Obesity in Dogs

August 18, 2018 at 11:00 pm

By Kevin T. Fitzgerald, PhD, DVM
Staff Veterinarian
VCA Alameda East Veterinary Hospital


Currently, it is estimated that nearly two-thirds of adult Americans are overweight with 26% of us dangerously so (showing weight-related health issues). Obesity in humans is being recognized as a global problem stemming from easy access to high-calorie fast foods, lack of exercise, and poor eating habits. This alarming phenomenon is likewise reflected in our pet population in the United States. Recent figures from American veterinary hospitals calculate that anywhere from 35 to 40% of dogs in the US are overweight or obese. Dogs are classified as “overweight” when their body weight is more than 15% above their optimal weight and “obese” when they reach 30% above their optimal condition.


Obesity is not merely cosmetic. In humans, hard data exists indicating that overweight or obese individuals had reduced longevity. Not only do obese humans have a diminished lifespan, but obesity leads directly to a host of health issues such as heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes mellitus, respiratory disease and compromised lung function, osteoarthritis, and certain types of cancer (breast, prostate, ovarian, and colon). Similarly, obesity has been determined to cause identical health issues in dogs. In addition, being significantly overweight reduces a dog’s enjoyment of life and the owner’s enjoyment of the dog. Carrying extra weight makes it harder for the dog to get around, eliminates the possibility of many favorite activities, and limits the things owners can do with their pets.


As bad as these issues are, the diseases associated with excessive weight (harder on the heart, destruction of joints, higher likelihood of diabetes) can be devastating. Although genetics, breed, neutering and spaying, age, and lifestyle of the owner certainly all play a role in predisposing an animal to obesity, recent studies have shown that type of diet, amount fed, level of activity, and commitment of the owner are the most important factors in determining whether an animal becomes overweight or not. Never forget, your dog is totally dependent upon you for everything he puts in his mouth. Are you helping him or hurting him?


The first thing that has to happen is for you to assess where your dog is in terms of weight. Put your hand on your dog’s rib cage. Ideally you should be able to feel the ribs without seeing them. Most dogs I see have a pretty good pad. Next, look at your dog’s body from the top. Is there an indentation behind the ribs, a “waist”, or is your dog a “round-fellow”? When looking at your dog from the side, does the abdomen tuck up or does it protrude with an obvious belly? Your veterinarian can help you determine where your dog is weight-wise.


There is only one secret in weight reduction. You must burn off more energy than you take in. High-fat diets, treats, “people-food”, and lack of exercise are all primary factors in the development of canine obesity. Your veterinarian will help you decide which diet is right for your dog. For instance, simply starting a low-calorie diet may not be justified for all old, overweight dogs. Your veterinarian can be a tremendous resource. Measuring the amount of food you give is mandatory in both weight reduction and weight maintenance. I recommend the use of a measuring cup. Increase the amount of exercise; but be reasonable about your dog’s age and abilities. (English bulldogs can’t jog.)


Decrease the amount of treats, people food, and other junk food. Try uncooked green beans as a treat or ice cubes. Just like people, dogs become addicted to treats. Be realistic, consistent, and patient. Weight control is a lifelong endeavor but you will get much more out of your shared relationship if your dog is fit. Your veterinarian can help tailor-make an exercise and dietary program for your dog. Start today with a new dedication to your friend’s health and keep track of the pounds.

Kevin Fitzgerald has a diverse background with both veterinary medicine and comedy. Dr. Fitzgerald has appeared numerous times on Animal Planet. Additionally, he hosts a weekly segment on CW2’s morning news called Animal House, where he keeps the public informed about pet and animal related-issues. In addition to maintaining a busy practice at VCA Alameda East Veterinary Hospital, he can frequently be seen performing comedy shows all around Denver.