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Risks for Chonky Dogs and How to Help

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

fat Labrador retriever sitting in the sun

Dogs are very playful animals, and pet parents love to play and cuddle in bed. I personally like cuddling a pup with a little extra chonk (chonk is slang for chunky or fat). But it occurred to me one evening when a friend of mine made me realize the importance of a healthy weight. An overweight dog may make you happy, but it puts the life of your dog at significant risk.

Obesity puts stress on vital organs and can cause several diseases in dogs. Obesity has become the most common but preventable disease in the dogs of North America. However, all over the world, one-fourth population of dogs weighs more than normal. The percentage of obese dogs is much higher in seniors.

This article will give you a comprehensive understanding of canine obesity. In addition, it will put light on the causes and effects of obesity in dogs and the probable techniques to prevent obesity in dogs. Sit back! And start your understanding about canine obesity.

What is obesity?

measuring the dogs chest to determine obesity

Obesity in dogs is a condition characterized by the excessive accumulation of body fat. This condition arises when a dog's energy intake consistently surpasses its energy expenditure, resulting in the conversion of excess calories into fat in the form of adipose tissue. While in the wild, animals may need to store extra reserves to survive periods of food scarcity, most domestic dogs have regular access to food, and thus, the need to store these reserves is largely unnecessary.

In a natural setting, animals have evolved to store fat for times when food is scarce, helping them survive through lean periods. However, domestic dogs, especially those that lead a more sedentary lifestyle or have a consistent food supply, do not need to accumulate extra fat reserves in the same way.

Obesity in dogs typically manifests as an accumulation of fat in different parts of their bodies, such as the abdomen, hips, and neck. This excess fat can significantly impact a dog's health and overall well-being.

Obesity can lead to a multitude of health issues in dogs, including:

  • Reduced Lifespan: Obesity is associated with a shorter lifespan in dogs. It can lead to a decreased quality of life and a higher risk of mortality.

  • Diabetes: Excess body fat can disrupt the body's ability to regulate insulin, potentially leading to diabetes in dogs.

  • Heart Diseases: Obesity puts added strain on a dog's heart, increasing the risk of heart diseases like congestive heart failure.

  • Osteoarthritis: The additional weight carried by obese dogs puts stress on their joints, leading to a higher incidence of osteoarthritis and joint pain.

  • Respiratory Problems: Obesity can result in breathing difficulties in dogs, making physical activities even more challenging.

  • Decreased Mobility: Obese dogs may struggle with mobility, which can reduce their overall quality of life.

  • Skin Problems: The folds of skin in obese dogs can create an environment prone to skin infections.

  • Increased Anesthetic Risk: Obesity can increase the risk associated with anesthesia and surgery.

It's essential for dog owners to monitor their pets' weight and body condition regularly. Obesity can often be prevented or managed with proper diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices. Owners should consult with veterinarians to determine the ideal weight and dietary requirements for their dogs and develop a plan to maintain a healthy weight. Regular exercise, controlled portion sizes, and the avoidance of excessive treats or high-calorie foods can all contribute to preventing and managing obesity in dogs, ultimately ensuring their health and longevity.

Body Condition Scoring for Weight Status

Body condition scoring (BCS) is a practical and straightforward method used by veterinarians and pet owners to assess the overall health and weight status of a dog. It involves visually and physically evaluating a dog's body to determine whether they are underweight, at their ideal weight, overweight, or obese. This scoring system typically assigns a numerical value from 1 to 9 to categorize a dog's body condition. Each number represents a different level of fatness or thinness.

Here is a more detailed breakdown of the BCS process and the four categories it encompasses:

  • Underweight: Dogs with a BCS of 1 to 3 are considered underweight. They will generally have prominent bones and little body fat. Underweight dogs may exhibit a visibly bony appearance, a lack of muscle mass, and may appear lethargic or malnourished.

  • Ideal Weight: A BCS of 4 or 5 indicates that a dog is at their ideal weight. These dogs have a balanced amount of body fat, and their ribcage is palpable but not prominently visible. Their waist is visible from above, and they have a well-proportioned body shape. Dogs in this category tend to be active, healthy, and maintain their weight well.

  • Overweight: Dogs with a BCS of 6 or 7 fall into the overweight category. These dogs will have excess body fat that can often be felt as a layer of padding over their ribs and spine. Overweight dogs might have a rounded appearance, and their waistline may be less distinct. This extra weight can lead to health issues over time.

