Is your dog overweight? If your answer isn’t an immediate NO, then chances are they are probably overweight. Even if your answer is no, you may be mistaken. According to a 2017 survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), a whopping 56% of dogs are currently considered overweight or obese. That’s over half of dogs in the US and the numbers are growing each year. Many pet owners are simply unaware that their pet is overweight. Your veterinarian can asses if your pet is overweight and help you determine an ideal body weight to aim for when formulating a weight loss plan for your dog. In addition to a consult with your veterinarian about your dog’s weight, below are a few ways to judge if your pet is overweight at home.
IN-HOME WEIGHT ASSESSMENT
- If you cannot feel your pet’s ribs easily
- If you cannot feel your pet’s pelvis (bones near their tail/hips)
- If you see rolls on your pets neck or side
- If your dog or cat looks oval or egg-shaped when standing over them and looking down
Veterinarians judge a pet’s weight by what is called a Body Condition Score (BCS). This is a number-based scale on which your pet’s body condition is assessed. Below are some excellent Body Condition Score charts put together by Royal Canin to help determine the Body Condition Score (BCS) of your pet and how overweight they are.
Photo Credit: Royal Canin Weight Management Programme
WHY IT MATTERS
So what’s the big deal? Being overweight can lead to a whole slew of medical conditions for your pet. Many owners think that their dog being a little overweight isn’t a big deal. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard dog owners try to play it off when we tell them their pet is overweight, “He’s cuter being a little pudgy” or “he is just a little big-boned like his mamma” they say. In the short term it may not be that big of a deal. However, most dogs that are overweight steadily increase in weight unless the owners take steps at home to address it, and many of them end up developing medical conditions secondary to their excess body weight.
HEALTH CONDITIONS CAUSED BY BEING OVERWEIGHT
- Orthopedic injuries
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Respiratory disease and difficulty breathing
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- And many more!!
WHY YOUR PET IS OVERWEIGHT
- Environmental Conditions:
- Overfeeding: Owner’s feeding too many calories to their dog. Contributing dietary factors include overfeeding dog food, table scraps, high-fat foods, number of meals, number of treats, and frequent variation in diet.
- Not enough exercise/activity: Indoor-only pets and sedimentary pets are at higher risk of obesity.
- Misconception of the canine body condition: Many pet owners do not realize that their pet is overweight and thus do not do anything to address their dog’s weight gain.
- ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS ARE THE NUMBER ONE CAUSE OF OVERWEIGHT DOGS!
- Age: As dogs age, especially when they reach the age of 5-7 years (variable between breeds) they tend to have a decreased daily activity which can lead to weight gain. In addition, there is a decrease in lean body mass (muscle) which causes there to be a decreased basal metabolic rate (how many calories are burned a day).
- Genetic predisposition:
- Certain breeds of dogs are more pre-disposed to becoming obese, so for owners with these breeds of dogs you will have to be even more diligent to help keep them from becoming overweight. These breeds include: Labrador retrievers, beagles, Basset hounds, Scottish terriers, Dachshunds, cocker spaniels, and rottweilers.
- Spaying/Neutering: Leads to a decrease in sex hormones which causes a lowered metabolism and a lowered activity level (especially in males). Also, the changes in the sex hormones can cause increased hunger.
- Phenobarbital (anti-seizure medication): Can decrease satiety leading to overeating
- Glucocorticoids (steroids): Can lead to abnormal fat deposition and weight gain
- Diabetes Mellitus
- Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s Disease)
Before you put your dog on a diet, if you are suspicious about any underlying medical conditions, check with your veterinarian first to help rule this out. A quick search can give you potential signs of the above medical conditions to help you determine if your dog might potentially have one of these conditions. Many owners get frustrated trying to get their dog’s weight down and give up when the reality was they were doing a great job with cutting calories and increasing exercise, but their dog had an underlying medical disorder keeping them from losing weight.
YOUR DOG’S WEIGHT LOSS PLAN
For weight loss to happen, you simply have to make one thing happen: Calories in are less than calories out. What does this mean? It means that your dog needs to be eating less calories (calories in) than the amount of calories they are burning a day (calories out). This can be accomplished two ways: Cut the amount of calories your pet is consuming OR Increase the amount of calories your pet is burning. For the best weight loss, combine BOTH a decrease in calories and an increase in exercise!
