dog in obesity

Obesity in Dogs – Causes, Risks, Treatments

Did you know, according to VCA, that 25 to 30% of dogs in the United States are considered obese? In addition, 40 to 45% between the ages of 5 and 11 weigh more than they should, essentially boarding the obese line. As you can see, obesity in dogs is not a very uncommon thing in society, and that is an unfortunate reality. However, though it is very prevalent, obesity is not a permanent thing. In fact, with the right vet supported treatment plans, dogs can get back to a healthy weight that allows them to live a much better quality of life.

If you suspect your dog is obese, or on the verge of becoming obese, then knowing the next steps to take is vital to their wellbeing. For guidance on this matter, here are some facts regarding obesity in dogs, what to expect, and what you can do next to help them out of this adverse circumstance they have fallen into. 

Potential Risks to Keep in Mind

One of the most highlighted risks of obese dogs is the reduction in their lifespan. Obesity, just like humans and in other pets like cats, can shorten a dog’s life duration and the reason is because this condition is a catalyst for other health concerns, including:

  • Various types of dog cancers, ranging from fully treatable to incurable;
  • Diabetes;
  • Mellitus;
  • Heart disease;
  • Osteoarthritis;
  • Hypertension; and
  • Bladder stones.

In more severe cases, obesity in dogs can even contribute to what is called a tracheal collapse as well as paralysis. 

Common Causes of Obesity in Dogs

Just like most cases of obesity, the most common underlying cause is due to poor diet and lack of exercise. Dogs require movement and getting their heart rate up each day to maintain good physical health. However, they cannot outrun a bad diet. So even if you are walking your dog each day, they can very well still be obese if they are overeating. For example, maybe you feed them dinner each night, but then allow them to eat your scraps as well. Though it may seem harmless, if you are not careful, those extra calories will add up.

Alternatively, if your dog has a medical condition that debilitates them from activities, such as arthritis, that could be the culprit too. In this scenario, even if they are eating a balanced diet, their metabolism is lowered due to a lack of movement. This ultimately results in weight gain if you have not reduced their food intake accordingly. 

Something else to consider here is that diet and exercise may potentially not be the driving factors at all. Sometimes obesity is a key indicator that your dog is suffering from another disease, such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s Disease. Because there are so many elements that could be causing your dog to be obese, it is crucial that you take them to the vet for a professional evaluation before altering their diet or upping their exercise routine.

How Obesity in Dogs if Diagnosed

The very first step in diagnosing your dog with obesity is recognizing that there is an issue in the first place that requires vet attention.  Knowing for sure can be a challenge if you are unsure what to look for, but a vet will be able to determine with a physical exam if they are obese or not. If the verdict comes back that your dog is high on the scoring system (1-5 with 3 being normal or 1-9 with 5 being normal), then the next step would be to rule out the rooted cause, such as diet, exercise, or a medical condition. They will do this by asking you dietary and physical fitness-related questions, and perhaps collect blood work to make the final diagnoses.

Upon receiving the final results, your vet will then work with you on the proper treatment plan to help your dog get back to the appropriate weight for its age, sex, and breed.

Treatment Options

The treatment that your vet will help you come up with is solely dictated on what the diagnosis comes back as. If diet and exercise-related, they will help you implement a healthier diet plan along with a custom fitness routine to stick to that will get your dog back on the right track. Once your dog reaches their ideal weight, your vet will then offer guidance on how to maintain that weight long term.

Suppose the diagnosis does show that there is a medical reason why your dog is obese, such as a thyroid issue. In that case, your vet will then take the necessary steps to prescribe medication(s) and may require continuous monitoring to ensure they adapt well to it.

Reminder: Your vet will go over this with you as well, but it is essential to never shock your dog with any drastic fitness or diet changes. Ease into the new plan and allow them to adjust. This will give them a more leisurely time altering their lifestyle and avoid any risk of malnutrition.


It is not easy to hear that so many dogs are obese in society today. It is even more alarming when your own dog is part of that all too common statistic. But before jumping to any diet changes or adding extra walks with them during the day, make sure to talk to your vet first and nail down what is going on. Remember, the first step to solving a problem is knowing why there is a problem in the first place. So, do your due diligence, schedule an appointment if you suspect your dog is obese, and get them the best support that will surely reverse the damage, reduce the risks, and give your dog a wonderful, healthy life.