Veterinarians Answer: What Is The Biggest Toll Our Dogs Pay For Obesity?

56 percent of American dogs are obese! That is more than every other dog.

When our vet saw three patients in a row who were at ideal weight, he was so excited at the rare occurrence, he had to blog about it!

I started the Show Off Your Dog's Waistline campaign so we get it in our heads what a healthy dog should look like.

To compliment the campaign, I asked my veterinary friends what they consider the biggest toll our dogs pay for obesity.

The biggest toll that dogs pay for obesity is their life.

Obese dogs suffer similar fates as humans, with higher prevalence of diseases such as diabetes and arthritis.

Many of my patients suffer from arthritis and other joint dysfunction, so I am constantly telling my clients that diet restriction and weight loss is vital to the comfort of their dog; less weight is less stress on the joints and for a dog with joint dysfunction that means a better quality of life.

One study, A longitudinal study of the influence of lifetime food restriction on development of osteoarthritis in the canine elbow, of a group of Labradors had interesting results on life span as well. Diet restriction of 25% reduction in calories resulted in a 1.8-year extension in median lifespan of that group of dogs.

So yes dogs pay a toll and it is with their life! Considering Labradors median age is only 12, 2 years is a huge increase in life for them.

—Dr. Daniel Beatty, DVM, Dog Kinetics
    Dr. Dan on Facebook and Twitter


Far and away the biggest problem exacerbated by obesity in larger breed dogs is arthritis. 

In fact, if an overweight dog is having issues with arthritis, weight loss is my top of the list recommendation above any medications, supplements, or acupuncture.

In smaller breeds, obesity tends to intensify issues with hormonal imbalances and heart disease.

In the smoosh faced breeds of dogs, being overweight can put them over the top in terms of respiratory difficulties. It's one thing to supply enough oxygen through tiny nostrils and tracheas for a 10 pound critter. Add another five pounds of fat, and the effort to oxygenate becomes all the more pronounced.

—Dr. Nancy Kay, DVM, Speaking for Spot
    Dr. Kay on Facebook and Twitter


The biggest toll our dogs pay for obesity is the day-to-day difficulties in routine activity that increased weight causes. 

Things that should be fun or at least easy like climbing stairs, taking a walk or playing ball take more effort. They are often reluctant to do physical activities they love because things make them tired and winded and may make their joints ache.

One of the most rewarding aspects of helping a patient (dog, cat, guinea pig...) lose weight is seeing them get that spark back. Even before they reach their ideal weight, they feel healthier and lighter and start wanting to do the things they love more often, which is only more motivating for them and their parents to continue to help them reach their goal weight!

—Dr. Shawn M. Finch, DVM, Riley & James 
    Dr. Shawn on Twitter


While it's true that obesity predisposes dogs to many serious diseases (cruciate ligament ruptures, intervertebral disk disease, osteoarthritis, congestive heart failure, Cushing's disease, skin disorders and some types of cancer, to name a few), I think the biggest toll a dog pays for being overweight is simply an inability to enjoy life to the fullest.

The last time I took my boxer to the dog park, two fat labs were doing their best to keep up with the pack, but eventually were forced to sit in the shade and pant while the rest of the dogs carried on. They wanted to play, but their weight prevented them from doing so. Sad.

—Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, Fully Vetted
    Don't forget to check out  Dr. Coates' own survey, asking dog and cat owners
    what is their biggest frustration. So don't pass on YOUR opportunity to vent!


The biggest toll our dogs pay for obesity is pain.

Arthritis is worsened and sometimes caused by obesity.

Overall reduced quality and quantity of life.

—Dr. Rae Worden, DVM , Fergus Veterinary Hospital
    Dr. Rae on Facebook and Twitter


I believe pet obesity occurs because pet owners, parents or caretakers (depending on the preferred term and audience) don't take the time and effort to inquire/ration/or execute veterinary orders. Like book-keeping, calories need to be tracked going in as they are expended. 

