Weight Gain in Dogs: Keeping Your Pet Healthy | PetFirst
Pet Care & Health

Weight Gain in Dogs: Keeping Your Pet Healthy

by PetFirst Pet Insurance
5 months ago

According to a recent survey completed by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention6, almost 60% of dogs in the United States are considered overweight or obese.  That’s 50 million pups – which can result in more serious conditions in senior dogs as weight gain complicates normal age-related challenges. 

This is why the Global Pet Obesity Initiative7 (GPOI), consisting of 25 veterinary healthcare organizations, devised these 3 objectives7

  • Call for the veterinary profession to adopt uniform nomenclature for canine and feline obesity
  • Urge the global veterinary community to adopt a universal Body Condition Score for dogs and cats of whole-integer, one-through-nine (1–9) scale
  • Call for the veterinary profession formally to recognize canine and feline obesity as a disease

Standardized Definition

Lack of a professional consensus makes it challenging for veterinarians to provide clear messages to clients, aka pet parents. The GPOI recommends that the term ‘obesity’ be defined as 30% above a dog’s ideal body weight7.

Universal Body Condition Score

A variety of scoring systems leads to inconsistency in interpreting the results of scientific studies. By adopting a universal 9-unit body condition score system8, the veterinary community can better interpret veterinary medical research, more consistently and accurately assess their patients’ body condition, and clearly communicate with colleagues and clients.

Recognize Obesity as a Disease

Many years ago, the World Health Organization (WHO), Center for Disease Control (CDC) and American Medication Association (AMA) declared obesity a disease in humans. By doing so, this accelerated innovation and treatments to the point that there are now tens of drugs and innumerable bariatric surgeries available. Sadly though, there are no approved obesity treatments in the United States for our pets. Pharmacology won’t develop a drug to help dogs loose poundage because obesity or being over-weight is not considered a disease.

Does Obesity Adversely Affect a Dog’s Quality of Life?

So does obesity adversely affect a dogs overall quality of like? The answer is yes! 

Ernie Ward, DVM, and the author of “Chow Hounds:  Why Our Dogs are Getting Fatter, A Vet’s Plan to Save Their Lives,”  shared on a webinar (GreyMuzzleOrg) that he believes many pet parents are skeptical about the health benefits that come from their dog losing weight. 

“They feel, ‘So what if Fluffy has packed on a few extra pounds? She’s happy and I want her to enjoy whatever years she has remaining,’ but they are actually accelerating the demise of their beloved pet,” Ward said9.

Ward’s colleague, Alexander J. German, BVSc PhD, of the University at Liverpool, has been looking at obesity vs. quality of life effects on dogs for decades, and believes that as little as a 6% weight loss shows demonstrable improvements in the pet’s quality of life10.

Extra fat means inflammation in the body. To help your dog live a longer, pain-free, disease-free life, it is important to maintain a healthy body condition. Ward recommends keeping yours dogs blood sugar stable as spikes in sugar can trigger an inflammatory cascade of adipose (fat) tissue.

According to the Association of Animal Hospitals11, obesity can lead to:

  • Reduced life expectancy and diminished quality of life
  • Skin disorders
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Orthopedic disease
  • Cancer
  • Kidney dysfunction
  • Respiratory disorders
  • Metabolic endocrine disorders (i.e. diabetes)

A 14-year Purina lifetime study monitored two colonies of Labradors from puppy hood until death, feeding the control group normal calories and the others, 25% fewer calories. On average, the the dogs getting less calories lived 2 years longer, to age 1312  – that is the difference between humans making it to 79 or 91 years of age! 

We’re not talking deprivation, just feeding a little bit less. Think ¾ cup instead of that full cup.

What Can a Pet Parent Do?

It is important that pet parents discuss their pet’s weight, overall health, food and feeding habits with their veterinarian on a regular basis.

Ward stated that pet parents should also have their vet rule out any medical conditions that could be causing increased weight. Medical conditions like Hypothyroidism can cause weight gain while medications for seizures, steroids, and allergies can cause fat accumulation.

Additionally, Ward shared that it’s also important that pet parents discuss mobility restrictions. If your dog injured his or her cruciate ligament, this would impact how you and your vet would construct and formulate the best weight loss program for your furry friend.  

As far as exact numbers, remember that every dog is a unique. All steps and decisions should be discussed with your veterinarian who can determine your dog’s goal weight and help create a nutrition plan for your pet.

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention shares a very basic guideline for average, lightly-active, adult spayed or neutered dogs13

10 lbs. dog should consume           200-275 calories daily

50 lbs. dog should consume           700-900 calories daily

90 lbs. dog should consume           1,100 – 1,350 calories daily

Predictors of Success

Dr. Ward shared that his predictors of success are as followed:

  • Diligently keep at least a 1-week feeding and activity log 
  • Weigh your pet’s food: a measuring cup of kibble can vary by 10%, so feeding as few as 10 extra pieces of kibble daily can cause weight gain
  • Talk with your vet about what aerobic activity your dog can do daily: 30 minutes a day, walk or play (swimming might be best for canines with joint issues)
  • Your personal motivation to make a difference

Final Thoughts

Your pet’s weight is not just about how your best friend looks, it’s about how he or she feels and making your pet’s overall health a priority.  Do your best to keep your dog as close to his or her ideal weight as possible for a longer, healthier life by your side!

Here at PetFirst1, we know accidents and illnesses happen to all pets. PetFirst Pet Insurancecan help cover unexpected vet visits2 and can provide peace of mind. PetFirst Pet Insurance1 has cat and dog insurance policies2 to fit every budget. 

Consider getting pet insurance for your furry friend today. 


Denise Fleck is the Pet Safety Crusader™ having personally taught more than 20,000 humans to rescue Rover or help Fluffy feel better.  Her mission is to help YOU make a difference in the life of an animal through Pet First-Aid, Senior Pet Care and Disaster Preparedness classes, her “The Pet Safety Bible,” and the dozen other books she has penned.  Learn more at www.PetSafetyCrusader.com

1PetFirst Healthcare, LLC (“PetFirst Pet Insurance” or “PetFirst”) is the program administrator authorized to offer and administer pet health insurance policies underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company, a Delaware insurance company, with its main office at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, or New Hampshire Insurance Company or The Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania, each with its main administrative office at 500 West Madison Street, Suite 3000 Chicago, IL 60661. For costs, complete details of coverage, and a listing of approved states, please contact PetFirst Healthcare, LLC. 

2Like most insurance policies, insurance policies offered by PetFirst Healthcare, LLC contain certain exclusions, exceptions, reductions, limitations, and terms for keeping them in force. 

6 Association for Pet Obesity Prevention bi-annual survey (Due to COVID19 there is no data and information available for 2020. The 2018 survey is the most current data and information at time of writing.)

7The Global Pet Obesity Initiative Position Statement, October 2019.

8Example of the Universal 9-point Body Condition Scoring System.

9Author of article attended a LIVE Webinar with Dr. Ernie Ward, September 24, 2020: All Ernie Ward content are attributable to this encounter.

10“Overweight Dogs Live Shorter Lives,” Tony McReynolds, AAHA, April 4, 2019.

11“Overweight Dogs Live Shorter Lives,” Tony McReynolds, AAHA, April 4, 2019.

12“First-Ever Study Proves Diet Restriction Can Add Nearly Two More Years Of Healthy Life for Canines,” PR Newswire, May 2002.

13Association for Pet Obesity Prevention: Pet Caloric Needs

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