  • Obese: A BCS of 8 or 9 designates a dog as obese. Obese dogs have a significant amount of excess body fat, and their ribs, spine, and waist are often obscured by layers of fat. They may have difficulty moving and may be at a higher risk of obesity-related health problems, such as diabetes and joint issues.

body condition scoring for dogs. showing the different thickness of dogs
Photo Credit: Home for Good Dog Rescue

To conduct a body condition score, you should carefully observe your dog's appearance and physical characteristics, paying attention to the following areas:

  • Ribs: Can you feel the ribs without pressing too hard? They should be easily palpable but not visible.

  • Waist: When looking at your dog from above, is there a noticeable waistline behind the ribcage?

  • Abdomen: Does your dog's abdomen tuck up behind the ribcage, or does it sag or bulge?

  • Overall Appearance: Assess your dog's overall appearance. Does their body shape appear balanced and healthy, or is it either too thin or overweight?

Using body condition scoring as a tool can help dog owners make informed decisions about their pets' diet, exercise, and overall health. It's an essential part of responsible pet ownership, enabling you to maintain your furry friend at a healthy weight and potentially prevent or manage obesity-related health problems. If you're uncertain about your dog's body condition, consult with your veterinarian for guidance and recommendations on how to achieve and maintain an ideal weight.

How can bodyweight help us know the obesity?

It is impossible to check the body fat at home; however, you can measure the body weight and tell if your dog is overweight or obese. There is an optimum range of body weight for each type of breed. You should check the normal body weight range for your dogs' breed.

French bulldog on the scale to weigh body weight

If your furry friend is within the normal body weight range, you should be grateful. However, if your furry friend weighs 10% more than the normal body weight range, he is overweight. If your furry friend weighs 20% more than the average body weight, he is obese.

If your furry friend is overweight or obese, he immediately needs to lose weight to keep healthy and live a long life. There is research that obese dogs live shorter lives as compared to leaner ones. According to an estimate, overweight dogs live two years less than their leaner companions. Therefore, you need to help them lose weight.

What are the possible risks for obese dogs?

Obesity in dogs can lead to a wide range of health risks and complications, many of which have been better understood through recent research. It is now known that fat is not merely an inactive biological tissue; it actively releases inflammatory mediators, leading to oxidative stress in the body. These mediators can disrupt the normal physiological functions and put the lives of obese dogs at risk. Here's a more detailed elaboration on the possible health risks that obese dogs may face:

obese dog sitting in chair could have joint issues
  • Cardiovascular Problems: Obesity is a significant risk factor for heart diseases in dogs. The excessive body fat puts added strain on the heart, increasing the likelihood of conditions like congestive heart failure and hypertension (high blood pressure).

  • Bone and Joint Problems: The extra weight carried by obese dogs places excessive stress on their joints, leading to problems like osteoarthritis. This condition causes pain, discomfort, and reduced mobility.

  • Diabetes: Obesity is a common precursor to diabetes in dogs. Excess body fat can disrupt the body's ability to regulate insulin, leading to insulin resistance and ultimately diabetes mellitus.

  • Cancer: Obesity is associated with an increased risk of certain types of cancers in dogs. These include mammary gland tumors, bladder cancer, and other malignancies. The exact mechanisms underlying this link are still under investigation.

  • Blood Vessel Problems: Obesity can lead to the formation of fatty deposits in the blood vessels, increasing the risk of atherosclerosis, which can compromise blood flow and potentially lead to more severe cardiovascular issues.

  • Hypertension: High blood pressure is more common in obese dogs. Hypertension can lead to a variety of health issues, including damage to the eyes, kidneys, and the cardiovascular system.

  • Kidney and Bladder Stones: Obesity can contribute to the development of kidney and urinary bladder stones, which can be painful and may require medical intervention.

  • Anesthetic Complications: Obese dogs undergoing major surgeries face higher risks during anesthesia. The extra fat tissue can affect the distribution and effectiveness of anesthesia drugs, making these procedures more challenging.

  • Respiratory Problems: Obesity can lead to breathing difficulties in dogs, particularly during exercise or when they're under stress.

  • Reduced Lifespan: One of the most significant risks is a reduced lifespan. Obesity is known to decrease a dog's life expectancy, depriving them of precious years of companionship.

It's essential for dog owners to recognize and address obesity in their pets to mitigate these health risks. A balanced diet, regular exercise, and a weight management plan can help dogs maintain a healthy weight and reduce the likelihood of developing these obesity-related diseases. Consulting with a veterinarian for guidance on proper nutrition and lifestyle adjustments is crucial to ensuring the long-term well-being of your furry friend.

How do you choose the right amount of food?

