In memories of all immobile dogs that were not given a second chance

What is Obesity in Dogs? The role of Rehabilitation and Physiotherapy

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), 54% of the nation’s dogs and cats are overweight. There are really two factors to keep in mind when you consider the issues associated with overweight and obese dogs : health and money.

The first, health, should come as no surprise to those who are aware of all the health issues that overweight people have to deal with. “It’s not only the fact that obese dogs face a shorter life expectancy, but it’s the quality of the life they’re leading in the first place,” says the doctor. A few of the major health issues that obese dogs and cats have to deal with include osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart and respiratory disease, kidney disease, cancer and more. And the real heartbreaker for me any Singapore Pet Owners is that these pets have such a diminished quality of life.

Obesity is a nutritional disease which is defined by an excess of body fat. Dogs that are over nourished, lack the ability to exercise, or that have a tendency to retain weight are the most at risk for becoming obese. Obesity can result in serious adverse health effects, such as reducing the lifespan, even if your dog is only moderately obese. Multiple areas of the body are affected by excess body fat, including the bones and joints, the digestive organs, and the organs responsible for breathing capacity.

Obesity is common in dogs of all ages, but it usually occurs in middle-aged dogs, and generally in those that are between the ages of 5 and 10. Neutered and indoor dogs also tend to have a higher risk of becoming obese.

Over at RA Healing Centre, we often deal with Labrador, Golden Retrievers that are overweight and suffering from Osteoarthritis. Most owners are not even aware that their dogs are overweight.


Professor of Orthopedic Surgery & Director of Surgical Service

Diplomate of the American Academy of Pain Management, is a a founder and past-president of the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management.

Janet B. Van Dyke, DVM
Diplomate American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, CCRT, CEO

Ludovica Dragone, DVM, CCRP
Vice President of VEPRA, Veterinary European of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Association.

Andrea L. Henderson, DVM, CCRT, CCRP
Resident, Canine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation

Steven M.Fox, MS, DVM, MBA, PhD
President Securos. Inc

Too Thin – Underweight

GRADE ONE : Ribs, lumbar vertebrae, pelvic bones and all bony prominences evident from a distance. No discernible body fat. Obvious loss of muscle mass.

GRADE TWO : Ribs, lumbar vertebrae and pelvic bones easily visible. No palpable fat. Some evidence of other bony prominence. Minimal loss of muscle mass.

Too Thin – Underweight

GRADE THREE : Ribs easily palpated and maybe visible with no palpable fat. Tops of lumbar vertebrae visible. Pelvic bones becoming prominent. Obvious waist and abdominal tuck.


GRADE FOUR : Ribs easily palpable, with minimal fat covering. Waist easily noted, viewed from above. Abdominal tuck evident.

GRADE FIVE : Ribs palpable without excess fat covering. Waist observed behind ribs when viewed from above. Abdomen tucked up when viewed from side.

Too Heavy – Overweight

GRADE 6 : Ribs palpable with slight excess fat covering. Waist is discernible viewed from above but is not prominent

GRADE 7 : Ribs palpable with difficulty; heavy fat cover. Noticeable fat deposits over lumbar area and base of tail. Waist absent or barely visible. Abdominal tuck may be present

Too Heavy – Overweight

GRADE 8 : Ribs not palpable under heavy fat cover, or palpable only with significant pressure. Heavy fat deposits over lumbar area and base of tail. Waist absent. No abdominal tuck. Obvious abdominal distention may be present.

GRADE 9 : Massive fat deposits over thorax, spine and based of tail. Waist and abdominal tuck absent. Fat deposits on next and limbs. Obvious abdominal distention.


One of the most common complications of obesity in dogs is the development of diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes). Obesity causes an increase in the secretion of insulin in response to the increased blood glucose level in the overweight dog. Insulin is also more in demand simply because there is a greater amount of tissue in an overweight dog. When requirements for insulin exceed the ability of the body to produce insulin, diabetes mellitus develops. If the need for insulin increases over a long period of time, the cells in the pancreas which produce insulin can actually ‘burn out,’ again resulting in diabetes.


