We live so closely with our dogs that our dogs’ health often mirrors our own. As obesity, which means too much excess body fat, rises in the human population – often because of large portions, heavily processed foods, and lack of exercise – obesity has risen in our furry friends often for the same reasons. According to the American Kennel Club, “an estimated 52.7% of US dogs are overweight or obese.” This may seem funny or cute – fat dogs are happy dogs, right? – but obesity in dogs, like obesity in humans, comes with a number of serious health consequences. Here are five possible byproducts of obesity for your dog.
Studies have shown that obese dogs live as many as two-and-a-half years less than dogs of the same breed that are at healthy weights. This is because obesity is a major contributing factor to multiple life-shortening illness such as heart disease, some cancers, and diabetes.
Arthritis is the degeneration and/or inflammation of joints, which is often painful and causes difficulty in movement. While sometimes arthritis is the result of an underlying condition, it is usually the result of wear and tear over the years. Older dogs, like older people, often develop arthritis merely as a result of using their joints everyday over many years. Weight also plays a significant role in the development and severity of arthritis. It only stands to reason that carrying more weight causes more wear on joints than less weight. While dogs can and do develop arthritis in any joint, the condition is most common in the hips. Obese dogs are far more likely to develop painful arthritis earlier in life than dogs at a healthy weight.
As is the case in humans, obese dogs are at an increased risk of developing a number of cancers. While the cause-effect relationship cannot be explained completely, the evidence in dogs, like the evidence in humans, is overwhelming; obese individuals have a higher instance of cancer than those at healthy weights.
A recent scientific study at the University of Minnesota found a link between obesity and urinary bladder stones in dog that is similar to the link that has been found in humans. Urinary bladder stones, usually made of calcium oxalate, form when there is too much of these substances in the urinary tract. While the link cannot totally be explained at this point, the study found that obese dogs were far more likely to have these high levels of calcium oxalate in the urinary tract, resulting in more bladder stones. Bladder stones are not only very painful, but can cause frequent urinary tract infections and can block the flow of urine, which can be deadly.
Heart disease refers to the weakening or thickening of the heart muscle. This causes the heart to pump less efficiently and can result in a heart attack, which occurs when the blood flow through the heart because blocked. Heart disease in dogs can cause lethargy, fainting, difficulty breathing, coughing, and swelling. As is the case in humans, obese dogs are far more likely to develop heart disease than dogs that live at a healthy weight.
Bottom Line: Obesity Puts Your Dog at Risk
Like you, your dog needs to eat appropriate portions of healthy food, to get adequate physical exercise, and to get plenty of sleep. While some dogs, like some people, are more genetically predisposed to becoming obese, there is much that can be done to prevent or reverse obesity. It is important that you talk to your vet about your dog’s weight and get specific instructions for how to help your dog lose weight in a healthy way. While you may show your love to your dog by letting her share your meals and giving extra treats, the best way to show your love to your obese dog is to help her get healthy. Think of it as one more thing the two of you can do together.