By Diana Bocco
Just as different dog breeds have different genetic make ups that affect their appearances and behaviors, they also have different susceptibilities to illnesses and diseases. “There are breed predilections for everything, including obesity,” says Dr. Sandy Fink, DVM, who has been practicing dog and cat medicine for over 30 years. “This predilection could be directly caused by specific obesity genes or it could be multiple other traits, when combined together, that increase the likelihood that a dog will become obese.”
In addition to genetics, some breeds gain weight faster than others because they're less active or because their metabolisms and appetites are different, according to Fink.
Here are six breeds more likely than others to pack on the pounds—and what you can do to keep them at a healthy weight.
Pugs are a classic example of a dog that is not designed for strenuous exercise, according to Fink. “Pugs are a brachycephalic breed, which means they are born with a very short nose with tiny nasal openings, an elongated soft palate, and small airways leading to their lungs,” Fink says. “This makes them unable to tolerate exercise, and that, combined with overfeeding, could lead to obesity.”
Fink also points out that pugs do not tolerate heat well, so they cannot be exercised outdoors as much as a dog with normal airways. “They were bred to be lapdogs,” she adds. Because of their builds and personalities, pugs generally don’t get enough exercise, but they get plenty of affection and treats, which can cause weight gain.
One of the reasons English bulldogs are often overweight is that many people believe they "have a certain look," explains Dr. Victor Oppenheimer, veterinary director at the Hospital de Animales Perla del Sur, located in Puerto Rico, and founder of the organization Vets for Strays, Inc. “People believe that these dogs look prettier, meaner, and stronger when they are overweight,” he says. “To get the dogs to look this way, people end up overfeeding them.”
Bulldogs are also among the brachycephalic or short-nosed breeds. “These dogs have a confirmation that can lead to significant upper airway issues causing an intolerance for exercise,” explains Dr. Rachel Barrack, DVM, an integrative veterinarian and certified veterinary Chinese herbalist of Animal Acupuncture. Because of their intolerance to regular exercise, bulldogs are generally more likely to be overweight than many other dog breeds.
Even though beagles are naturally active dogs, their metabolisms may be slower than other breeds and they have good appetites, says Fink. “They were bred for rabbit hunting and if allowed to roam freely and hunt would travel long distances and be much less likely to be overweight,” Fink explains.
But most Beagle owners do not take their pups on hunting trips and keep them in confined spaces during the day. If Beagles don’t get plenty of exercise and are fed large portion sizes or lots of treats, they are likely to gain weight.
These mellow, sweet dogs with eyes that are hard to resist often end up overweight because of their cuteness. After all, it's very hard to say “no” to a Golden Retriever. “For example, if the owners are having cheese and their dogs look at them, they will share these types of foods with their dogs,” says Oppenheimer, who warns against feeding dogs table scraps.
Retrievers are also very attached to their human family, so unless the family itself is active, they'd rather spend time hanging out in the living room with you. “Mellow breeds, such as Golden Retrievers, may seem very content on the couch but all dogs require some form of exercise daily for physical and mental well being,” says Barrack. “In breeds less inclined to physical exertion, I recommend ensuring they at least go for a 20-60 minute walk daily.”
According to Fink, Dachshunds are on the list of dog breeds who are predisposed to obesity. “They were bred to hunt badgers, foxes, rabbits and deer, which required a high energy level for running, barking, and digging,” says Fink. “Now we keep them as lapdogs who really have no work to do. “
It's no surprise that a breed that was designed to convert the food they ate into energy very efficiently has problems with obesity once they stop being active. “Dachshunds need a lot of exercise to compensate for the over-nutrition they are getting with today’s dog and people foods,” Fink says.
Basset Hounds weren't built for speed so you can't really expect them to burn too many calories when they do venture out. “Basset Hounds have short legs and are unlikely to be runners or overly exert themselves and therefore aren’t apt to be big exercisers,” says Barrack. If Basset Hound owners don’t pay attention to portion sizes, these dogs can pack on pounds fast.
Although some breeds are more likely to gain weight than others, veterinarians see obesity in every single breed.
The solution is pretty simple: To avoid weight gain, calories burned must be equal or greater than calories ingested, Barrack says. “Your veterinarian can help you work out the specific caloric requirements required for your dog’s individualized optimal health needs,” she explains. “For this reason, I advocate feeding both dogs and cats high quality, nutrient-rich balanced diets with appropriate calorie contents to support and maintain a healthy weight.”
And although sometimes sharing whatever you’re eating with your dog is tempting, it isn’t really in his or her best interest, Barrack points out. “People food is often too rich and seasoned and can wreak havoc on the canine digestive tract,” Barrack adds.