Overweight Dogs: Symptoms, causes, what to do about it

In Australia, it is reported that 41% of dogs are overweight, making it one of the most common nutrition issues in the nation. However, 90% of pet owners don’t even realise their pet is actually sitting on the heavier end of the scales.

A dog is classified as overweight when the number on scales is 15% or more over their recommended optimal body weight. Being overweight not only reduces the dog’s quality of life, it limits the activities you as their owner can do with them and it can make them susceptible to a number of more serious health concerns.

How To Tell If Your Dog is Overweight

If you’re weighing your dog at home, there are plenty of online charts for different breeds and their ideal weight that you can consult to check whether your pet is within the preferred range.

If you don’t have scales, one way you can check is by getting down and giving your dog a hug. As you do, feel their ribs - if you’re having trouble being able to feel them, this can be a sign your dog is a little heavier than they should be. You can also often tell by looking at the shape of your dog. For most, their body will taper in behind their ribs, creating a defined waist shape. If your pet doesn’t seem to have this shape to their body, they may be overweight.

Another tell tale sign your pet might be heavier than they should be is their grooming habits. Most dogs will regularly clean themselves, but if you notice your pet grooming less than usual, especially because they cannot reach the places they use to be able to, this may be a sign your dog has a put on a few too many kilos. Their coat will also become less clean looking than usual if this is becoming an issue.

You may also notice your dog becomes less energetic and tries more easily. Whether they start lagging behind on walks or even seem reluctant to go on one, are excessively panting during and after exercise or need assistance getting in and out of the car when they didn’t before, this may be a sign your dog is struggling carrying around some extra weight.

Alternatively, if you suspect your dog might be overweight and you want to be certain, consult your local vet. They will perform a health assessment and will be able to provide you with information on the recommended weight range for your dog. If your dog is overweight, your vet can help to put together a weight loss plan.

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What May Cause Your Dog to be Overweight

There are a number of factors that can lead to a dog becoming overweight.

The most common reason is overfeeding coupled with not enough exercise. When the food intake of an animal starts to exceed the amount of exercise and energy they are outputting each day, that excess food is then stored as body fat, just the same as humans. Overfeeding can be caused by feeding your dog larger portions than necessary at meal times, giving them unrestricted access to food by always keeping their bowl full and/or by constantly feeding them treats or scraps from the dinner table.

There may also be some other factors such as your pet’s age (as dogs tend to become less mobile as they get older), metabolism and genetic make-up, that make them more prone to gaining weight. Breeds such as beagles, terriers, Labradors and dachshunds are particularly prone to weight gain.

Neutering is also a known cause, as the hormonal changes that occur after the procedure can alter the function of their metabolism and may mean they need less food than before the procedure.

Issues Caused by Your Dog Being Overweight

If your dog is overweight, there a number of other health concerns that they can become predisposed to as a result.

  • Osteoarthritis - this is particularly a concern for older dogs. Any extra weight your pet is carrying around means there is more stress being put on their joints, especially every time they walk or run. While vets can recommend some medications to help relieve the symptoms, the biggest way to reduce the problem or avoid it all together is to keep your pet at a health weight.

  • Joint Damage - a similar principle to the osteoarthititis, with the extra weight, there is also more stress being put on your dog’s tendons and ligaments, which are designed to be strong enough to support your dog at their optional weight. The heavier your dog is, the more at risk they are of causing damage and once damaged, ligaments and tendons can be an expensive fix.

  • Diabetes - just as can happen with humans, dogs are more at risk of developing diabetes if they are overweight. Diabetes means your dog’s cells become unable to absorb sugar from their blood properly. The cells need this energy in order to function correctly and without it, your dog will become tried more easily and will feel hungry more often as their body sends them a signal it needs more energy, which in turn can lead to further overeating. With all of this excess blood sugar in their blood, their kidneys become overwhelmed and it ends up in their urine, which also draws a lot of water with it, which can cause the dog to become dehydrated more easily.

  • Skin Irritations and Diseases - as your dog puts on weight, they can start to develop more skin folds than usual. These folds can become irritated and infected by a build of bacteria, especially if your dog is unable to clean properly. This can cause your pet to scratch more and have inflamed red skin.

  • High Blood Pressure and Heart Complications - as a dog’s weight increases so can their blood pressure. This is a major concern for your pet because to compensate for the rising blood pressure, their heart begins to work faster to try and keep blood pumping throughout their body. This extra strain on their heart can lead to heart failure.

  • Compromised Immune System - with the extra weight on their bodies, a dog’s immune system can become compromised and unable to function properly, leaving your pet at higher risk of viral or bacterial illnesses. Most illnesses picked up by our pets aren’t fatal as their immune system can ensure their body fights off the infection. However, with a compromised immune system, their body can struggle and can lead to your dog having to go on an expensive prescription medication in order to give their body the extra boost it needs to help them recover.

What To Do If Your Dog is Overweight

Depending on the age and breed of the dog, there may be some variations in the recommended solutions, but for the majority of cases the main way to control your dog’s weight is just the same as how humans control their weight, less food and more exercise. This is simply done by altering their food intake to a more low calorie diet, including measuring and weighing their food at meal time to be sure you’re giving them the correct amount, along with increasing their daily exercise.

Make sure to take them for a walk daily and have extra play time throughout the day to keep them moving. For dog’s that are overweight, they may fatigue more easily and have a lower tolerance to heat and humidity, so it’s best to gradually increase the amount of daily exercise you give your dog. While exercising them, particularly at the beginning, be sure to keep an eye on their movement and breathing, watching for signs of fatigue to make sure you don’t over exert them.

When it comes to food, try breaking up your dog’s meals into smaller portions throughout the day and avoid feeding them close to bed time because they won’t burn many calories while sleeping. If you need to introduce a new food due to a change in diet, make sure to slowly transition your pet onto the new food. Mix their old food and new food together, gradually increasing the amount of the new food and decreasing the old food over a week or so.

If your dog is regular getting some sneaky treats off the dinner table, make sure to put a stop to that. If you do want to treat them every now and then though, just make sure to chose a lower calorie option.

Your vet may also recommend that you keep a weight loss diary throughout the process to help both you and your pet keep on track and ensure you’re meeting the targets set. Monitoring is usually done by taking your dog into the local clinic to be weighed, which many will do for free. If you’re keeping track at home, the best method is to get a set of bathroom scales, stand on the scales while holding your pet and then subtract your weight from that number. Check in with your pet’s weight on a monthly basis to keep on top of your progress.

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