According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, nearly half of American pet cats and dogs are overweight or obese. This can cause stress on your pet’s body, exacerbate other health issues like heart disease and arthritis, and can end up taking years off your pet’s life.
Learn the top nine reasons why your dog might be overweight, and how to treat your dog’s obesity.
But first, be sure their pudgy belly really is weight gain:
Two Causes of Distended abdomen
Sometimes we think our pet has gained fat, but there are other possible reasons for a distended look to their belly.
If you suspect your pet is suffering from bloat, seek medical attention right away. Bloat is the main symptom of gastric torsion: a potentially deadly condition that occurs when the stomach fills with air, liquid, or food. In cases of gastric torsion, the stomach rotates which can result in cutting off blood flow and oxygen to the stomach, and eventually the heart if left untreated. Other causes of bloat or a distended abdomen are an enlarged heart or multicentric lymphoma.
Another possible reason for a distended abdomen is pregnancy! This will obviously mean a whole different set of vet visits and lifestyle changes for your and your pet. Call your vet right away if your dog is showing any of the symptoms of pregnancy and set up an appointment.
And now, the top nine reasons for an overweight dog!
1. Too much food
Captain Obvious didn’t write this post, I swear! There are ways your dog could be eating too much without your knowing it, especially if your dog is given treats or people food by other members of the household. A good way to keep track of your dog’s consumption of treats or people food is to put a mark on a white board or calendar when a treat was given so that all members of the household can keep track.
2. Not enough exercise
The second most obvious reason: your dog is a little too sedentary. However, there may be a twist to the exercise equation. Just like people, dogs adapt to exercise routines, which may render them less effective over time. If your dog is already taking walks every day, shake up the routine by adding 5 or 10 minutes of higher-intensity activity, like a rousing game of fetch.
Around 4 to 6 years of age, dogs with hypothyroidism often begin to display classic symptoms of the disease, which include weight gain, excessive shedding, and lethargy. If you suspect your dog may suffer from hypothyroidism, take them to see the vet right away for treatment.
Just like people, as dogs age they lose muscle mass over time, known as sarcopenia. A loss of muscle mass is associated with a slower metabolism, which leads to fat gain. Higher protein diets have been shown to help slow or delay the loss of muscle. Make sure your dog stays healthy and active in old age, and take your dog to the vet if they slow down so much that you fear their quality of life is suffering – your vet can see if there are ways to put a spring back in your dog’s step.
5. Dog food that’s too high in carbohydrates
Ironically, some dog foods marketed for overweight or senior dogs may contribute to weight gain. If the calorie count of the dog food is lowered by removing fat or protein and adding carbohydrates, this will stimulate insulin production, which causes higher body fat and an increased appetite. Instead, look for a food that’s higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates to keep your dog full and lean.
6. Cushing's disease, or hyperadrenocorticism
Cushing’s disease, most commonly found in dogs 6 years or older, occurs when a dog’s adrenal glands overproduce the hormone cortisol. Some symptoms of Cushing’s disease, like a dull coat, weight gain, lethargy and a stiff walk, can be confused with the natural aging process, so it’s important to get your dog tested.
Osteoarthritis, or degenerative arthritis, is the most common form of arthritis in dogs and it’s caused by the cartilage in their joints wearing down. Osteoarthritis frequently causes hip pain. The more overweight your dog is, the greater the strain placed on their joints. Unfortunately, the pain caused by osteoarthritis makes it harder for your dog to exercise, and will make it more likely that your dog will gain weight from the condition. Talk to your vet about osteoarthritis treatment, which might include physical therapy and pain medication.
8. Hip dysplasia
Symptoms of hip dysplasia include limping and having difficulty climbing stairs or hopping up into a car. Your dog may also show signs of pain when the hip is touched, and lick or chew at the hip area. If you notice these symptoms, or if your dog begins to have trouble performing other routine activities, then a vet visit is recommended. Inactivity due to hip pain may cause weight gain, which will only make the pain from hip dysplasia worse. Your vet might recommend pain-relief medication, massage therapy, or even surgery in some more severe cases.
Some breeds are simply more likely to become overweight than others. Here are seven breeds that are prone to obesity. The reasons can vary, from having a very high exercise requirement that pet parents don’t tend to meet, or being a typically sedentary dog who needs more encouragement to exercise, to being a greedy, eats-anything dog!
If you think your dog could stand to trim down, a visit with your vet to explore potential causes and solutions can help prevent adverse health conditions that result from an overweight pet.
More on Dog Health
5 Ways Dog Neutering Makes Your Pet Healther
Is Your Dog Shaking? 3 Health Issues That Could Be The Cause
The Ever-Important Dog Physical Exam