We get questions all the time from dog parents who are worried about their dog's weight. Whether you've noticed weight gain with COVID, the winter, change in diet or change in exercise patterns, weight gain is not just an aesthetic problem. Unfortunately even moderate weight gain in adult dogs has been linked to shorter life expectancy (by 6-24mo) and many expensive and scary health issues (from arthritis to cancer).

It's a scary subject, and managing our dog's weight is one of the most common anxieties we juggle as dog owners. It may be helpful to hear that you're not alone - about 30% of the general US dog population is obese, and 50% of dogs aged 5-11 yrs old are overweight, according to licensed vets Krista Williams and Robin Downing (DVM, CVPP, CCRP, DAAPM).

Here's what the experts say:

What are the risks with obesity?

Obesity shortens a dog’s life and makes them more likely to develop disease. It was always accepted that heavy dogs lived a shorter lifespan than lean dogs, usually by 6-12 months.

A large, lifetime study of Labrador Retrievers has found that being even moderately overweight can reduce a dog's life expectancy by nearly two years compared to their leaner counterparts. This is an extremely upsetting danger of those extra lbs.

Previously, fat was considered to be relatively inactive tissue, simply storing excess energy calories and adding to body mass. However, scientific evidence now reveals that fat tissue is biologically active. It secretes inflammatory hormones and creates oxidative stress on the body’s tissue, both of which contribute to many diseases. Thinking of obesity as a chronic, low-level inflammatory condition is a new approach.
"Excess fat negatively impacts a dog’s health and longevity."

Overweight dogs develop an increased risk for:

  • many types of cancer, diabetes mellitus, heart disease, and hypertension
  • osteoarthritis and a faster degeneration of affected joints
  • urinary bladder stones
  • anesthetic complications as they are less heat tolerant

On the other hand, obesity may be an indicator of disease, such as hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland) or Cushing’s disease (overactive adrenal glands).

What Causes Weight Gain in Dogs?

Your dog may be gaining weight for a number of reasons. A few of them are outlined below.

1. Age: As dogs get older, they're more susceptible to weight gain.

2. Breed or genetics: Some breeds have lower energy needs or may be more genetically predisposed to higher weights. Accepted official breed standards may contribute to the obesity epidemic too; a European study found that nearly 1 out of 5 show dogs had a BCS over 5.

3. Overfeeding:  Portion control is essential here - you can determine how many calories your dog needs using the Maev Quiz, and no matter what food you're feeding, be sure to check the 'feeding instructions' (required on the label by the AAFCO) to measure out the right portions.

4. Feeding the wrong food: Calorie and carb dense dry foods are low in absorbable or digestible nutrients, and heavy in high glycemic index carbohydrates. Not only do those foods do damage on your dog's digestive track, they also make her more susceptible for weight gain. Commercial treats are also a big culprit. Its hard to distinguish between begging and hunger, but over-feeding treats (not designed to be nutritious or low-carb) leads to overfeeding.

4. Lack of exercise: It's just as important for dogs to get moving daily as it is for humans. Dogs who get less exercise should eat fewer calories than active dogs.

Some breeds are prone to obesity, is yours at risk?

Overweight Dogs: Blame the Breed

Some breeds are prone to obesity, while others (Greyhounds, German Shepherds, Yorkshire Terriers) more naturally tend to maintain a slim weight. If your breed is listed here, it's something to take seriously – think of diet as a preventative measure against this pre-disposed risk.

Small breeds:

  • Cairn Terriers
  • Dachshunds
  • Scottish Terriers
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

Medium breeds:

  • Beagles
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Basset Hounds

Large breeds:

  • Labs
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Rottweilers

Giant breeds:

  • Bernese Mountain Dogs
  • Newfoundlands
  • Saint Bernards