Experts estimate that almost every second adult dog in Germany is now too fat. Many dog owners do not even notice that their dog is too thick or think that being overweight is a blemish. From a medical point of view, however, obesity is an independent and severe illness.
When is a dog considered overweight?
At the latest, when a dog is 10% above its ideal weight, it is overweight. In the case of a small dog with a perfect weight of 10 kg, an additional kilo is enough for obesity.
The difficulty, however, is knowing what the dog’s ideal weight would be. Unlike humans, there is no objective formula for dogs like the Body Mass Index, which can be used to calculate the perfect weight if size and gender are known. A large number of dog breeds with sometimes streamlined, sometimes massive physique prohibits such a calculation.
You can only help yourself by scanning the dog and determining its so-called Body Condition Score (BCS).
Roughly speaking, a dog whose ribs can be felt under loosely laid hands (but not seen from afar) and who has a definite waist when viewed from above has a BCS of 3/5 and is therefore ideally weighted.
You can read more about the Body Condition Score in our Nutritional Information section under “Is my dog too fat?”.
Anyone who still knows how much their dog weighed at the end of the growth phase can usually assume this value as the ideal weight.
Medium-sized dogs are fully grown at around twelve months, tiny breeds as early as ten months, while giant breeds sometimes take 18 months or even longer to reach their final size.
What is obesity?
Obesity is a medical term for obesity. Some experts already describe 10% overweight as beginning obesity and dogs with 15% weight too much on their ribs as obese; others only draw the line between overweight and obesity with a 20% weight increase.
Obesity is considered an independent disease and also increases the risk of numerous other conditions.
What causes obesity in dogs?
The answer to this question seems trivial: if a dog consumes more energy than he consumes, the excess energy is stored in the form of fat, and the dog becomes fat.
Obesity has a variety of very complex causes. Both organic and behavioural and environmental factors play a role.
Which organic factors favour obesity?
Similar to humans, there are also individuals in dogs who apparently only need to look at the food and already have a few grams more on their hips, while others fill their bellies and remain thin. Are the genes responsible for this? Apparently, yes, with some dog breeds. They have a genetically lower energy requirement and therefore have to consume fewer calories per day than other kinds. At the same time, however, many of these dogs seem to have an ongoing appetite and develop into the right vacuum cleaners.
Breeds with a tendency to be overweight include, for example:
Age also plays a role in the development of obesity. On the one hand, older animals generally move less; on the other hand, their metabolic rate changes, so that their energy requirements decrease. Puppies that absorb too much energy during the growth phase do not initially get fat, but grow faster, but tend to be overweight as adult dogs.
Castration increases the risk of being overweight because castrated dogs tend to eat more than uncastrated animals and, at the same time, become calmer, so they use less energy. Therefore, your dog should be switched to a low-calorie feed for castrated dogs immediately after castration (see “What food is suitable after castration?”).
Since hormones influence the energy consumption of the organism, various hormonal diseases also lead to obesity, for example:
An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
Hyperfunction of the adrenal gland (Cushing’s disease)
Malfunctions of the sex glands
Conditions through which the dog moves less lead to a lower energy requirement and, therefore, easier to obesity. For example:
Joint disorders such as hip dysplasia, arthrosis, etc.
Some diseases pretend to be overweight because they lead to water retention. A veterinarian should also exclude this.
Certain medications lower energy requirements or increase appetite and can also be involved in the development of obesity when administered over a more extended period. For example, cortisone preparations, progesterone preparations (for example, to suppress heat), or certain antispasmodic drugs are suitable. Therefore, long-term administration of such medications should possibly be switched to a portion of low-calorie dog food.
Which behavioural aspects favour obesity?
Some facets of normal dog behaviour make our four-legged friends susceptible to obesity: On the one hand, dogs as well as their ancestors, the wolves, are calibrated to fill their bellies as soon as they have the opportunity – who knows when there will be something again. On the other hand, food intake plays an important social role for our dogs. They broadly define their status in the dog or family pack as to what they get to eat and when. Together with our tendency to spoil the beloved four-legged friend with delicacies, this often results in a fatal combination that, in addition to being overweight, also promotes behavioural problems.
