing inflammatory hormones and placing stress on the body, making it more susceptible to disease.
There are several different diseases that overweight and obese dogs are more predisposed to developing. These include:
- Heart disease
- Degenerative disc disease
- Urinary bladder stones
- Complications with anesthesia
In some cases, dogs that are overweight may be suffering from a medical problem such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease.
How Can I Tell if My Dog is Obese?
Many dog owners have a hard time understanding what a dog at a normal weight looks like. Unfortunately, many of the dogs we see on social media platforms or on TV or in the movies are not in proper body condition, making it harder for people to recognize what is appropriate for their own dogs. The best way to understand a dog’s current body condition is through a thorough veterinary exam.
Veterinarians and breeders can also provide a target weight range that owners can work towards with their dogs. However, it is important to note that this is just a rough guideline because each dog is an individual, and thus, some dogs will be larger or smaller than the standard size for their breed and may not fall within the typical weight ranges.
How Can I Help My Dog Lose Weight?
Helping a dog to lose weight can be a bit of a struggle. Thankfully, there are some tools that can assist with the transition to a new way of eating and exercising.
There are several different dog foods that are reduced calorie and high fiber to help dogs in need of shedding a few pounds to lose weight without feeling hungry from a reduction in calories. A switch to a diet that has additional fiber is a great help in keeping dogs feeling full. Reducing the amount of food a dog receives each meal is not the best solution when it comes to losing weight as the dog may begin to feel undernourished and stressed. For best results, choose a diet that is lower in calories but higher in nutritional quality and ingredients to help boost eating satisfaction.
A general increase in activity is also a good idea. This should not be done in large amounts. Even a few extra blocks, when done several times a week, will make a positive difference.
Once the ideal weight is achieved, it is important to continue to measure and monitor portion sizes and the dog’s weight to maintain a healthy body condition going forward. At this time, it may be a good idea to switch to a food that is better suited to weight maintenance.
Are Some Dog Breeds More Prone to Obesity than Others?
Though any breed can become obese if overfed, under exercised, or allowed to free feed, there are definitely some breeds that are naturally predisposed to obesity if their food intake is not carefully monitored. These include:
The Labrador Retriever
There is no question that the Labrador Retriever is a dog that loves to eat, often consuming food far beyond the point of satiation if allowed to do so. Labs are notoriously UN-picky eaters, willing to chow down on anything that is put before them. However, if the Lab’s meals are measured and his intake monitored and he is exercised regularly, there is no need for this dog breed to ever become obese.
Labrador Retrievers are well-renowned for their intelligence, sometimes using their natural smarts to find ways to get into everything from garbage cans to kitchen cabinets and even your countertops, all in search of a tasty treat or two.
Thankfully, Labrador Retrievers are very athletic and have high energy levels, meaning they are up for any adventure at any time, a big help in the battle against the bulge.
The English Bulldog
The English Bulldog is a stocky chap with short legs and a substantial body. Since the English Bulldog has very low energy levels and enjoys life as a cherished couch potato, happily snoozing his days away, it can be a challenge to keep this dog at a healthy weight.
The Bulldog can be prone to breathing challenges because of his brachycephalic facial construction. The breed does not do well in extremes of weather; whether it be hot or cold. Bulldogs can also suffer from asthma and sinus problems. Because of this, it can be difficult for an owner to discern if their dog is struggling because of issues inherent to the breed or because of excess weight.
Bulldogs enjoy eating, as most dogs do, but the fact that they don’t like exercise makes keeping this dog at a healthy weight a difficult task. The best course of action to keep the Bulldog fit as a fiddle is to measure all portions and carefully monitor what the Bulldog eats each day. In addition to this, regular daily exercise, even if it is only a short walk, is key.
The best way to determine if a Bulldog is overweight is to look to see if the dog has a waist. If the dog appears like one solid tube with no indentation for the waist, it is time to start taking some weight off.
The Pug suffers from similar health challenges as the Bulldog does. A lover of food, the Pug will overeat if given the opportunity to do so. Since the Pug has a barrel-chested shape, much like the Bulldog, it can be difficult to discern when this dog type is carrying too much weight. Also like the Bulldog, the Pug should have a definite waist. Without one, it is most definite that the Pug needs to lose a few pounds to return to a healthy body condition.
