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Obesity in Dogs: Canine Weight Management and Obesity Prevention

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Canine obesity is one of the fastest growing health problems seen in dogs today. As with people, obesity can lead to a variety of diseases, disorders and other complications in dogs. In a 2008 study, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimated that 44% of U.S. dogs were overweight or obese. That's approximately 33 million dogs in the U.S. alone. Needless to say, something must be done. You can start with your own dog. Learn how to manage your dog's weight, start a weight loss plan for your dog, and prevent weight gain in the first place.

Causes of Canine Obesity:

There are many reasons a dog can become overweight. The obvious culprits are improper diet and lack of sufficient exercise. A dog recovering from an illness or injury is usually required to remain sedentary and is therefore at risk for weight gain. It is also important to know that weight gain may actually be a symptom of some hormonal disorders, such as hypothyroidism or Cushing's syndrome. Finally, genetic predisposition is a big factor. Certain dog breeds are simply more prone to obesity than others, such as English Bulldogs, Beagles, Dachshunds, Pugs, Dalmatians and Cocker Spaniels - just to name just a few.

Health Risks of Obesity in Dogs:

Canine obesity is dangerous because it can lead to a great number of health problems. It may also adversely affect an existing health issue. The following diseases and disorders may be caused or exacerbated by obesity:
  • Cardiac disease
  • Diabetes Mellitus
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Orthopedic injuries (such as cruciate ligament rupture or patellar luxation)
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Respiratory disorders
  • Various forms of cancer

Determining if Your Dog is Overweight:

You can often see the telltale signs of obesity in a dog, but sometimes it sneaks up on you. Gradual weight gain is not as noticeable when you see your dog on a daily basis. A friend or family member who is not often around your dog may notice a weight change. Other warning signs are exercise intolerance and apparent laziness. These could indicate a weight problem or other health issue. In any event, it is best to visit your vet if anything seems amiss. Also, be sure your dog goes to the vet for a wellness exam every 6-12 months. This is the best way for your vet to detect changes before there is a serious problem.

Assessing Your Dog's Weight:

There are some basic things you can do at home to evaluate your dog's weight. Contact your vet if you suspect a problem.
  1. Running your hands along your dog's ribcage, you should be able to palpate the ribs covered by a thin layer of fat. Inability to feel the ribs is a sign of an overweight dog.
  2. Looking at your dog from the side, you should be able to see the upward tuck of the abdomen. An overweight dog will have very little or no tuck.
  3. Viewing your dog from above, there should be a moderate narrowing at the waist just past the ribcage. A straight or bulging line from the ribcage to the hips indicates an overweight dog.

Managing Your Dog's Weight:

If your dog needs to lose weight, or you just want to maintain his healthy weight, work with your vet to develop a weight management program. That program will consist mainly of a structured diet and an exercise plan. In addition, your vet will help you set up goals and schedule times for quick check-ups to monitor your dog's progress. It will be helpful to weigh your dog on a regular basis. Do this ideally every week or two. If you do not have the right scale at home, you can just stop by your vet's office for this. Many vet clinics have a scale in the lobby, so you can just run in and check the weight, free of charge.

NEXT: Canine Weight Loss Tips

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