Once you find out that your dog is overweight or obese, you need to figure the right amount of food and proper physical exercises to help him lose weight. Obesity occurs when your dog eats more than the required amount of food. The extra food is stored in the form of fat, which increases weight.

Choosing the right amount of food for an overweight or obese dog is a crucial step in helping them achieve a healthier weight while ensuring they receive essential nutrients and remain satisfied. Here's an elaboration on how to determine the right amount of food for your dog:

Dalmatian eating a balanced diet

Gradual Transition

It's essential to avoid abrupt changes in your dog's diet, as this can lead to malnourishment or digestive issues. Instead, transition gradually to a new diet plan. Gradual changes allow your dog's body to adapt to the new food and portion sizes.

Balanced Diet

Providing your dog with a balanced diet is crucial. Even when reducing calorie intake, it's essential to ensure they receive all the necessary nutrients. Work with your veterinarian to choose a diet that is specifically designed for weight management while still meeting your dog's nutritional needs.

Calorie Control

When managing your dog's weight, it's important to monitor calorie intake. Reducing the number of calories they consume is essential for weight loss. This can be achieved by switching to a dog food formulated for weight management that has fewer calories per serving.

More Proteins, Fewer Carbohydrates

Dogs are primarily carnivores, and their bodies are adapted to digest and utilize proteins efficiently. Carbohydrates, especially when consumed in excess, can contribute to obesity. Choose dog food with a higher protein content and fewer carbohydrates to help your dog lose weight. This not only aids in weight loss but also aligns with your dog's natural dietary preferences.

Fiber-Rich Diet

A diet with more fiber can help your dog feel full and satisfied, even when consuming fewer calories. High-fiber foods can assist in weight management by reducing the overall calorie intake without decreasing the volume of food. Look for dog food options that contain adequate fiber content, promoting a feeling of fullness and supporting digestion.

dog waiting to eat his balanced diet to prevent obesity

Portion Control

Managing portion sizes is crucial. Follow the feeding guidelines provided on the dog food packaging or consult with your veterinarian to determine the appropriate portion size for your dog's specific needs. Remember that each dog is unique, and adjustments may be necessary over time to ensure steady and safe weight loss.

Regular Monitoring

Keep a close eye on your dog's progress. Regularly weigh your dog and monitor their body condition to assess how they are responding to the new diet and portion sizes. Make necessary adjustments based on their weight loss or maintenance needs.


While diet plays a significant role in weight management, exercise is also essential. Regular physical activity helps your dog burn calories, build muscle, and maintain overall health. Consult with your veterinarian to establish an exercise routine that is appropriate for your dog's fitness level and age.

Remember that every dog's weight loss journey is unique, and it's essential to consult with your veterinarian to create a customized plan that meets your dog's specific needs. They can help you determine the right amount of food, the best diet, and an appropriate exercise routine to ensure a healthy and gradual weight loss while maintaining proper nutrition.

Reduce Weight by Exercise or Providing Less Food

In actuality, both will work fine. Your dog gets obese when the amount of energy exceeds the required amount. Therefore, it will be better to reduce the amount of energy and increase its consumption. Exercise will increase the amount of energy consumption, and along with this, less amount of food will complete the equation of weight loss.

dog playing with owner can reduce the chance for obesity

High protein and fewer carbs will reduce body fat, while high fiber content will increase the body metabolism and increase satiety. In addition to this, you should also eliminate the table scraps and treats until your dog gets to its normal weight. If, however, your dog needs a treat after the training session, you can select the one with minimum calories. You will not find difficulty in purchasing good food. There are several dog foods, canned and kibble, specially designed for weight loss. You should try the one made by a respected brand.

You should understand that exercise is as important as the diet in order to lose weight. Your dog can perform a lot of exercises, including 30 minutes on-leash walk a day. You should also spare some time to take your furry friend out for fun games (fetch, tug-of-war, obstacles and more). It will greatly help him consume the energy. Or visit a dog park where he can play with other pups! The fun play options are almost limitless!

What to do after my dog reaches ideal weight?

After your dog has reached their ideal weight, the focus shifts from weight loss to maintaining a healthy weight. It's important to continue to monitor and adapt your dog's diet and exercise plan to ensure they remain at an optimal weight. Here's a more detailed elaboration on what to do after your dog reaches their ideal weight:

  • Consult with Your Veterinarian: Before making any significant changes to your dog's diet or exercise routine, it's essential to consult with your veterinarian. They can assess your dog's current health and provide guidance on maintaining their ideal weight. Your vet will offer recommendations on the appropriate amount of food and exercise needed to keep your dog healthy.