A low energy breed that fancies himself a lap dog, the Pug also has a facial construction that means he can be prone to such problems as asthma and allergies. In kinship with the Bulldog, the Pug should not be exercised during extreme heat or cold as he may struggle to breathe.
To keep the Pug at a healthy weight, his food should be portion controlled. A daily walk or a rousing play session is also important to help the Pug remain in good body condition.
The Basset Hound
The Basset Hound is a surprisingly active little dog. With a very acute sense of smell, the Basset is the perfect hunting companion. The breed also loves to eat and seemingly has an endless stomach, eating well past the point of satiation. However, if this dog type’s food is portion controlled and he is properly exercised, maintaining an appropriate body condition is not a chore.
The sweet-natured Beagle is quite similar to the Basset Hound with its sharp sense of smell and love of tracking scents. An active dog, the Beagle enjoys the opportunity to hunt, run, and play, all activities that help to keep the Beagle’s weight on track.
However, the Beagle is another dog type that loves to eat. The Beagle’s appetite is so powerful that this dog will actively tear apart garbage cans to get to the source of any food. A dog that also eats and eat and eats with what seems like a bottomless pit for a stomach, the Beagle’s meals must be measured and all intake monitored. Daily exercise is key to keeping this dog’s weight at a normal level.
The adorable Dachshund is a charming little pooch. With his short little legs and exceptionally long back, the Dachshund stands quite close to the ground. The breed is naturally more predisposed to obesity because of its incidents of back problems which stand in the way of the dog being properly exercised.
The Royal Veterinary College reports that one in four Dachshunds will suffer from intervertebral disc disease. To prevent this from occurring, it is important to keep the Dachshund’s activity restricted to things that don’t involve jumping and to keep all walks to flat terrain and moderate distances.
The Jack Russell Terrier
With his high energy levels, athleticism, and spirited demeanor, you would think the Jack Russell Terrier is one breed that never succumbs to obesity. Unfortunately, that is not the case. There is no question that the Jack Russell Terrier, if properly exercised, should easily be able to maintain a healthy body weight. The problem is many owners have less energy than their JRT, making it a challenge to fit as much activity as their dog would like into a busy schedule that includes a job, a home, a family, and extracurricular activities.
Regular daily exercise is important for the JRT. Failure to provide this can lead to a dog that is neurotic, hyperactive, and even destructive.
But exercise is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to the Jack Russell Terrier. The Jack Russell enjoys eating; sometimes a little bit too much. Extremely food motivated, the Jack Russell will happily entertain in exchange for treats. If allowed to free feed, this dog will easily become overweight.
The English Springer Spaniel
The English Springer Spaniel is an elegant and active sporting dog. A dog breed that is predisposed to such health problems as hip dysplasia and joint laxity, an injured Springer is a dog that cannot get in the daily exercise required to keep this dog at a healthy weight.
With Springer Spaniels, obesity most often occurs as the result of the bad combination of insufficient exercise and meals that are too large. The overweight or obese Springer can suffer from more serious health problems as a result of the excess pressure on the joints, so helping this dog return to a healthy weight is vitally important to improving his health.
The Golden Retriever
Sadly, one of the most beloved dog breeds in the United States is also one of the ones that most frequently suffers from obesity. A recent long-term study showed that almost 63% of all Golden Retrievers are overweight. This may be attributed to many different factors, but one thing the study illuminated as a connection between the Goldens and their obesity is their owners giving them too many treats.
Active and athletic, the Golden Retriever is a working breed that delights in a busy lifestyle. If the Golden Retriever engages in regular activity and is fed an appropriate amount of food, this dog breed can easily achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
The smallest breed in the world, the Chihuahua can be plagued by health problems if allowed to become overweight or obese. Because this breed is quite tiny, it can be difficult to tell if the Chihuahua is obese or is simply larger boned. A veterinarian can help with determining a correct weight and appropriate body condition for this breed.
Chihuahuas that are obese are at risk for a number of health issues including arthritis, Type II Diabetes, back and spinal problems, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Think your dog might be overweight or obese? Regular exercise and portion control can help your dog return to a healthy body condition, and thus, enjoy a longer and better life.