Canine Obesity – Fat’s not always cute

Obesity is a chronic stigmatized and rapidly growing world-wide problem. It is a non-communicable medical condition and sadly the most common nutritional problem seen in our furry companions.

–by Dr Rashmi Mishra, Dr Pashupathi M, and Dr Disha Sharma


Obesity is the accumulation of excessive fat in body due to imbalance between the intake and usages of calories, when the intake is higher and the body stores these extra calories as fat. Dogs are considered overweight when their body weight exceeds 10 percent above ideal weight and obese when it exceeds 20 percent above ideal weight. According to the last 15 years study, around 15 – 65% of dogs are either overweight or obese.

Obese dogs are more likely to suffer from osteoarticular, cardiovascular, respiratory, urogenital, musculoskeletal and skin disorders along with type 2 diabetes mellitus, dystocia, pancreatitis, decreased heat tolerance, reduced immunity, mammary or bladder carcinoma and reduced lifespan. According to studies, lean dogs can survive 1.8 years longer than obese dogs. Also, obese dogs pose greater risks of anaesthetic and surgical complications. Hypothyroidism and hyperadrenocorticism are the endocrine abnormalities associated with obesity.

Signs and symptoms to lookout for

Signs of canine obesity include abdominal sagging, big round face, reluctance to walk, excessive panting and tiredness. Obesity can be hypertrophic (enlargement of size of fat cell) common in adult dogs or hyperplastic (increase in both size and number of fat cells) common in young pups.

Ideally, the angle from dog’s abdomen to his pelvis should be between 30 and 35 degrees, but in obesity it looks like tucks-up. Also in obese dogs, ribs cannot be felt with fingers by palpation, and hourglass-shaped indentation will be present at the bottom of the rib cage. The haematological parameters revealed that the mean values of Hb (haemoglobin), PCV (packed cell volume), neutrophils, cholesterol and triglycerides were significantly higher in obese dogs as compared to healthy dogs whereas non-significant difference with respect to lymphocytes, monocytes and eosinophils.

The supremacy of modern techniques

Techniques to assess the degree of body fat include morphometric measurements, dilutional techniques, bioelectrical impedance analysis, dual energy x-ray absorptiometry, CT-scan, MRI and DEXA scan. Among all, body weight is the simplest and DEXA scan is the accurate technique. Body condition score (BCS) system is a subjective, semi quantitative, inexpensive and non-invasive technique for assessing body fat percentage which is based on visible and palpable features of different body zones. A number of BCS charts are available including 5-point, 7-point and 9-point versions however, the 9-point version is more accurate one

It happens because you melt to their puppy eyes!

Obesity happens one pound at a time, and so does its prevention

• The main preventive measure for obesity is controlled exercise and physical rehabilitation. According to studies, taking your pet for a 30 minute walk, can reduce blood pressure and body weight. Swimming is also an ideal exercise which enables dogs to burn calories and keep their joints healthy.

• Dogs should be fed with low-energy, high protein, high fibre and high moisture content diet for satisfactory weight loss.

• HCA (Hydroxycitric acid) which is extracted from Garcinia cambogia fruit has anti-obesity, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anthelmintic, anticholinesterase and hepatoprotective activities. It exerts its anti-obesity effect by inhibiting fat production, lowers production of cholesterol and fatty acids, increases production of glycogen in the liver, and suppresses appetite.

• Diets enriched with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.

• Dogs supplemented with green tea extract for 12 weeks at approximately 80 mg/kg had enhanced insulin sensitivity, decreased triglyceride levels.

The key to obesity management is prevention. Pet parents should be instructed on both – how to feed their pets and how to regularly determine pet’s body condition. The importance of optimal body weight control should be reinforced at each annual health examination. Pet parents should be counselled about the risk factors of obesity and its consequences.

(Dr. Rashmi Mishra – Division of Veterinary Parasitology, Dr. Pashupati M – Division of Biochemistry, Dr. Disha Sharma – B.V.Sc. 4th year; Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Izatnagar, Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh)