Obesity is one of the most common and preventable conditions seen in dogs. According to a study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, in 2018, 50 million dogs in the United States were overweight or obese. That is over half of the U.S. dog population! Obesity can affect almost every organ system because fat tissue secretes inflammatory hormones and adds significant stress to the body.

Obesity can cause arthritis or joint degeneration, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, as well as put our dogs at an increased risk for many cancers. A lifetime study of a large group of Labrador retrievers showed that being moderately overweight reduced their lifespan by up to two years! 

So what can we do as pet parents to ensure our dogs are living the healthiest lifestyle?

Set your dog up for success from puppyhood! At your dog’s very first check-up, it is important to discuss a nutrition plan with your veterinarian. Selecting a dog food can be an overwhelming process, so trust your veterinarian to help you make the best selection for your dog. At each check-up, be sure to discuss your dog’s weight and current diet so that your veterinarian can help to ensure that your dog’s weight is on track or make any necessary adjustments as your dog ages. 

We all love to spoil our dogs with treats, but did you know that treats should make up no more than 10% of your dog’s daily caloric intake? Selecting a low-calorie treat can be very helpful, such as fresh or frozen vegetables or plain, air-popped popcorn. You can also take a small portion of kibble from your dog’s meal to use throughout the day as treats!

How do I know if my dog is overweight?

Your veterinarian uses a body condition scoring chart similar to the one below. You can use this chart at home to help determine whether your dog is at a healthy weight.  

If you believe your dog is overweight, it is recommended to work closely with your veterinarian to determine the safest way to help your dog lose weight effectively. Eliminating extras like treats or table scraps and adding more exercise can be extremely helpful. However, making adjustments to your dog’s main diet without first consulting with your veterinarian may result in malnutrition.

In cases where safely reducing your dog’s current diet is not possible, your veterinarian may recommend a prescription weight loss diet. This will help to reduce the number of calories being fed while still meeting all of your dog’s nutritional needs. 

Regular weigh-ins are extremely important during a weight loss program. It is typically recommended to weigh your dog every two to four weeks to ensure your dog is losing weight appropriately. Once your dog has achieved his or her goal weight, your veterinarian will help you to make a long-term diet plan.