Dog: Obesity

General information

Other common/scientific names: overweight

Obesity is defined as an excess amount of body fat a dog carries which causes harm to health and well-being. Obesity is a debilitating syndrome that is linked to a number of serious health consequences for dogs. It is estimated that about 17 million dogs are overweight or obese. Some veterinarians say that almost 50% of the dogs they treat are too heavy.

Normal Weight

Most owners are unaware that their dog is overweight. The weight may increase gradually over the years and is only noticed when they are weighed at their veterinarian’s office. Listed below are some guidelines when determining if your dog is overweight:

  • You should be able to feel ribs.
  • You should be able to see a “waist” when looking down on your dog.
  • Look to see if the abdomen is sagging.
  • Does the face look more round?
  • Is there excess fat on the lower back and base of tail?
Abb. GGAKPXOT: This is an illustration showing an underweight dog (gray), normal weight dog (tan) and overweight dog (brown).


There are two main causes of obesity in dogs: two much food and too little exercise. Other factors can play a role such as genetics. Labrador retrievers, Beagles, Cocker Spaniels and Terriers are more likely to gain weight. Additionally, hypothyroidism and Cushing’s syndrome can cause weight gain in dogs. Dogs on long term corticosteroid medication are more prone to weight gain.

Specific Factors Contributing to Obesity:

  • Overfeeding: Dogs with unlimited access to food will eat more than they need.
  • Overeating: Many commercial foods are loaded with salt and fat. This improves the taste which means your dog will want to gorge. The recommended feeding amounts on the dog food bag are often excessive.
  • Feeding habits: Feeding tablet scraps or “people food” can lead to obesity. Dogs that live with toddlers quickly learn to spend meal times near the high chair. Dogs that routinely eat other pet’s food gain weight.
  • Lack of exercise: Too much food and too little exercise produces an overweight dog.
  • Age: Older, less active dogs are prone to weight gain.
  • Gender: Females are more likely to become overweight.
  • Neutering: Spaying or castrating your dog can lead to weight gain from decreasing hormones and a more sedentary life.


Besides the obvious weight gain, obese dogs have less energy, pant more, and have difficulty climbing, walking, running and jumping. Overweight dogs tend to have strong appetites and beg for food.

Complications from Obesity:

  • Obesity can lead to a lack of tolerance for exercise which leads to more weight gain. Also, less active dogs may have a reduced quality of life by being unable to enjoy certain activities with their owner.
  • Obesity can contribute to and worsen arthritis, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and osteochondrosis.
  • Increased body weight places more stress on the heart muscle and can lead to heart failure.
  • Overweight dogs are more prone to diabetes mellitus and pancreatitis.
  • Collapsing trachea, bronchitis and difficulty breathing are exacerbated (worsened) by obesity.
  • Obesity increases the risk of complications during anesthesia and surgery.
  • Dogs that are overweight are more prone to skin disease, skin infection and infected anal glands.
  • Obesity has been linked to cancer, urinary incontinence, heat intolerance, decreased immune function and difficulty giving birth.


Obesity is diagnosed by physical examination. Most (but not all) dogs are at a healthy weight during their first and second years. Keeping a record of your dog’s weight can help determine an ideal weight. All overweight dogs should have a complete blood count (CBC), serum biochemistry panel and urinalysis to rule out conditions causing weight gain.


Weight management programs should take place under veterinary supervision with a weight loss goal determined. Periodic examinations and progress assessments are necessary to stay motivated. Dogs should be weighed weekly either at a clinic or at home. Weight loss programs are only effective if the lifestyle changes are consistent and permanent.

  1. Increased activity is tremendously beneficial for weight loss. Increased walking, playing and other exercise are enjoyable for most dogs and good for the dog owners, too. All dogs should be examined by their veterinarian before increasing exercise. Exercise should be increased slowly to allow the dog to adjust. Watch for any signs of skeletal or muscle pain.
  2. Food intake should be controlled by the owner. Overweight dogs should not be offered free choice food. The daily amount determined by your veterinarian can be divided into several meals to control hunger. A measuring cup should be used to strictly measure the amount being fed. Do not rely on your eye to feed the proper amount. These feedings should be at the same time each day and fed by the same person. Uneaten food should be removed within 10-15 minutes of feeding.
  3. Most overweight dogs will benefit from a restricted calorie food. Diets rich in protein and fiber stimulate metabolism while giving the feeling of fullness. Specially formulated prescription diets are available through your veterinarian. When changing to a new dog food, mix a small amount of the new diet with the normal diet. Gradually increase the amount of the new diet over 7-10 days.
  4. Tables scraps and people food must be eliminated from the diet. All members of the family must adhere to this rule. Dogs should be removed from the room during human meal time.
  5. Owners should closely monitor the number and the types of treats they are feeding. Low calorie treats in small amounts will help reduce the pounds. Low calorie kibble can be used as a treat. Canned, sodium free green beans can be used as a treat.
  6. Other pets should be isolated or fed separately and closely supervised when eating. Many times the overweight dog is the most dominant at feeding time and consumes the other pet’s food.
  7. The FDA has approved a prescription weight loss medication. This medication works by blocking the absorption of fat into the small intestine. It is intended to be used as part of a weight management program along with proper diet and exercise. See your veterinarian for more information.


Canine weight loss programs can be successful. However, everyone who lives with the dog must be committed to the program. Just as with people, weight loss is easier for some dogs than for others. Weight loss in dogs takes time and commitment but the benefits of weight loss are great enough that owners should remain dedicated to the cause.


Obesity can be prevented. Using the tips above when the dog is a puppy will help to maintain a healthy weight for your dog.

Update version: 4/24/2014, © Copyright by
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The information offered by enpevet Ltd. is intended solely for information purposes and and does under no circumstances replace a personal consultation, examination or diagnosis through a veterinarian. Thus, the information serves as an addition to the dialogue between pet owner and veterinarian, but can never replace the visit to the veterinarian. enpevet® would like to ask all users, whose animals have health concerns, to see a veterinarian as required. If you have any questions regarding the health of your animal, we recommend that you turn to your trusted veterinarian , instead of starting, changing or breaking off treatments on your own. The content of enpevet® cannot and should not be used for making your own diagnoses or for the selection and application of treatment methods.