  • Transition to a Maintenance Diet: Your dog may need a different type of dog food designed for weight maintenance. These foods are formulated to provide balanced nutrition while helping your dog maintain their current weight. They contain fewer calories than regular dog food, which is important to prevent weight gain.

  • Adjust Portion Sizes: Work with your veterinarian to determine the appropriate portion size for your dog's maintenance diet. It's crucial to ensure that they are receiving enough calories to maintain their energy levels and overall health without exceeding their calorie needs, which could lead to weight gain.

  • Monitor Body Condition: Regularly assess your dog's body condition to make sure they are maintaining their ideal weight. You can continue using body condition scoring to check for any signs of weight gain or loss. If you notice any changes, consult with your vet for guidance on necessary adjustments.

  • Exercise Routine: Your dog's exercise routine should be adjusted as needed to maintain their ideal weight. While the intensity of exercise may remain relatively consistent, the duration or frequency of exercise sessions may need to be adapted. Your vet can help you establish a sustainable exercise plan that meets your dog's needs.

  • Regular Check-Ups: Continue to schedule regular check-ups with your veterinarian to ensure your dog's overall health and to monitor their weight. These check-ups can help catch any potential issues early and ensure that your dog remains in good health.

  • Vigilance: Be vigilant about your dog's health. Watch for any signs of weight gain, as well as any other health issues that may arise. Maintaining an ideal weight is an ongoing process, and staying attentive to your dog's well-being is key.

It's important to remember that dogs, like humans, can experience fluctuations in their weight over time due to various factors, such as age, activity level, and changes in metabolism. Therefore, staying in close communication with your veterinarian and making adjustments to your dog's diet and exercise routine as needed is crucial for long-term health and well-being.

Ultimately, the goal after your dog reaches their ideal weight is to ensure they enjoy a healthy, happy life without the risk of obesity-related health issues or the discomfort of being underweight.

Acupressure for Weight Loss

Acupressure is a traditional Chinese medicine practice that involves applying pressure to specific points on a dog's body to promote healing and balance. It's a non-invasive and drug-free method that can be used as a complementary therapy for a variety of conditions. Here's how acupressure can be beneficial in preventative care:

dog getting acupressure for toxin elimination in the body
  • Toxin Elimination: Acupressure can stimulate the body's natural detoxification processes. By applying pressure to specific acupressure points, you can help improve blood circulation and lymphatic drainage, assisting in the removal of toxins from the body.

  • Appetite Regulation: Acupressure can also help regulate appetite. By targeting certain pressure points associated with digestion and appetite control, you can potentially assist in preventing overeating or under-eating in your dog. This is particularly useful in maintaining a healthy weight.

  • Stress Reduction: Acupressure sessions can reduce stress and anxiety in dogs, which, in turn, can support their overall well-being. Reduced stress levels can contribute to better appetite control and a healthier digestive system.

  • Digestive Health: Acupressure can contribute to preventing tummy upsets by stimulating specific points associated with digestive function. This can help reduce the likelihood of gastrointestinal issues.

  • Motivation for Exercise: Acupressure can help boost your dog's motivation for exercise by targeting points associated with energy levels and mood. A more motivated and active dog is more likely to engage in regular physical activity.

  • Tissue Strength: Acupressure sessions can strengthen tissues, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your dog's body. This can help reduce the risk of injuries and ensure your dog remains agile and active.

Acupressure can also be helpful for arthritis, allergies, kennel cough, anxiety.

Consult with your veterinarian before incorporating acupressure into your dog's preventative care routine, as it should be used in conjunction with traditional veterinary care and not as a replacement. Your vet can recommend a certified acupressure practitioner or guide you on safe techniques you can use at home. It is important to visit the vet when there is a sudden change in behavior (appetite, lethargy, etc.) or you suspect your pup is sick.

Final Thoughts

The growing issue of canine obesity is a cause for concern, affecting an increasing number of dogs with each passing day. It is imperative for pet parents to comprehend the gravity of this situation and take proactive measures to safeguard the health of their beloved furry companions.

To combat obesity and its associated health risks, it is vital to provide your furry friend with a meticulously balanced diet, ensuring they receive all the essential nutrients in the right proportions. Additionally, incorporating regular exercise is of utmost importance. Taking your pet to the dog park for stimulating play or engaging in fun games with them not only promotes physical fitness but also nurtures a stronger bond between you and your canine companion.

By addressing canine obesity through a combination of a nutritious diet and active playtime, you are taking a substantial step toward safeguarding your dog's health, ensuring their well-being, and offering them the opportunity to lead a fulfilling, joyful, and extended life by your side.

woman hugging her dog

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