Real behaviour problems or behaviour disorders are also important causes of obesity. In any case, they must be examined by a veterinarian and, if available, treated by a specialist in veterinary behavioural therapy. Obesity can e.g., are triggered by:
Developmental disorders such as pathological eating behaviour or a disturbing feeling of satiety
Indirectly, behavioural problems can lead to obesity because e.g., uncontrollable or aggressive dogs can enjoy less freedom of movement and therefore have a lower energy requirement.
What external factors promote obesity?
Since our dogs are entirely dependent on us and our lifestyle, the most important external factor is apparent: the dog owner.
Whether you live in the city or the country, like to move with your dog in nature or not, like to play with him, have a lot of time for your four-legged friend or somehow have to squeeze the dog round into the daily routine … how much exercise your dog gets and thus how much energy he needs.
Whether you are ready to invest money in balanced dog food, like to feed snacks frequently, acquire knowledge about appropriate dog feeding and dog training, or not … has an impact on how many calories your dog consumes every day.
Sometimes, however, other “external factors” —— for example, the shape of the neighbours — are also essential in the formation of bacon pads in your dog. Therefore, of course, these factors must also be included in a diet.
Which feeds promote the development of overweight?
Who does not know that: “Actually, I am already full, but it tastes so delicious …” Particularly tasty foods tempt us to continue eating even though our stomach is full, and we eat a lot, especially when we keep eating new delicacies are presented. Our dogs feel the same way, and just as we like them, they like high-fat calorie bombs.
Dog food and snacks, which our dogs find particularly tasty, are the ones that make you fat particularly quickly and of which they eat more than necessary.
Frequent switching between different types of dog food or snacks promotes obesity because we always offer the dog new taste stimuli, and it eats more.
What are the consequences of being overweight for the dog?
In overweight and obese dogs, the percentage of body fat increases from 10-20% to up to 40%. Fat storage cells are filled to the brim with storage fat, and new fat cells are created to absorb the excess. Fat stores form in the subcutaneous tissue of the trunk, in the chest and abdominal cavity, and even in the connective tissue that runs through the internal organs, which can impair their function.
The fat cells don’t just store fat, and they regulate the dog’s metabolism by releasing hormones and other regulatory factors.
If the body fat percentage rises above the reasonable value, the metabolic balance shifts, the fat cells, and other tissue cells change their way of working, and hormonal imbalances arise. As a result, overweight dogs develop insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes, also known as adult diabetes in humans. In these dogs, the blood sugar level and the insulin level are increased because the peripheral tissues respond poorly to insulin, and as a result, the sugar gets worse from the blood into the cells, which it uses as fuel.
Inflammatory messenger substances and other regulatory factors are released in the belly fat of overweight dogs, which may also contribute to the complications of obesity, in particular to the development of arthrosis (osteoarthritis).
It has been scientifically proven, for example, that obese dogs suffer more frequently from the following diseases:
Joint wear (arthrosis or osteoarthritis)
Incontinence in castrated bitches
Skin disorders (dermatitis)
Because obesity puts a strain on the circulation and changes the distribution or breakdown of anaesthetic medication, overweight dogs have an increased risk of anaesthesia.
Disturbing adipose tissue can complicate surgical procedures, and wound healing disorders occur more frequently, which increases the overall risk of surgical interventions.
For many dog owners, these consequences are as abstract as the consequences of smoking: they are often suppressed as long as they have not yet occurred.
But there is another scientifically proven complication of obesity, which is not only a problem in the long run but already today: Obesity reduces the joy of life of affected dogs! For example, they are significantly less agile and take less part in their environment (more information in the blog entry, “Losing weight makes dogs happier”).
Last but not least, being overweight shortens life expectancy. Compared to dogs that are lean throughout their lives, overweight dogs die an average of two years earlier.
How can the dog get rid of the excess weight best?
Since obesity is caused by an imbalance between energy intake and energy consumption, we have two options to address the problem:
We feed our dog fewer calories.
We increase our dog’s energy consumption through more exercise.
Both measures are equally important! Every sensible diet plan also includes a suitable exercise program.
Since many overweight dogs have other health problems (e.g., on the joints), you should have your dog checked thoroughly by your veterinarian before starting the diet and put together both the diet plan and the exercise program along with your veterinarian.
Still, putting your dog on a diet is a real challenge for most dog owners.