Canine Obesity

By Dr. Steven Rosenblatt

We all love our dogs. In fact, we love them so much, we offer them treats, table scraps and extra-large portions of food to demonstrate our affection. And they more than willingly accept every bit of food we send their way, whether or not it is good for them.

Unfortunately, we often do more harm than good. Our emotional bond with our pets, together with changes in the way pet food is manufactured, can form the foundation for a deadly combination of canine and human excess.

Already, studies suggest between 25 and 40 per cent of all domesticated dogs in the U.S. are overweight. Obesity is also a serious problem among dogs in Canada. Given these dogs do not feed themselves, this epidemic of canine obesity is the responsibility of owners who overfeed their pets.

The consequences of excess weight in dogs are similar to those for humans, including an increased risk of the following conditions:

  • Heart disease.
  • Liver disease.
  • Breathing problems.
  • Diabetes.
  • Digestive problems.
  • Arthritis and joint weakness.
  • Skin disease.
  • Heat intolerance.

Furthermore, several studies have shown dogs who remain lean will live much longer than those whose systems must cope with too much weight.

Detecting the problem

How much weight is too much? Sometimes it is difficult to tell if your dog is overweight, particularly if it is one of the hairier breeds, but there are few general rules of thumb.

  1. Look down at your dog from above. You should be able to see a defined ‘waist’ just above the hip bones. If you cannot see the waist, your dog is too heavy.
  2. You should be able to see and feel your dog’s ribs. While they should not be sticking out and your dog should not look like a walking skeleton, you should be able to see a rib or two and be able to feel them easily. If you cannot, your dog is overweight.
  3. Your dog should not have a hanging belly. Some altered females have a slight pouch as a result of spaying surgery, but this should consist only of hanging skin, not fat. You can tell by gently squeezing the pouch; if the skin fold of the pouch is more than 0.5 inches thick, your dog is fat.

If your dog is overweight, it is likely eating too much and you have probably been too liberal with dog food, table scraps and/or treats.

Better habits

Dogs are carnivores, yet many dog foods list corn and corn meal as the most plentiful ingredients. These and other grain-based ingredients can offer clues to the underlying causes of obesity, as they are carbohydrates. Canine digestive systems are not designed to cope well with high-carbohydrate diets.

As a result, weight loss supplements have been introduced, with ingredients designed to help reduce the absorption of calories. Humans have used similar products.

Better eating and exercise habits will also speed the process of canine weight loss. Your dog needs to be walked every day and should never be given leftovers from your table.

When your dog takes in more calories than it burns off, the resulting surplus is stored as fat. In fact, as little as one per cent extra caloric intake (i.e. an extra biscuit or two per day) can result in a 25 per cent increase over ideal body weight by middle age.

If you want to give your dog a healthy treat, you can try a home-cooked variation, like cooking up a healthy chicken broth with some vegetables. You can try stewing some chicken livers or other organ meats that your butcher would otherwise throw away—so you can get them cheap or perhaps even free. Just make sure to strain out all bones.

Be sure to ask your veterinarian for advice regarding weight loss supplements, exercise and/or healthier food for your overweight dog.

Steven Rosenblatt, PhD, MD, is one of the authors of Happy Healthy Dogs – Slim Dogs Live Longer and represents Phase 2 Starch Neutralizers. For more information, contact him via e-mail at or visit