Is it the chicken or the egg? Is the dog demanding food because it's truly hungry, or is the owner filling the dish because it's the dog's conditioned response to beg and then get rewarded?

Weight gain happens when net calorie intake exceeds expenditure, and it gets saved in storage. A simple way to manage this is to follow feeding protocols outlined by your veterinary advisor, and using a weigh scale to double check.

Would you keep your foot on the accelerator, even on the highway, for an extended period of time and not check the speedometer? Bet you can't.

Often, owners are unable, for many reasons, to provide the necessary exercise workout their dogs need on a daily basis. It is said a lot of dogs take after their owners. Pet ownership requires planning, commitment, and follow through.

The list of  medical sequelae due to obesity that I see in dogs include: increased forces and therefore wear and tear on joints, increased fatigue and decreased activity, increased cardiovascular effort, increased risk of diabetes, decreased hygiene (due to girth some dogs can't reach around to inspect and clean), high blood pressure, and often shortened life span. Moreover, the dog's satiety thermostat adjusts itself to the new norm, and it's even harder to lose the weight by reducing food intake alone.

I'd say the biggest toll to our dogs pay for obesity is a shortened and reduced quality of life. To me, that's unacceptable.

—Dr. Jonathan Mitelman, DVM, Vet's Toronto


Dogs live “accelerated” lives.  We’ve all grieved this reality.  But did you know that you hold the power to influence your dog’s lifespan through diet?

It’s true.  Leaner pets live longer.  In 2001, a fourteen year, landmark study proved that maintaining dogs’ ideal body condition extended their median life span by 15 percent.  That translated into nearly two additional years of life for those dogs.

Question:  What is the biggest toll our dogs pay for obesity?
Answer:  2 years of life

Most of my patients are overweight.  It is almost startling when a dog with a normal body condition score presents for an appointment, because it is so uncommon.  Since these furry family members don’t serve themselves, this is 100% preventable.  Contemplate the gift of two additional years with your canine companion!  Let this motivate you to heed your vet’s advice about weight management.

—Dr. Julie Buzby, ToeGrips
    Dr. Julie on Facebook and on Twitter


Short answer:
A shorter life span with more pain and illness during the course of that life.

—Dr. Lorie Huston, DVM, Pet Health Care Gazette
    Dr. Lorie on Facebook and Twitter


The biggest toll on our pets that results from obesity is the potentially irreversible effect that being overweight has as on all canine body systems.  The bones, joints, heart, lungs, digestive tract, glands (liver, kidneys, adrenals, pancreas, etc.), skin, and nervous systems are all detrimentally affected by the cumulative stressors caused by being overweight or obese.

Besides the negative health implications for our pets, there are significant financial costs associated with diagnosing and treating obesity related conditions that can be minimized or avoided if a health body condition score (BCS, see Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine Body Condition Scoring Chart) is maintained throughout a pet's lifetime.

 —Dr. Patrick Mahaney, The Daily Vet
     Dr. Patrick on Facebook and Twitter


There are many tolls that overweight/obese dogs pay.

To name some of them; joint disease, heart disease, endocrine disease (diabetes), cancer, dermatologic complications, the list goes on and on.

But the single biggest toll that I see obese dogs pay is their lack of a happy healthy life.

Fat dogs are not happy dogs. They may wag their tail, they may beg for food, but when you see an overweight dog that has lost their excess weight and regained their vigor and love for life it is magic! I have seen dogs who act and behave like they are years younger. They play, they interact, they are curious, and just happy. Their parents always tell me how they cannot believe how different their dog acts and how they never knew how much that excess weight was weighing them down.

Being healthy is the biggest key to happiness, ask any sick or fat dog. Our health is the greatest gift we have, cherish it, foster it, and promote it.

Medicine can't change our genetics but diet and lifestyle can change and improve almost everything else.

There are many products, diagnostics, diets, supplements, tricks, and perhaps even a few lifestyle changes available to help you and your pup be on their way to a more youthful vibrant and longer life, and maybe/hopefully, you both can make a whole lot less visits to my veterinary office!

