Dog Obesity Epidemic - Causes, Costs, Prevention, and Care | Pupford

April 24th, 2023

Filed under Health + Wellness

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It may be tempting to spoil our dogs with treats, special meals, and lots of snuggles. But when does that become too much?

There’s a difference between a well-loved, well-fed dog and an obese dog. And unfortunately, obesity can be a serious problem for our dogs.

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), 54% of dogs in the United States are classified as overweight or obese. This marks an increase in the obesity rate in pets for nine consecutive years. If that sounds like a problem to you, that’s because it is.

This isn’t meant to scare anyone or shame any pup parents -- quite the opposite actually. We’re here to take a good hard look at why dog obesity is an accelerating epidemic and what you can do to keep your dog healthy.

In this article, we’ll be covering:

  • Causes of obesity in dogs
  • Health issues caused by obesity in dogs
  • Cost of obesity in dogs
  • Caring for an obese or overweight dog
  • Preventing obesity in dogs

Let’s pause for some dog weight trivia!


Like anything else, finding a solution starts with understanding why the problem is happening.

The thing about obesity in dogs is that it’s rarely one single thing that causes it, but rather a combination of causes. The most common causes are:

  • Lack of awareness by people as to what a healthy weight for their dog is and how to recognize when weight is becoming excessive
  • Lack of compliance by dog parents (we know how hard it can be to say no to “that face”)
  • Genetic susceptibilities or mutations
  • Overfeeding via unmeasured feeding, free feeding, or food stealing in multi-dog homes
  • Feeding of calorically-dense foods and/or table scraps
  • Showing love and affection solely through treats
  • Lack of appropriate exercise for the dog’s age/breed/activity level/calories consumed

It’s important to stress that often dog parents aren’t even aware they’re doing these things. It’s easy for “a piece of chicken here,” and “an extra treat there” to add up over time and lead to weight issues, even with the best of intentions.


It’s important for dog parents to recognize what they’re doing to affect their dog’s weight and correct it if necessary. If not, obesity can lead to major health issues.

Here are the top 10 obesity-related conditions in dogs, according to Vet Innovations:

  1. Arthritis
  2. Bladder/Urinary Tract Disease
  3. Liver Disease
  4. Low Thyroid Hormone Production
  5. Torn Knee Ligaments
  6. Diabetes
  7. Diseased Disc in the Spine
  8. Chronic Kidney Disease
  9. Heart Failure
  10. High Blood Pressure

These are only the top specific diseases -- obesity can play a factor in many forms of inflammatory conditions and cancers too.

Nobody wants to see their dog sick, especially with diseases like these that can be uncomfortable for your dog and even shorten their lifespan.


Not only does obesity have costs when it comes to your dog’s health, it can be financially costly as well.

Here are some example scenarios of what obesity-related illnesses can cost, with data provided by PetPlan (as of 2017):

  • When dogs eat more than they should, they can develop digestive issues. The average cost of treatment for things like vomiting, diarrhea, and excessive gas is $850.
  • Overweight dogs are more susceptible to certain cancers, and the average cost of treating cancer in dogs is $2,033.
  • Joint issues are common in overweight dogs. Arthritis can cost $966 while more serious ligament issues can cost $3,480.
  • Urinary tract infections are not only painful and uncomfortable for your pup, they carry a $590 price tag to treat
  • Heart disease caused by obesity-related high blood pressure often costs around $1,232 to treat
  • Disc diseases are not only very limiting for your dog’s mobility, they can cost $2,033 to treat.

While we know we can’t put a price tag on your dog’s health, finances are a very real part of being a pup parent so it’s important to consider.


If your dog is overweight, there are things you can do to care for them and keep them healthy.

First, you’ll want to schedule regular wellness exams with your vet. You definitely want to have a professional make sure your dog is in good overall health as well as monitor for signs of future illness or disease. Ask your vet for a list of warning signs to be on the lookout for so if any conditions develop, you can catch them early.

The vet will also be able to keep an accurate log of your dog’s weight and recommend dietary plans accordingly. Make sure you’re sticking to your veterinarian-prescribed feeding protocol, even though it may be tempting to break it “just this once.”

In addition, it’s important to make gradual lifestyle changes like adding exercise and changing the foods and treats you give your dog (more on that in a little while!). Too many drastic changes like going from no exercise to an hour a day may be a bit of a shock for your dog.

Start slow, keep a careful eye on your pup, and incorporate some of the tips we cover in the next section.


If your dog is already overweight, you can use some of these habits to get their weight down. If your dog isn’t overweight, let’s keep it that way!

These tips for preventing obesity in dogs can help keep your pup healthy and happy at any weight:

  • Get informed. Ask your vet what the appropriate weight range for your dog is and weigh them regularly. Find out the acceptable calorie range for losing weight or maintaining healthy weight.
  • Use low calorie treats. Treats are an important tool for training, so you aren’t expected to eliminate them altogether. Just make sure you are choosing a low-calorie option and that treats are not making up more than 10-15% of your dog’s diet. Shop low-calorie dog treats here. You can also try dog-friendly fruits and veggies!
  • Spoil wisely. When your dog is extra good in the bath or does something that deserves spoiling, do so wisely. Choose a protein-based, no-sugar option to reward your dog without unnecessary calories. Our one-ingredient jerky treats are a guilt-free way to give your dog an extra special treat. Shop dog jerky treats here.
  • Exercise. Taking your dog for walks, playing fetch, and training can provide the exercise your dog needs to maintain a healthy weight -- it will also lead to a better behaved pup! Is the winter weather preventing you from getting outside with your pup? Here’s an interview with trainer Trevor Smith about exercising your dog in bad weather.
  • Make some simple swaps. Before giving your dog something, think “is there a healthier way to do this?” Here are some ideas for simple swaps that cut calories, without cutting love and excitement for your dog:
Dog Obesity this vs that | Pupford

It does take effort to get your dog to a healthy weight and maintain it, but sometimes even little things help. Something as simple as swapping treats and rewards for healthier options can make a big difference.

Did your dog ever have an experience with losing weight or creating a healthier lifestyle? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!


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