Obesity in dogs: risk factors

Obesity in dogs: risk factors

Following on from my post on obesity in pets (https://biologybehindthepet.wordpress.com/2017/06/13/obesity-quite-literally-a-growing-problem-in-our-pets/), this post is specific to obesity in dogs. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimates that 54% of dogs are obese even though it can be prevented. This post describes the risk factors for obesity and my next post will discuss the conditions that can arise in dogs as a result of obesity.

Risk Factors


Many scientific studies have shown that neutering is an important risk factor for obesity in dogs as neutered dogs are twice as likely to be obese, but there has been some dispute as to why this is. One plausible explanation for this is that neutered dogs have a reduced metabolic rate, so they don’t burn as many calories. Another reason can be explained by changes in amount of sex hormones. Sex hormones act as appetite suppressants and neutering reduces the amount of these sex hormones, resulting in increased appetite.


Ad lib feeding

In the wild, dogs don’t always have access to food all the time so they aren’t eating all day. This is an important fact when considering how we feed our pet dogs: we shouldn’t be providing food to our dogs whenever they want it, it is important to maintain a healthy, restricted diet. The average life span for dogs fed a restricted amount of food is higher compared to dogs fed an unrestricted diet. There is also a longer time before dogs on a restricted diet require treatment for conditions associated with obesity (see below), which improves their welfare and also has positive economic outcomes for owners.

Feeding your dog canned or moist food is also associated with obesity, as they tend to have a higher number of calories compared to dry food.



Over 30% of Cocker Spaniels, Beagles, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Shetland Sheepdogs, Rottweilers and Mixed-breed dogs in the USA are obese. Owners of these dog breeds should take extra care in monitoring their dogs weight to prevent obesity.



Dogs are more likely to be obese when they are between the ages of 6 and 10 years. Between the ages of 6-12 it is particularly important to feed dogs a restricted diet, as this is the time when dogs put on excess fat more easily.

The best time to prevent obesity is when your dog is younger, regardless of whether they are neutered or not. This is especially important in those dog breeds that are prone to obesity. This allows for prevention and enables you and your dog to get into a routine that will benefit your dog in the long run.


The main risk factors for obesity can exacerbate the problem in certain dogs. The easiest risk factor to control is ad lib feeding by feeding your dog a restricted diet to prevent obesity. I hope this post has helped to make you aware of the risk factors for obesity in dogs and will encourage dog owners to be proactive in preventing their dog from becoming obese. 


See you next time….

My next blog post in this series will be on conditions associated with obesity in dogs and this will be followed by blog posts on obesity in cats.



 Edney, A.T. and Smith, P.M. 1986. Study of obesity in dogs visiting veterinary practices in the United Kingdom. The Veterinary Record, 118, 391-396.

German, A.J. 2006. The Growing Problem of Obesity in Dogs and Cats. J. Nutr. 136, 1940-1946.

Kealy, R.D., Lawler, D.F., Ballam, J.M., Mantz, S.L., Biery, D.N., Greeley, E.H., Lust, G., Segre, M., Smith, G.K., Stowe, H.D. 2002. Effects of diet restriction on life span and age-related changes in dogs. J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc., 220, 1315-1320.

Lund, E.M., Armstrong, P.J., Kirk, C.A., Klausner, J.S. 2006. Prevalence and Risk Factors for Obesity in Adult Dogs from Private US Veterinary Practices. Intern J Appl Res Vet Med, 4, 177-186.



Disclaimer: This blog is intended for interest and education only. I am not a vet and if you have any concerns about your pet you must always consult a veterinary surgeon.


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