Why you should help an overweight dog lose weight
Obesity in dogs is a real issue in both Australia and New Zealand. In fact recent surveys of Australian vets found that almost a third of cats and dogs are carrying more weight than is healthy for them. There are plenty of challenges when it comes to weight management in dogs.
A number of studies have shown that overweight dogs are more likely to stress about food and will probably spend a lot of time begging or pestering you for something to eat. They are also more likely to have reduced mobility and a decreased fitness level that makes them less willing and able to exercise. Despite all of these challenges, weight loss for dogs (when it is properly managed in consultation with a vet) can have an amazing effect on their health, personality and quality of life.
The physical effects of obesity in dogs
When a dog is carrying excessive weight, that weight puts extra stress on their body that can limit their mobility. This can show increase the chance of orthopaedic problems such as osteoarthritis, hip dysplasia and cruciate ligament rupture. This excess fat can also increase the likelihood of heatstroke, upper airway issues and heart disease. There is also evidence that obesity in dogs can impact their immune system, and in a couple of studies, canine obesity has also been shown to be a risk factor for more worrying issues such as bladder stones and even certain cancers.
The behavioural effects of obesity in dogs
Ironically, one of the big effects of a dog carrying excessive weight, is that they are more likely to seem hungry and beg for food. They are also more likely to steal food, seem anxious, be irritable, and less willing to play. Unfortunately this becomes a vicious cycle for many dogs, as the more they eat, the more overweight they become, and this leads to further begging and behavioural changes – and so the cycle continues.
Improved quality of life
In 2012, ROYAL CANIN® funded research into the quality of life of dogs, looking at the difference between the life of an obese dog, and that same dog after they have successfully lost weight. Thirty dogs completed the study and showed an improved level of vitality, as well as a decrease in pain and emotional disturbance.
Dogs that successfully completed the study had less issues with sore joints and stiffness, became more active and playful, and began to enjoy exercise more. Their emotional wellbeing improved as well, with their owners describing them as more able to enjoy life, less irritable and aggressive, and more interested in other animals and people.
Is your dog overweight?
If you are not sure whether your dog is overweight, have a look at our article How can I tell if my pet is overweight? It shows you how to conduct a simple physical and visual examination of your dog called a Body Condition Score test. The results of this test will give you a basic idea about whether your dog is carrying more weight than is good for them. There is also a short video about the Dog Body Condition Score that helps explain how the test works and a Body Condition Score Triage Tool on our website to help guide you through the test.
How can I help my dog lose weight?
If you suspect your dog is carrying more weight than they should be, the best thing to do is to talk to your vet or vet nurse at your dog’s next check up. They can help you confirm whether your dog has a weight issue and help you develop a tailored weight management program for them that will most likely be a mixture of dietary change, behavioural change and increased exercise. You can find some great exercise tips in our article Giving your pet enough exercise. If you’re looking for guidance on dietary change, check out our article on What is the best diet for an overweight dog.
 McGreevy, P.D. et al, Prevalence of obesity in dogs examined by Australian veterinary practices and the risk factors involved, Veterinary Record 2005; 156:695-702 doi:10.1136/vr.156.22.695
Deagle, G et al,  Long-term follow-up after weight management in obese cats. Journal of Nutritional Science 3, e25 doi:10.1017/jns.2014.36
 German, A.J., The growing problem of obesity in dogs and cats, The Journal of Nutrition, 2006, 1940s-1946s
 German, A.J. et al, Quality of life is reduced in obese dogs but improves after successful weight loss, The Veterinary Journal, Vol 192, Issue 3, pp428-434