It is not unusual for our dogs to pile on a few extra pounds if their diet and exercise regime is not quite up to par. Weight issues and obesity are widespread and growing problems in our pets and something with which a large number of dog owners struggle. Being overweight increases the chances of a number of medical conditions developing with serious implications for a dog’s health, even life-threatening. These include osteoarthritis due to the extra pressure put on the joints, urinary stones, diabetes mellitus and heart disease. Being overweight impacts a dog’s quality of life, as it can interfere with their happiness and ability to lead a normal life. A few medical conditions can cause weight gain, so if there is no obvious reason for your dog’s weight to have increased, a trip to the vet to rule out these issues should occur before adjusting their lifestyle.
If your dog is normally fit and a good weight but suddenly has a distended, bloated stomach, this is a medical emergency and the dog should go to a vet immediately.
Signs and symptoms of weight gain in dogs
The most obvious sign of a dog gaining weight is the increase in their fat layers. Initially, the ribs become harder to feel, and the waist thickens when viewed from above until the dog is a straight line either side from ribs to hip joints. The abdominal tuck – the lift in the line of the stomach from behind the ribs to the front of the back leg – also disappears and becomes another straight line.
An overweight dog will have a lower tolerance for exercise. They will move much slower than when fit and healthy and get out of breath very easily.
They may sleep a lot more and could be a bit grouchy and bad tempered because of how the extra weight is making them feel.
If a collar is worn, it may become tight and need loosening.
What causes weight gain in dogs?
The most common reasons for weight gain are the same for dogs as for humans – too many calories in compared to calories out. The dog is eating too much or the wrong kinds of foods and not getting enough exercise to burn them off, leaving an excess to be stored as fat. Poor quality foods can be full of salts and fat, which may encourage the dog to eat more, but the nutritional content in the food is not good.
Some dogs find exercise difficult. Older dogs are generally less active and less mobile, and the short-nosed breeds like pugs and bulldogs can become short of breath very quickly meaning they may not be active enough.
Some breeds are more prone to gaining weight. Examples are dachshunds, beagles, golden retrievers, pugs and bulldogs.
Spayed or neutered dogs have a difference in their metabolism according to clinical studies, meaning that they require fewer calories.
Chronic medical conditions can sometimes cause weight gain and will need management in consultation with a vet. These include hypothyroidism and hyperadrenocorticism, better known as Cushing’s disease.
A sudden bloating of the stomach in a usually healthy dog could be GDV (gastric dilatation and volvulus) also known as bloat. This is an extreme emergency and requires immediate veterinary treatment
Weight gain in dogs treatment
Once any medical conditions have been either ruled out or brought under control, lifestyle changes can start being implemented, including an increased exercise programme and selecting a quality weight loss dog food. The best dog food for weight loss is one that is full of quality ingredients and nutritionally balanced. It is important that the dieting dog still receive all the vitamins and minerals that they need, even at lower levels of food going in. A number of pet food manufacturers include on their websites a dog feeding calculator by weight, and you can use this to find out how much your dog needs, both when at a fit weight and to lose weight steadily and safely. Excellent, highly digestible options in the Pure dog food range include Chicken Dinner and Turkey Terrific, both of which contain moderate protein levels and low fat (Turkey Terrific is just 8% fat).
An idea for dogs that eat quickly is to give their food in ways that slow them down and make them work a little harder for it. There are a number of commercially available feeding toys and sites that give advice on homemade enrichment toys that will make the speedy eater have to slow down and take longer over their food.
When it comes to weight control dog food is not the entire solution. Start your overweight dog on an increased exercise programme. Be careful not to overdo things at first, but start gently and increase the intensity as your dog starts to be visibly slimmer and fitter.
Other dog's stories
Discover more about the Pure fed family weight busters on the Success Stories page.