Let’s address gradual unexplained weight gain in dogs. The potential causes are different than when the weight gain happens suddenly.
How fast something happens is an important part of the picture. The more acute the onset, the more urgently you need to seek answers. With weight gain, the faster it happens, the closer you are to an emergency situation, particularly when there are any other concerning symptoms.
In other words, acute weight gain is more likely distention or swelling rather than true weight gain.
Recognizing the change
The biggest problem is that gradual changes are hard to recognize. Your veterinarian, friends or family members who don’t see your dog daily are more likely to notice that your dog became chubby easier than you can. If they point that out to you, please don’t be offended. It is in your dog’s best interest that you hear them out and evaluate what your dog’s weight should be.
Ideal body score
The first step is knowing what your dog’s body should look and feel like.
There is an objective way to determine whether your dog packs more fat pad than is good for their well-being. It is called body condition scoring. This system allows you to easily determine your dog’s condition regardless of their breed and individual differences. The evaluation involves the following:
- can you feel your dog’s ribs easily?
- does your dog have a visible waistline?
- is their tummy tucked upward?
If the curves on your dog start disappearing, your dog is putting on some extra pounds. Dogs shouldn’t be shaped like tubes.
Obesity is not an aesthetic problem, it comes with ramifications to your dog’s health.
Further reading: Obesity in Pets – Common Causes & Consequences
Don’t be deceived
“Look how she’s beautifully filling in.” Today, if somebody says that about my dog, I break out in cold sweat.
That’s what people kept saying when Jasmine started losing her youngster all-legs look. We were none wiser. After all, she was a Rottweiler – those are supposed to be big, right? Then we adopted Bruin who was huge. Just seeing the two side by side made Jasmine look tiny.
It wasn’t until we were trying to get to the bottom of a completely different problem when her vet finally noticed that she might be chubbier than she should be. As it turned out, she had an under-active thyroid.
Once treated, the extra weight just melted away.
As we became more aware of what Jasmine’s body condition should be, I got serious about keeping her that way. Then she started getting heavier again. I kept reducing her food to the point where I felt that she could not get any less. When discussing her weight with the vet I insisted that I cannot and will not feed her any less food.
We tested her thyroid again, and, in spite of being well managed with medication for quite some time, her levels had suddenly dropped. Adjusting her meds got things normalized once more.
Your dog put on some extra weight. Why?
It is always the “why” that leads to a solution. Quite often the answer to weight gain is simple:
- too much food
- too many treats
- wrong food or treats
- insufficient activity …
Be honest with your vet and particularly yourself. If the answer is simply too many bacon bits, the solution is unpleasant but straightforward.
What if you are positive, like I was, that your dog does not get an excessive amount of calories? There is, actually, a formula that allows you to calculate roughly how many calories a day your dog needs. The formula does look a bit scary but these days, there is an app for everything.
If you do want to calculate your dog’s energy requirements, the formula and instructions can be found on petMD.
The next important step is to add up how many calories your dog gets in a day. The tricky part is to calculate EVERYTHING, including any treats, table scraps, or supplements.
Medical reasons behind weight gain
What if your dog gets just the right amount of calories and still gaining weight?
If the answer isn’t in the bowl, it is in the body.
There are a number of medical causes behind weight gain or the appearance of weight gain. It does make sense that metabolic diseases would have a direct impact on weight gain or weight loss.
Some of the conditions that cause weight gain in dogs include:
- Cushing’s disease
- some medications
- conditions that cause fluid retention
Each of the above problems comes with their own array of additional symptoms which can help to solve the puzzle.
For me, if my dogs start gaining weight without eating more or exercising less, hypothyroidism is a prime suspect. Low thyroid function leads to a sluggish metabolism which means that however little energy is consumed it gets stored as fat instead of being used.
Other signs of hypothyroidism in dogs include:
- skin and coat changes
- exercise intolerance
- behavioral changes
- intolerance to cold
Cushing’s disease is caused by an overproduction of hormones that are involved in protein, carbohydrate, and metabolic regulation. A dog with Cushing’s disease will gain weight while muscles are wasting. The typical potbelly seen with Cushing’s disease is caused by fat shifting into the abdomen and a weakening of abdominal muscles as well as enlarging liver.
Other symptoms associated with Cushing’s disease include:
- increased thirst and urination
- urinary accidents
- increased appetite
- excessive panting
- hair loss
As you can see that many symptoms are similar across various medical problems. That is another reason you need to work with your veterinarian to get to the bottom of things.
If your dog starts putting on weight, do pay attention.
7 Medical Causes Behind Weight Gain