Obesity in Dogs: Veterinarians Talk About The Biggest Toll Our Dogs Pay For Obesity

Do you think that obesity in dogs is a problem? 56 percent of American dogs are obese! That is more than every other dog.

When our vet saw three dogs in a row who were at an ideal weight, he was so excited he had to blog about it! To complement the campaign, I asked my veterinary friends what they consider the biggest toll our dogs pay for obesity.

Obesity in Dogs: Veterinarians Talk About The Biggest Toll Our Dogs Pay For Obesity
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Dr. Daniel Beatty, DVM,
Dog Kinetics
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The biggest toll that dogs pay for obesity is their life.

Obese dogs suffer similar fates as humans, with a higher prevalence of diseases such as diabetes and arthritis.

Many of my patients suffer from arthritis and other joint dysfunction. So I am constantly telling my clients that weight loss is vital to the comfort of their dogs. Less weight equals less stress on the joints. For a dog with joint dysfunction, that means a better quality of life.

One study of the influence of lifetime food restriction on the development of osteoarthritis in the canine elbow of a group of Labradors had interesting results on life span as well. 25% reduction in calories resulted in a 1.8-year extension in the median lifespan of that group of dogs.

So yes, dogs pay a toll, and it is with their life! Considering Labradors median age is only 12, 2 years is a huge increase in life for them.

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Dr. Nancy Kay, DVM,
Speaking for Spot
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Far and away the biggest problem exacerbated by obesity in larger breed dogs is arthritis.

In fact, if an overweight dog is having issues with arthritis, weight loss is on the top of my list of recommendations above any medications, supplements, or acupuncture.

In smaller breeds, obesity tends to intensify issues with hormonal imbalances and heart disease.

In the smoosh-faced breeds of dogs, being overweight can put them over the top in terms of respiratory difficulties. It’s one thing to supply enough oxygen through tiny nostrils and tracheas for a 10-pound critter. Add another five pounds of fat, and the effort to oxygenate becomes all the more pronounced.

Dr. Shawn M. Finch, DVM, Riley & James 
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The biggest toll our dogs pay for obesity is the day-to-day difficulties in routine activity that increased weight causes. 

Things that should be fun or at least easy like climbing stairs, taking a walk, or playing ball take more effort. They are often reluctant to do physical activities they love because things make them tired and winded and may make their joints ache.

One of the most rewarding aspects of helping a patient (dog, cat, guinea pig…) lose weight is seeing them get that spark back. Even before they reach their ideal weight, they feel healthier and lighter and start wanting to do the things they love more often, which is only more motivating for them and their parents to continue to help them reach their goal weight!

Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, Fully Vetted
Loss of quality of life.

While it’s true that obesity predisposes dogs to many serious diseases (cruciate ligament ruptures, intervertebral disk disease, osteoarthritis, congestive heart failure, Cushing’s disease, skin disorders and some types of cancer, to name a few), I think the biggest toll a dog pays for being overweight is simply an inability to enjoy life to the fullest.

The last time I took my boxer to the dog park, two fat labs were doing their best to keep up with the pack, but eventually were forced to sit in the shade and pant while the rest of the dogs carried on. They wanted to play, but their weight prevented them from doing so. Sad.

Dr. Rae Worden, DVM , Fergus Veterinary Hospital
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The biggest toll our dogs pay for obesity is pain.

Arthritis is worsened and sometimes caused by obesity. Overall reduced quality and quantity of life.

Dr. Julie Buzby, ToeGrips
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2 years of life.

Dogs live “accelerated” lives.  We’ve all grieved this reality.  But did you know that you hold the power to influence your dog’s lifespan through diet?

It’s true.  Leaner pets live longer.  In 2001, a fourteen year, landmark study proved that maintaining dogs’ ideal body condition extended their median life span by 15 percent.  That translated into nearly two additional years of life for those dogs.

Most of my patients are overweight. It is almost startling when a dog with a normal body condition score presents for an appointment because it is so uncommon. Since these furry family members don’t serve themselves, this is 100% preventable. Contemplate the gift of two additional years with your canine companion! Let this motivate you to heed your vet’s advice about weight management.

Dr. Lorie Huston, DVM
A shorter life span with more pain and illness during the course of that life.
The potentially irreversible negative effect on all body systems.

The biggest toll on our pets that results from obesity is the potentially irreversible effect of being overweight on all canine body systems:

  • bones
  • joints
  • heart
  • lungs
  • digestive tract
  • glands (liver, kidneys, adrenals, pancreas, etc.)
  • skin, and nervous systems

Cumulative stressors of being overweight harm the entire body.

Further, negative health implications are only one side of the coin. There are significant financial costs associated with diagnosing and treating obesity-related conditions. All these can be minimized or avoided if a healthy body condition score (BCS, see Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine Body Condition Scoring Chart) is maintained throughout a pet’s lifetime.

Dr. Krista Magnifico, DVM, Diary of a Real-Life Veterinarian
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Loss of happiness.

There are many tolls that overweight/obese dogs pay.

To name some of them; joint disease, heart disease, endocrine disease (diabetes), cancer, dermatologic complications, the list goes on and on.

But the single biggest toll that I see obese dogs pay is their lack of a happy, healthy life.

Fat dogs are not happy dogs. They may wag their tail, they may beg for food, but when you see an overweight dog that has lost their excess weight and regained their vigor and love for life, it is magic! I have seen dogs who act and behave like they are years younger. They play, they interact, they are curious and just happy. Their parents always tell me how they cannot believe how different their dog acts and how they never knew how much excess weight was weighing them down.

Being healthy is the biggest key to happiness. Ask any sick or fat dog. Our health is the greatest gift we have. So cherish it, foster it, and promote it.

Medicine can’t change our genetics, but diet and lifestyle can change and improve almost everything else.

There are many products, diagnostics, diets, supplements, tricks, and perhaps even a few lifestyle changes available to help you and your pup be on their way to a more youthful, vibrant, and longer life, and maybe/hopefully, you both can make a whole lot fewer visits to my veterinary office!

Dr. Greg Magnusson, DVM (Leo’s Daddy), Leo’s Pet Care
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Dramatic reduction of quality of life.

Obese pets are often misunderstood as “just getting old” when their poor joints start to weaken from carrying around all that extra weight. As a result, the countless times I’ve seen a formerly tired and lame dog act years younger after significant weight loss has inspired me to take a more active approach to encourage weight loss in my patients.

If there was a way you could extend your dog’s life by two years, would you do it? Well, there is! You can extend your dog’s life by keeping them thin. You can make their life longer AND better. Would you do it?

Categories: ConditionsDog careDog health advocacyObesityVeterinarians answer

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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