Health Risks Associated With Dog Obesity by Ann-Marie Fleming

26 August, 2009


By Dr Jeannie Thomason (Part 2 in a two part series on dog obesity.)

The health risks to overweight dogs are serious and every dog owner should be aware of them.

Damage to joints, bones, and ligaments

Older Studies suggested that 25% of overweight dogs develop serious joint complications. If the joints and bones are required to carry excess weight, they usually start to become damaged. Arthritis can develop and the joint changes and pain associated with hip dysplasia can become markedly more severe as well. Extra tension on joints caused by an increased weight load can also lead to the damage of certain ligaments. One of the ligaments in the knee, known as the anterior cruciate ligament, is very prone to strains and tears. If this ligament is torn, the knee becomes very unstable and the dog will be reluctant to use it. Usually Surgery is required to repair this torn ligament.

Dogs carrying extra pounds of weight place extra demands on virtually all the organs of their bodies. When the body organs are overloaded, disease and sometimes death are the consequences.

Diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes)

One of the most common complications of obesity in dogs is the development of diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes). Being over weight causes an increase in the secretion of insulin in response to the increased blood glucose level in the overweight dog. Insulin is also more in demand simply because there is a greater amount of body tissue in an overweight dog. When requirements for insulin exceed the ability of the body to produce insulin, diabetes mellitus develops. If the need for insulin increases over a long period of time, the cells in the pancreas which produce insulin can actually 'burn out,' again resulting in diabetes.

Heart disease and increased blood pressure

Something new to dogs in the last 30 some odd years is hypertension. Just as in humans, excess weight tends to cause increased blood pressure (hypertension). The heart obviously has an increased work-load since it must pump additional blood to excess tissues. This can lead to congestive heart failure.

Difficulty breathing

In overweight animals, the lungs are not able to function properly. The additional fat in the chest restricts the expansion of the lungs. The extra fat in the abdomen pushes against the diaphragm, which separates the abdominal cavity from the chest. This also results in less space in the chest for the lungs to expand on inspiration. To make matters worse, the increased quantity of tissue puts an increased demand on the lungs to supply oxygen.

Decreased stamina

Dogs who are overweight have less endurance and stamina. Carrying all that extra weight around takes a lot more work. The heart, muscles, and respiratory system are all asked to do more than they were designed for.

Decreased liver function

The liver stores fat so when a dog is overweight, an increased amount of fat of course, builds up in the liver. This is called hepatic lipidosis. This condition can result in decreased liver function.

Increased surgical and anesthetic risk

We talked about effects of excess weight on the heart and lungs above however, the effects on the heart and lungs have serious ramifications if the dog has to have anesthesia. Cardiac arrest (heart stops) and poor circulation of oxygenated blood to the tissues can occur. Most anesthetics are taken up by fat, so an overweight animal will take longer to come out of anesthesia because the anesthetic must be removed from the fat by the body. In addition and important to know is that most anesthetics are broken down by the liver. A fatty liver will not be as efficient at breaking down anesthetics and other drugs, so again, recovery may be delayed or even death may occur.

The increased fat in the tissues makes surgery its self more difficult. It is harder to find or get at what you are looking for in the body for all the fat. For example, abdominal surgery in an obese dog, there may be literally inches of fat between where the skin incision is made and the organ you need to work on is situated, such as the urinary bladder. So not only is the surgery now more technically difficult but the procedure will take longer then usual, which again increases the anesthetic risk.

Digestive disorders

An overweight dog has an increased risk of developing constipation and may also have more problems with intestinal gas.

Decreased immune function

Obesity in dogs is directly associated with decreased resistance to viral and bacterial infections. Canine distemper and Salmonella infections, especially appear to be more severe in dogs who are overweight.

Skin and hair coat problems

The risk of skin and hair coat diseases are increased in dogs who are overweight. The skin forms more and different types of oils, the skin may fold in on itself creating pockets, which are ideal for the accumulation of oils and the development of infections.

Increased risk of cancer

Studies suggest that obese dogs tend to have an increased risk of developing certain types of cancers, including a particular type of cancer of the urinary bladder. A recent study also found that dogs who were obese at one year of age were at greater risk of developing mammary tumors.

Decreased quality and length of life

It should be evident from the above discussion that the over-all health, ability to play, even to breathe, are diminished in overweight dogs. Overweight dogs often become more irritable due to being hot, in pain, or simply uncomfortable. Overweight dogs die at a younger age than those maintained at an optimum weight.

I hope I helped to make it clear that we are not contributing positively to our dog's health when we allow them to become overweight.

Help Is on the Way

If your dog is already a bit pudgy, don’t despair, while helping your dog to lose a little weight is not as simple or convenient as feeding a kibble prescribed for over-weight dogs, it is not a hopeless endeavor either. If you should decide to commit yourself to helping your dog lose weight then it is best to adopt a holistic approach to the weight loss. You will need to monitor everything from the amount of exercise, the type of food and treats fed to the amount of food and treats, he or she actually partakes in on a daily basis. Be upbeat and positive about the weight loss around your dog. If you are depressed and feel sorry for your dog because you have cut back on the amount of food you are feeding or because the dog appears to prefer napping to walking, your dog will will pick up on those feelings and emotions and react accordingly.

Exercise is a must! There is no way around this. The more muscle mass an animal has, the more calories the animal burns while inactive. Start with short periods of exercise and depending on the age and health of your dog, decide whether to start with short walks or a game of catch. What ever you start out with, be consistent and do it daily. If you have access to a swimming pool your dog can use, this is one of the best ways to exercise your dog, especially if he/she is already effected by joint problems. Increase the time and/or distance every couple of days and do as much exercise as possible out of doors in the sunshine and fresh air.

Take everything into consideration in order to make weight loss successful for your cherished pet. We're not looking for fast weight loss, because, as with humans, fast weight loss does not always mean the weight will stay off. Fast weight loss and weight gain traumatizes the body. Animals should loose no more than 1-2% of their body weight per week. For instance, if your dog weighs 50 pounds, 1% is 1/2 pound weekly and 2% means 1 pound weekly.

If your dog is not already presenting with ailments or diseases relating to his extra pounds, consider beginning a preventative lifestyle for him/her. Feed a raw, species appropriate diet. At the very least, throw away the kibble and canned food and lightly cook for your dog. Supplement with digestive enzymes, probiotics and natural sources Omega 3 fatty acids.

Make sure you are giving fresh, filtered water to your dog. If you don’t drink your tap water then don’t give it to your dog.

Let’s not “kill” our dogs with what we may consider kindness by giving them that extra little treat when they look at you with those big brown eyes or letting them skip the walk today because they look so content and happy napping on the couch. Love them by gifting them good health and long life with a proper diet, exercise and companionship.

About Dr. Jeannie Thomason: Dr. Jeannie Thomason, Veterinary naturopath, certified small animal nutritionist, is co-host of the popular online radio show, Animal Talk Naturally. Her articles have been featured in various publications such as Animal Wellness, Dog Fancy, Coast 2 Coast (national breed magazine for the Boston Terrier) and Natural Horse magazine. She is available for consultations on natural canine care & nutrition at her Website – The Whole Dog . Copyright ©2009. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the Author. This article is for educational purposes only. The decision to use, or not to use, any information is the sole responsibility of the reader.
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