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Canine obesity or obesity in dogs refers to an excess deposition of white adipose tissue (fat tissue) which occurs when energy intake exceeds energy expenditure for a long period of time.

Obesity can take up to 2 years off the lifespan of your dog and simultaneously deteriorate his/her quality of life. 

  1. Causes of obesity in dogs
  2. Symptoms of obesity in dogs
  3. Risks associated with obesity in dogs
  4. Diagnosis of obesity in dogs
  5. Treatment of obesity in dogs
  6. Prevention of obesity in dogs

There are many reasons that could be causing obesity in your dogs. Some of them are:

  • Age: Just like humans, as a dog ages, his/her lean body mass declines which result in a decrease in total daily energy required. If the quantity of food is not decreased proportionately with the decreasing energy requirements, your dog might end up becoming obese.
  • Genetic factor: Some breeds like terrier breeds, spaniels, dachshunds, beagles and labrador retrievers are genetically more prone to obesity.
  • Neutering: Neutering (removal of reproductive organs) could result in a net loss of sex hormones. This might hamper your dog’s metabolism as it decreases the levels of satiety, thus making him/her overweight or obese.
  • Medications: Anticonvulsant medications like phenobarbitone, used in case of epilepsy, decrease the satiety levels which leads to polyphagia (urge to eat again and again) in dogs. Use of glucocorticoids (steroids) in dogs could also lead to abnormal fat deposition in them.
  • Obese owners: Obese people are less likely to go for walks or do a lot of exercises which might predispose their dogs to obesity.
  • Environment: One of the biggest problems with obesity in dogs is that the owner is unable to recognize it. Feeding your dog more than he/she will expend in exercise or giving him/her frequent treats and table scraps could contribute to obesity in your dog. Keeping your dog indoors only with little or no exercise increases the risk of obesity in them.
  • Hypothyroidism: Just like humans, hypothyroidism (decreased release of thyroxine hormone in the body) in your dog could lead to obesity.
  • Insulinoma: Insulinoma is a pancreatic tumour that affects the regulation of your dog's sugar levels, causing low blood sugar, medically known as hypoglycemia. This results in more calories being given to the dog to maintain the appropriate amount of blood sugar, leading to obesity.
  • Cushing’s disease: In Cushing’s disease, the dog’s body starts making too much cortisol hormone which induces polyphagia (extreme hunger) in them, thus leading to obesity

Some symptoms of obesity that can be noticed in dogs are:

  • Weight gain
  • No or little visible waistline
  • Excess visible body fat
  • Enlarged abdomen
  • Ribcage is impalpable (cannot be felt with a bare hand)
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of mobility
  • Difficulty in breathing

Obesity is generally bad for health - whether in humans or in animals. Obese dogs are more prone to a number of serious health consequences:

  • Studies have proven that lean dogs live, on average, 1.8 years longer than obese dogs.
  • Obese dogs are more prone to endocrine diseases like diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism, etc
  • Obesity in dogs can lead to many orthopaedic (bone-related) diseases like damage to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) present in the knee and generalised arthritis.
  • Obesity increases blood pressure and cholesterol in the dog’s body which could lead to cardiopulmonary diseases like ischemic heart disease and asthma.
  • Studies have concluded that obese dogs are more prone to neoplasia like breast, colorectal and oesophagal cancer.

Obesity is diagnosed by measuring the dog's body weight and by obtaining a body condition score (BCS), which involves assessing the amount of fat on the body.

Most veterinary practices use a body condition scoring system on a scale of either 1-5 (3 is normal) or 1-9 (4.5 is normal).

The BCS score chart figures out whether your dog is overweight or obese by appearance and touch. Following are the meaning of each score: 

Too thin

1: No body fat is visible as you can clearly see the ribs, lumbar bone, pelvic bone and all bony prominences even from a distance.

2: Very minimal body fat with visible ribs, pelvic bone and some of the bony prominences.

3: No palpable fat with lumbar bone visible from the top, easily visible abdominal tuck behind the ribs.

Ideal

4: Easily palpable ribs with minimal fat. Proper waistline and abdominal tuck are visible from the top.

5: Easily palpable ribs without excessive fat, waistline visible from the top and abdominal tuck are seen from the side.

Too heavy

6: Ribs are palpable but with a slight amount of fat layer covering them, the waistline is not prominent, abdominal tuck is visible.

7: Ribs are palpable but with slight difficulty, the waistline is absent and fat deposits can be seen in the lumbar area, abdominal tuck is slightly visible.

8: Ribs are only palpable after putting a lot of pressure over the thick fatty skin, no abdominal tuck and waistline visible.

9: Massive fat deposition all over the body including neck, limbs and spine with a distended abdomen. Waist and abdominal tuck are absent.

Your veterinarian will diagnose by examining your dog and feeling their ribs, lumbar area, tail and head. Results can vary for different breeds like certain lean breeds such as the greyhound and most sighthounds will be at a normal weight even when ribs are visible from a distance. So it would be best to take your dog to the vet for an accurate diagnosis.

Overweight in dogs is defined as a BCS of 6/9 or 7/9. Canine obesity is defined, as in people, as weighing about 30% or more over ideal (equivalent to a BCS 8/9 or 9/9).

Treatment for obesity focuses on gradual weight loss that is sustainable in the long term. This is accomplished by reducing your dog’s caloric intake and increasing their activity levels.

  • Treatment of the underlying disease, like hypothyroidism, insulinoma and Cushing’s disease to cut down the extra kilos.
  • High-protein, low-fat diet helps provide a feeling of fullness, so your dog will not feel hungry again shortly after eating. Dietary fibre also helps dogs feel satiated after eating.
  • The owner must stop feeding table scraps and calorie-filled treats to his/her dog. Green beans, carrots, bananas and other vegetables are good alternatives to treats. 
  • Your vet might recommend you some dogs foods available in both canned and kibble form that is formulated for weight loss and maintenance. Homemade diets are not recommended as they often lack in daily vitamin and mineral requirements. 
  • One of the major factors in reducing weight is exercise. Exercise is as important as diet in reaching and maintaining healthy body weight. Thirty minutes per day of leash walking, outdoor games, treadmill training and swimming could be done to make sure that your dog is getting proper physical training. 

After the weight-loss period, it is seen that nearly 50% of the dogs regain more than 5% of body weight in a “rebound” phenomenon.

Follow-up treatment for obesity includes interacting regularly with your veterinarian, monitoring your dog's weight monthly and preparing a specific life-long weight-maintenance program for your dog, once he/she achieves the ideal body condition score.

Ways to prevent obesity in dogs altogether are: 

  • Making sure your dogs has an active lifestyle
  • Providing adequate nutrition, not less or more than required
  • Knowing your dog's BCS score and keeping an eye out for any changes in it
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