Canine Obesity: Excess Dog Weight Has Health and Longevity Implications


Home / Canine Obesity: Excess Dog Weight Has Health and Longevity Implications

Canine Obesity Can Result in Health Problems. Image by Karen Arnold.

A sedentary lifestyle and high calorie diet are as bad for dogs as for their owners. In addition to stress on joints, a third of obese dogs are at risk for developing Obesity-Related Metabolic Dysfunction (ORMD) and some breeds may not live as long as a result.

According to the Body Condition Scoring For Dogs handout, obesity is the excessive accumulation of adipose tissue that occurs when a dog is more than 20% above its ideal weight. Dogs are overweight when they’re at 10-20% over ideal weight.

Health Aspects of Canine Obesity

In a study comparing Metabolic Syndrome (MS) in humans with obesity in dogs, the authors found that 20% of obese dogs met the criteria for Obesity-Related Metabolic Dysfunction (ORMD). The study looked at Body Condition Scores, systolic blood pressure, fasting plasma cholesterol, plasma triglycerides and fasting plasma glucose, using guidelines similar to those of the International Diabetes Federation for metabolic syndrome.

Researchers think ORMD is associated with increased risk of developing other health problems including diabetes and cardiovascular problems. The stress on joints from excess weight is a particular problem for large breeds, dogs suffering from arthritis, hip/elbow dysplasia and other skeletal problems.

Carina Salt presented a paper at the Waltham International Nutritional Sciences Symposium in October 2013, indicating a shorter life expectancy for overweight dogs. In particular, beagles, Labrador and golden retrievers, shih tzu, and American cocker spaniels were found to be at high risk.

Preventing Pet Health Problems by Maintaining Weight After Spay/Neuter

It is always best to prevent a pet from gaining too much weight. That can be difficult, particularly once the animal is spayed or neutered at any age. Dr. Diederik Lagerwerff of The Animal Doctors in Palo Alto, California, counsels his clients to cut back calories by 20% after surgery.  He also helps clients with overweight pets to set goals for weight loss and encourages them to check regularly their pet’s weight at the clinic, using the walk-on scale in the waiting room.

Exercise is important for maintaining muscle tone, particularly for dogs with arthritis and congenital conditions such as hip dysplasia, but it is unlikely to result in weight loss without a reduction in calories as well. But it will help keeping the pounds off once the dog is a healthy weight. For those who have trouble sticking to an exercise program, there are fitness groups for dogs and their owners popping up everywhere.

Canine Body Condition Scoring: A Method for Monitoring Weight

Body Condition Scoring (BCS) is a simple tool for pet owners to monitor their pets’ weight. A recent study by Linders, Freeman and Sutherland-Smith found that there was good correlation between body condition scores and the subcutaneous fat layers seen on chest x-rays of dogs.

BCS scores correlate to fat over the ribs on xray. Photo credit:Wilhelm Ellenberger and Hermann Baum.

There are several different BCS formats, either on a 1-5 or a 1-9 scale, that owners can learn to use to check their dogs’ BCS at home. The NAVC Clinician’s Brief Procedures Pro Nutrition handout Body Condition Scoring Techniques for Dogs provides a basic description and photos of this assessment process.  Dog owners can bring this downloadable handout to their vet for individual guidance based on their dog’s particular body type.

Help Your Dog Lose Weight

Whatever steps you take to prevent your dog becoming obese, or to get the weight off an already obese pet, the result is likely to be positive: Improved health and a longer life for your pet – and lower vet bills for yourself.


Linder, D. E., L. M. Freeman, and J. Sutherland-Smith. Association between subcutaneous fat thickness measured on thoracic radiographs and body condition scoring in dogs. (2013). American Journal of Veterinary Research. Accessed November 8, 2013.

Salt, C. and P. Morris. Associations between longevity and body condition in domestic dogs. (2013). From pet food to pet care: Proceedings of the Waltham International Nutritional Sciences Symposium 2013. Accessed November 8, 2013.

Tvarijonaviciute, A. et al. Obesity-related metabolic dysfunction in dogs: a comparison with human metabolic syndrome. (2012). BMC Veterinary Research. Accessed November 8, 2013.

Sanderson, Sherry. Body Condition Score Techniques for Dogs. (2010). Procedures Pro Nutrition. Accessed November 8, 2013.

Leave a Comment