Tavares Animal Hospital

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Health Risks in Obese Dogs

english bulldog laying on full food bowl

An estimated 60% of cats and 56% of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese. There are many health risks and yet pet lovers often take overweight or obese dogs casually. But these dogs are at higher risk for many serious consequences.


Joint disease is one of the most common effects of obesity. Extra weight puts extra strain and pressure on a dog’s joints. The cartilage in the joint deteriorates, which leads to arthritis. The excess weight then worsens the pain of arthritis, making it harder to move around. The less the dog moves around, the more weight he gains unless his food is reduced accordingly. Fortunately, even a small weight loss can improve lameness in dogs with arthritis pain.


Too much weight is a well-known risk factor for tearing the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), an important ligament in the knee. A torn ACL must be repaired with surgery.

obese yellow labrador dog

Back Problems

A study of 700 dogs showed obese dogs of all breeds were at increased risk of slipped disc. In high risk breeds like Dachshunds, excess weight increases the risk of back problems even more.  Dogs that must undergo disc surgery recover much faster if they’re ideal weight.

Heart and Breathing Conditions

Excess body fat increases pressure on your dog’s lungs and hinders their normal function. The lungs have to work harder to provide oxygen, which can result in shortness of breath.

Excess fat also puts strain on your dog’s heart causing heart disease. Obesity is also associated with high blood pressure, just as it is in people, and can lead to a variety of complications.

Overweight dogs are more prone to a collapsing trachea and laryngeal paralysis.  If left untreated, these airway conditions could lead to a respiratory crisis which could be fatal.

Anesthesia Risk

The heart and lungs of overweight and obese dogs have to work harder.  This is also true during anesthesia. In addition, overweight dogs may take longer to wake up after anesthesia.

Excess body fat can make some surgeries more challenging. Excess fat can hinder access to internal organs, prolonging procedures.

obese basset hound laying on ground


Obesity may increase the risk of certain tumors such as benign fatty tumors (lipomas), as well as breast and bladder cancers.

Skin Diseases

Overweight dogs have extra skin folds, which can cause irritation, raw lesions and infection. This can lead to pain, scratching, and body odor. Overweight dogs often have an unhealthy-looking coat because it’s harder, if not impossible, for them to groom effectively. In female dogs, obesity can also lead to extra folds that trap urine. This causes urine scalding and infection which is very painful.

Quantity and Quality of Life

Obesity can take years off the life of your dog. The quality of life is also lower. Carrying extra pounds around takes a toll. Overweight dogs are slow to get down and up, they get winded or tired quickly and are less likely to enjoy life. When you’re overweight you just don’t feel as good as you do when your body weight is within normal range.


Obesity causes cells in your dog’s body to become more resistant to insulin. Excess sugar builds up in the dog’s bloodstream, and yet the cells in the body that need that sugar can’t access it. Muscle cells and certain organ cells are deprived of the glucose they need. In response, the body starts breaking down its own fats and proteins to use as alternative fuel. Without insulin to help convert the glucose in the bloodstream into fuel, high levels of glucose build up in the blood. This abnormal blood chemistry acts like a sort of poison and eventually causes multi-organ damage. This often includes damage to the kidneys, eyes, heart, blood vessels, and nerves.

obese dachshund

There are problems stemming from obesity that involve almost every system in the body. Even without signs you can see, obese dogs have higher health risks and medical costs. Excess weight is easier to prevent than treat, so keeping a lifelong healthy weight will help keep dogs healthier and happier and maximize their lifespans. Dog’s don’t live long enough even if they are in perfect health. Let’s do everything we can to make sure their lives are as healthy and happy as possible.

Related Articles:

How to Put Your Dog on a Diet

Healthy Treats for Dogs While Losing Weight

Fun things to do with Your Dog

Exercise Tips for Dogs with Arthritis

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