As in people, overweight dogs tend to have increased blood pressure (hypertension). The heart has an increased work load since it must pump additional blood to excess tissues. This can lead to congestive heart failure.


The liver stores fat so when a dog is overweight, an increased amount of fat builds up in the liver. This is called hepatic lipidosis. This condition can result in decreased liver function.


In overweight animals, the lungs can not function properly. The additional fat in the chest restricts the expansion of the lungs. The extra fat in the abdomen pushes against the diaphragm, which separates the abdominal cavity from the chest. This also results in less space in the chest for the lungs to expand on inspiration. To make matters worse, the increased quantity of tissue puts an increased demand on the lungs to supply oxygen. These changes are especially serious in dogs who may already have a respiratory disease.


Fat is an excellent insulator, which is fine if you are a polar bear. But if you are an overweight dog in the heat of summer, the excess fat can make you miserable, and much less capable of regulating your body temperature.


Dogs who are overweight have less endurance and stamina. Carrying all that extra weight around takes a lot more work. The heart, muscles, and respiratory system are all asked to do more than they were designed for.


Studies have suggested that approximately one-quarter of overweight dogs develop serious joint complications. The bones, joints, muscles, and associated tendons and ligaments all work together to give the dog smooth and efficient movement. If they are required to carry excess weight, they can start to become damaged. Arthritis can develop and the pain and joint changes associated with hip dysplasia can become markedly more severe.

Extra tension on joints caused by an increased weight load can also lead to damage of certain ligaments. Ligaments are tough, fibrous strands of tissue that hold one bone in proximity to another bone in joints. One of the ligaments in the knee, the anterior cruciate ligament, is very prone to strains or tears. If this ligament is torn, the knee becomes very unstable and the dog is reluctant to use it. Surgery must be done to repair this torn ligament.

Certain breeds of dogs, such as Dachshunds are prone to develop intervertebral disc disease (‘slipped disc’). Carrying extra weight increases the probability that they will develop this painful and sometimes debilitating condition.


The effects of obesity on the heart and lungs have serious ramifications during anesthesia. Cardiac arrest (heart stops) and poor circulation of oxygenated blood to the tissues can occur.

Many of the anesthetics are taken up by fat, so an overweight animal will take longer to come out of anesthesia because the anesthetic must be removed from the fat by the body. In addition, many anesthetics are broken down by the liver. A fatty liver may not be as efficient at breaking down anesthetics and other drugs, so again, recovery may be delayed.

The increased fat in the tissues makes surgery more difficult. Basically it is harder to find or get at what you are looking for. The fat obscures the surgical area. For example, in abdominal surgery in an obese dog, there may be literally inches of fat between where the skin incision is made and the organ you need to work on, such as the urinary bladder. This makes the surgery technically more difficult and the procedure will also take longer, which again increases the anesthetic risk.


An overweight dog has an increased risk of developing constipation and may also have more problems with intestinal gas and flatulence, which is not pleasant for the dog or the owner.


Obesity in the dog is associated with decreased resistance to viral and bacterial infections. Canine distemper and Salmonella infections, especially, seem to be more severe in dogs who are overweight. The exact cause(s) of this lowered resistance to disease in obese dogs is unknown.


It is evident from the above discussion that the health, ability to play, even to breathe, are diminished in overweight dogs. Overweight dogs may become more irritable due to being hot, in pain, or simply uncomfortable. Overweight dogs die at a younger age than those maintained at an optimum weight.

It is clear that we are not contributing positively to our dog’s health when we allow them to become overweight. The next time those big brown eyes say, ‘Can I please have a treat,’ think very carefully first. In most cases, your answer should be ‘No, and I’m doing this for your own good,’ and it will be absolutely true.