Official figures from animal welfare organisations suggest that between a third and half of all dogs are now either overweight or obese, and from my personal experience in the surgery, I would suggest that these may even be conservative estimates. I estimate that well over half of the dogs that I see every day are overweight, and a significant proportion of these are technically obese (this means they are more than 20% above their ideal weight).
So obesity is clearly a significant issue, but how much actual clinical disease can we attribute to the growing waistlines of our dogs? There are some diseases where the impact of obesity is clear, such as arthritis where every extra pound a dog is carrying puts extra strain on the joints, or heart disease where extra effort is required to pump blood around the circulation, but there are others where the link is less obvious, including diabetes, liver disease, some skin diseases and many others. Put simply, obesity places an extra and unwelcome strain on the whole body and is a contributing factor in many clinical diseases. The end result is not just a reduced life-expectancy brought about by these related clinical conditions, but just as importantly, a reduced quality of life. Obese dogs are generally miserable dogs, unable to enjoy the basic pleasures that dogs should be able to take for granted – running, jumping, relaxing comfortably and so on. In most cases they enter a vicious cycle of weight gain leading to reduced exercise and enjoyment which in turn leads to further weigh gain and so on – and breaking this cycle is the key to treating an obese dog.