Obesity in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes and What to Do About It

Natalie Stilwell, DVM, MS, PhD
Written by:
Published: December 9, 2019
Obesity in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes and What to Do About It

Obesity is a nutritional disease that is defined by an excess of body fat, and it’s a prevalent issue in pets. In fact, a 2018 survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) revealed that 56% of pet dogs in the US are overweight.

Obesity can result in serious adverse health effects that could shorten your dog’s life span, even if your dog is only moderately overweight.

Canine obesity is associated with several major health issues, including diabetes, heart disease and arthritis. So maintaining a healthy body weight can offer significant benefits to your dog’s overall quality of life.

Here’s what you need to know about the risk factors, symptoms, causes and plan of action for canine obesity.

Which Dogs Are Most at Risk for Becoming Obese?

Dogs that are overfed as well as those that lack the ability to exercise or have a tendency to retain weight are the most at risk for becoming obese.

While obesity can occur in dogs of all ages, the condition is most commonly seen in middle-aged dogs between the ages of 5 and 10. Neutered and indoor dogs also tend to have a higher risk of becoming obese.

Symptoms of Obesity in Dogs

Below are the basic symptoms or signs that a dog is overweight:

Causes of Dog Obesity

There are several causes of obesity in dogs. It is most commonly caused by an imbalance between the energy intake and usage—in other words, the dog eats more calories than they can expend.

Obesity also becomes more common in old age because of the normal decrease in a dog's ability to exercise, due to arthritis and/or other conditions.

Offering high-calorie foods, frequent treats and table scraps can also exacerbate this condition.

Other common causes include:


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.

Your veterinarian will do this by examining your dog and feeling their ribs, lumbar area, tail and head. The results are then measured against the BCS chart, and if applicable, compared to the breed standard.

If a dog is obese, they will have an excess body weight of approximately 10-15%. In the 9-point scoring system, dogs with a body condition score greater than seven are considered to be obese.

Treatment of Obesity in Dogs

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.

Treating Obesity Through Diet

Your veterinarian can help create a diet plan, eating schedule and recommended daily calorie intake.

Weight loss food for dogs that are rich in dietary protein and fiber but low in fat are typically recommended, since dietary protein stimulates metabolism and energy expenditure.

Protein also helps provide a feeling of fullness, so your dog will not feel hungry again shortly after eating. Dietary fiber also helps dogs feel satiated after eating, but unlike protein, contains little energy. 

Treating Obesity Through Exercise

Increasing your dog's physical activity level is vital for successful weight loss. Try leash walking for at least 15-30 minutes, twice a day, and playing games such as fetch. There are plenty of ways to make your walk fun and exciting for both you and your dog.

Before beginning an exercise regimen, check with your veterinarian to make sure your dog is free from obesity-related conditions that may hinder exercise, such as arthritis or heart disease.

Living and Management

Follow-up treatment for obesity includes communicating regularly with your veterinarian, monitoring your dog's weight monthly and establishing a long-term weight maintenance program once your dog's ideal body condition score has been achieved.

With a firm commitment to your dog's healthy weight, you can feel confident that your dog is feeling their best.

By Dr. Natalie Stilwell, DVM

Featured Image: iStock.com/Rattankun Thongbun

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