Dog Obesity: Causes & How To Tell If Your Dog Is Overweight

October 9th is National Pet Obesity Awareness Day, but obesity is a health problem for dogs all year long.

Obesity in dogs is almost as common as obesity in humans. In fact, experts say an estimated 56 percent of dogs are overweight or obese in the United States.

The health consequences of these extra pounds are just as serious, too: overweight dogs put greater stress on their joints, hearts, lungs, liver, and kidneys. They’re more prone to injury, and are at a higher risk during surgery.

And it probably doesn’t feel good to them, either. Obese dogs don’t have the energy or the natural curiosity and playfulness that fit dogs do. Although dogs can’t decide to go on a diet or exercise more, they definitely appreciate life a whole lot more when they’re trim and ready for action.

Here’s what you should know about obesity in dogs.

Causes Of Dog Obesity

owner and his dog is eating a burger

(Picture Credit: 101cats/Getty Images)

Some dogs have physiological reasons for obesity, but weight problems are mostly the result of two factors: too much food and not enough exercise.

  • Overeating for a dog is a matter of overfeeding–overly generous portions, between-meals snacks, and table scraps. Sometimes the owner mistakenly believes that a dog needs access to food 24 hours a day, or that dogs only ‘ask’ for more food when they’re truly hungry. Not true. Dogs are natural scavengers, and if they learn that a certain look will yield more food, they’ll ask for it over and over, whether they’re hungry or not.
  • Lack of exercise–it’s the same problem we humans have. Dogs generally confined indoors or in yards don’t get the exercise they need–and no, dogs won’t ‘automatically’ exercise any more than humans. They’re just as lazy as we are. Fence-running and playing isn’t enough. If the dog isn’t exercising, there will be slow but steady weight gain, leading to obesity in middle age.

However, there are other reasons a dog may gain weight, including:

  • Spaying or neutering lowers dogs’ metabolism, but it’s rare that dogs gain a lot of weight solely because of that. What does happen: feeding and exercise plans don’t change with the age or condition of the dog. What’s fine for an active puppy is too fattening for an adult. It’s entirely controllable. A fixed dog doesn’t automatically equal an overweight dog.
  • Hormonal disorders such as an under-active thyroid gland, or hypothyroidism, can cause weight problems. A dog’s adrenal glands may produce too much of a hormone called cortisol, causing Cushing’s disease. Dogs with Cushing’s disease don’t actually gain weight, but their fat is re-distributed to the abdomen, making them look pot-bellied.
  • Slowing metabolism happens in middle age. Research shows that middle-aged spread in dogs begins around age five or six, so if your dog is already overweight by then, the problem will probably get worse.
  • Breed plays a role. If your dog is mixed-breed or purebred Beagle, Cocker Spaniel, Collie, Sheltie, Basset Hound, Dachshund, Lab, or Golden Retriever, beware.

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