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How to Treat an Overweight Dog

Photo by LuAnn Snawder Photo, via Flickr

Welcome to our weekly 'Ask a Vet from the SF SPCA' feature on 7x7.com. Dr. Jeannine Berger, DVM, DACVB is a board certified veterinary behaviorist who counsels guardians whose pets’ issues are beyond the scope of training. Think of her as a pet shrink at your service. Ask your own questions in the comments. 

My dog is always on the hunt for food which makes me think he's hungry; but we are feeding him the amount of food recommended on the package. Is he hungry or just hunting?

It is likely that your dog is not hungry but entertaining himself and expressing his dog-ness. Ask your vet if he is the appropriate weight for his size on your next visit, but typically, you should be able to see the suggestion of your dog's ribcage near his abdomen. Overfeeding is not going to keep your dog from hunting for food, and in fact leads to a myriad of health problems. 30 - 40 percent of the dogs we see are overweight. Well, some pets have a genetic predisposition for obesity, like some people do. Age can also be a factor, since after two years, many animals become less active. Occasionally a metabolic disorder, such as low blood thyroid can cause obesity. But most animals are simply fed too much and don’t get enough exercise to burn off those extra calories.

Obesity can lead to joint disease, respiratory and heart ailments, urinary and skin disease. Excess fat raises risk of constipation, diabetes, heat intolerance, debilitating arthritic pain and a shorter life span. In a recent study, dogs that ate 25 percent less than a control group, lived almost two years longer and didn’t show signs of chronic disease until much later in life.   

If your pet is overweight, see your veterinarian to devise a weight-loss game plan. This is especially important for cats, where rapid weight loss can be dangerous or fatal. Your veterinarian can rule out medical problems causing the obesity and can recommend a safe weight loss plan specifically designed for your pet. Regular exercise is a great way for both of you to burn calories.