—Dr. Krista Magnifico, DVM, Diary of a Real-Life Veterinarian
    Dr. Krista on Twitter


As in humans, obesity in dogs can increase the risk of many diseases, damage a dog’s musculoskeletal and respiratory integrity and take a toll on our emotional, psychological and financial well-being.  Obesity reduces the average life-span of a dog by 15%. Why? Studies have shown that adipose tissue (fat) is the biggest endocrine organ in an obese pet’s body producing hormones and cytokines that create a constant state of chronic inflammation.

This increases the risk of diabetes, liver disease, pancreatitis, endocrine disease and cancer. It is a double-whammy on a dog’s body when the extra weight is added creating stress on joints leading to injury, arthritis and chronic pain. Small dogs often develop respiratory disease and hyperthermia, often fatal, because the increased weight and fat stores restrict their ability to breathe easily.

But I think the biggest toll of pet obesity is the emotional devastation that occurs when our pet dies or when we choose to euthanize because we can’t afford to treat diseases caused by obesity. We are killing our pets with love and the guilt that comes with it is heavy.

When our vet gently or not so gently scolds us for letting our dog become fat, it reminds us we are not doing right by our pet; our dogs rely on us to do the right thing and that means proper nutrition and managing a healthy weight.  Unfortunately, many think that obese pets are “cute and cuddly”, especially cats.  This perception is something we all must fight if we are to keep our pets healthy.

In my opinion, guilt is a wasteful emotion. If your dog is obese, you can choose to change that and I guarantee you will feel good about it.

It is important that your vet rules out any medical conditions that contribute to obesity; hypoadrednalcorticism and hypothyroidsim are two conditions whose symptoms include obesity, poor skin and low energy levels.  After that, commit to a life-long wellness program that includes a healthy diet and a good dose of exercise – a 20 minute walk a day goes a long way.  Talk to your vet about nutrition. Commit to feeding your dog on a regular schedule in measured amounts rather than having a bowl available for constant feeding.  It seems like giving treats is the biggest pitfall in many people’s diet program for their dogs. Your vet can incorporate treats into a weight loss program. I also suggest trying healthy treats such as frozen carrots and green beans. My dog Flash particularly likes fresh, crunchy sweet pea pods. They are low in calories and high in fiber, both good for weight loss.

I applaud Jana and Jasmine’s Show Off Your Dog’s Waistline campaign to increase the awareness of obesity.  And I applaud all the caring dog caretakers who help make their dogs’ lives healthier and happier.

—Dr. Karel Carnohan, Animal Nutrition and Wellness Services
    Dr. Karel and Facebook and Twitter


Obese pets are often misunderstood as "just getting old" when their poor joints start to weaken from carrying around all that extra weight. The countless times I've seen a formerly tired and lame dog act years younger after significant weight loss have inspired me to take a more active approach to encouraging weight loss in my patients.

—Dr. Greg Magnusson, DVM (Leo's Daddy), Leo's Pet Care
    Dr. Greg on Facebook and Twitter 


Recently I read an article asking, if there was a way you could extend your dog's life by two years, would you do it? 

Well, there is! You can extend your dog's life by keeping them thin. You can make their life longer AND better. Would you do it?


Related articles:
Veterinarians Answer: What Do You Consider The Biggest Breakthrough In Veterinary Medicine?
Veterinarians Answer: Vegan Diet For Dogs? 
Veterinarians Answer: What Is Your Biggest Pet Parent Peeve? 


  1. Jana, You KNOW we are on the same page with you regarding the importance of keeping your pet fit and trim. That's what SlimDoggy is all about. It was really interesting to read the input from these veterinarians - they understand what being obese does to these dogs. Now if we can just get the owners to understand and then DO something about it. I think the struggle with knowing what to do. We've actually started a service to offer 'fitness' advice to folks regarding what they should be feeding, how much, what their pets exercise level should be, etc. You can read about it on our Blog at Keep up the good work on the important message!

    1. Thank you for the comment. Yes, we are on the same page. Now we need to get the rest of the world on it :-)


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