To figure out how many calories your dog needs, you first need to figure out their ideal body weight. Your veterinarian can give you a good idea of what your dog’s ideal weight should be. You can also use the Body Condition Score chart above to get an idea of how far your dog is from their ideal weight to let you help estimate it at home.
Weight loss formula for dogs:
- Take your dog’s ideal body weight in pounds and divide that by 2.2 to give your dog’s ideal weight in kilograms (kg)
- Calculate the Resting Energy Requirements (RER) based on your dog’s ideal weight:
- RER in kcal/day =
- 70 x [(ideal weight in kg)]^ 3⁄4 or 70 x [(ideal weight in kg) to the 3⁄4 power] OR
- 30(body weight in kilograms) + 70
- RER in kcal/day =
I recommend starting your weight loss program by feeding the RER for your pet’s ideal weight. If after 30-60 days your dog has not lost any weight, or if their weight loss plateau’s at any point, then calories will need to be decreased slowly every 4-8 weeks until they reach their ideal body weight.
Below is a chart to give you a rough idea of what your pet’s Resting Energy Requirement (RER) is based on their weight (for those of you that don’t like math!):
Ideally, you would want to aim for a 3-5% weight loss a month. Which equates to 1/3 to 1/2 pound per ten pounds of body weight a month (E.G.- A 50lb dog should aim for a 1.5 to 2.5 pounds of weight loss a month). Many owners feel bad cutting back on their dog’s food and end up guilting themselves into not sticking with their weight loss plan. If you are one of those owners, you can supplement low calorie foods such as vegetables to their food to make their bowl look fuller and give them more to munch on! Baby carrots, celery, broccoli, zucchini, and asparagus are all good low calorie vegetables that can be used!
In addition, weight loss diets typically have less calories per kibble so your dog will be able to have more food in their bowl and the same amount of calories than they would with a regular dog food. Either cutting back the amount they are eating of their current food or swapping to a lower calorie food will work. Once again, the goal is to decrease the overall calories consumed!
INCREASE THE AMOUNT OF CALORIES YOUR DOG BURNS
How do you increase the amount of calories your dog is burning? It’s simple, your dog needs to become more active and exercise more!
Going for long walks or runs, throwing balls or frisbees, swimming, hiking in the woods, and running around playing with other dogs at the dog park are great ways to get your dog to burn more calories! Don’t go too crazy at first. You wouldn’t go out and try to run a marathon you haven’t prepared for, so don’t try to force your pet to do the same! I typically recommend slowly increasing the amount of exercise your pet does every week. If you normally walk your dog 5 blocks a day, start with increasing it to 6 blocks the first week, 7 blocks the second week, etc. An even better strategy is if you normally walk 5 blocks, start jogging 5 blocks. Dogs were built to run. While walking is great exercise, running will burn more calories, help keep their heart and cardiovascular system healthy, and help them build and maintain muscle much better than walking will.
If your pet is really resistant to exercising, sometimes you have to get creative. I have a client who fills her dogs food bowl up and makes laps around her house while her dog chases her trying to get to his food! If your dog is a grazer and eats slowly throughout the day, move their food bowl as far from their dog bed or couch as possible so that they are having to burn more calories every time they go to get a bite of food! The more your pet is moving, the more calories they will burn!
Over half the dogs in the United States are overweight or obese. Your pet being overweight can be due to an underlying medical condition, but most often it is due to them getting fed too much food, treats, and table scraps combined with not enough exercise. Overweight and obese pets are prone to many health conditions that can shorten the length and quality of your pet’s life. If your dog is overweight, today is the day to start formulating a weight loss plan to get your pup back to a healthy weight!
Spencer Mills, DVM
Dr. Mills is a veterinarian and avid dog lover who is dedicated to helping further educate pet owners on all things health related for their four-legged companions. In addition to practicing in his local vet clinic, Dr. Mills has a mobile house call veterinary business, works with numerous local shelters and rescue organizations, and is in the process of opening an emergency veterinary clinic giving him a wide array of experience in the veterinary field.