Sudden weight gain in old dogs could be alarming, as it could be caused by an underlying health issue. So, if your older dog has recently put on some weight, try to find out what causes the gain in weight and do something about it!
Some people think that since senior dogs are less active, it is unavoidable for them to put on some weight in their golden years.
It’s not true – it doesn’t have to be that way!
If a pawsome oldie is on a high-quality diet and has a healthy lifestyle, she can continue to stay slim.
In older dogs, excessive weight gain is alarming and should be checked out by a vet for possible underlying health issue.
How Do I Know if My Old Dog is Overweight?
Doctors use BMI (body mass index) to determine if people are overweight or not, vets also use something similar. It is a grading system called a Body Condition Score (BCS).
On a grading scale from 1 to 9, a dog is considered to have a normal body weight if he falls in the 4-5 range. Dogs whose BCS is 6 or higher are considered obese.
Access here for the Body Condition Score chart.
Click here to find out the ideal weights for different dog breeds.
What Can Cause Weight Gain in Old Dogs?
Several health problems can cause weight gain. The most common among older dogs include:
Hypothyroidism is a rather common health problem in older dogs. It results from an under-performing thyroid gland, producing insufficient thyroid hormones (T3 and T4).
Thyroid hormones are responsible for, among other tasks, metabolism. With a sluggish thyroid gland, the dog has slow metabolism which results in weight gain.
Other symptoms associated with hypothyroidism include chronic skin and/or ear infections, hair loss, joint pain, lethargy.
If your older dog’s weight continues to increase despite dietary control, be sure to take her to the vet to get her thyroid hormone levels checked out.
Cushing’s disease is another common old dog health issue that may cause weight gain. It is the result of an overproduction of cortisol by the adrenal glands. The excessive amount of cortisol in the blood has an adverse effect on the dog’s metabolism, resulting in weight gain especially in the abdominal area (the dog will have a saggy pot belly).
Other symptoms of Cushing’s disease include increased drinking and urination, appetite gain, hair loss, panting.
As you can see, these symptoms are rather non-specific, and without a proper diagnosis, it is impossible to get proper treatment, so once again, veterinary attention is needed if your older dog shows some of the above symptoms.
It is now believed that if a dog has chronic inflammation at the cellular level, obesity occurs. The reason is, because of a constant state of inflammation, the body tissues become deficient in antioxidant mediators (e.g. glutathione, ascorbic acid), and this can result not only in obesity, but also infections, and even cancers.
Of course, weight gain in old dogs could be caused by non-medical issues.
For example, if you feed your dog an inappropriate diet (e.g. grain based, high fat, low protein, or a high-energy food when your dog is mostly sedentary), chances are the dog will put on weight.
Also, if your dog is a couch potato (shall we call her “Spud”?) who doesn’t have enough regular rigorous exercise, she will become obese.
Health Risks of Obesity in Old Dogs
It is not hard to imagine the risks pose by weight gain in old dogs. Some of the most obvious ones are:
If a dog has to carry excessive amount of weight around, the most obvious health risk is the development of joint pain and stiffness. Over time, more serious issues, such as arthritis, hip dysplasia, torn knee ligament, etc. will occur.
If your dog’s weight gain is the result of too much fatty foods, she can develop pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas).
Obese dogs are also prone to diabetes as they tend to have higher blood sugar level, which needs an increased amount of insulin to be produced.
Since the pancreas is responsible for production of insulin, prolonged excessive demand of insulin secretion can cause “overwork” in the pancreatic cells, resulting in their inability to produce adequate amount of insulin. The result? Diabetes.
Overweight dogs are also susceptible to hypertension, as the heart has to work so much harder to pump more blood to the increased quantity of body tissues. Over time, this can lead to CHF (congestive heart failure).
Liver disease is another health risk for obese dogs. Fat is stored in the liver. For obese dogs, their livers have a build-up of fat, resulting in a condition called “fatty liver”, which can lead to more chronic liver disease.
Preventing Weight Gain in Old Dogs
As you can see, an overweight dog is an unhealthy dog, with quite a few ticking health-risk time bombs waiting to explode. So what can be done to help prevent excessive weight gain in old dogs? Or, if your dog is already overweight, what can you do to help her lose weight?
Give Her a Proper Diet
Hands down, the most important thing to tackle obesity in dogs is to take a hard look at the dog’s diet.
Is the diet appropriate for your dog, considering her age and activity level?
For overweight dogs, some vets may recommend a “prescription low-fat weight-loss” diet. This kind of diet may not be the best choice because a lot of such diets substitute fat (and protein) with poor-quality carbs (fiber, empty fillers, etc.) with little nutritional value.
Your dog will be much better off if fed a nutritious, low-fat, high-quality, high-protein diet, preferably home made. The diet should provide about two-thirds of the calories needed to maintain your dog’s ideal weight.
If it’s not possible to home cook for your dog, find a high quality grain-free diet and feed the appropriate quantity. For grain-free diets, you need to feed less (usually the daily amount fed has to be cut back by 20 to 40%.)
Here is an excellent low-fat, grain-free, high-quality protein diet for older dogs (affiliate link):
This food uses whitefish and turkey as the animal protein sources. It also uses low-glycemic ingredients such as beans, lentils, and peas so that blood sugar levels won’t spike after meal. Antioxidants and joint-support supplements (glucosamine and Chondroitin) are also added. Perfect for older dogs!
Pay Attention to the Feeding Schedule
Feed your dog on a proper schedule. The worst you can do is to leave the food out all day for her to free feed. Not only is it a bad habit, but it could also lead to obesity.
If your dog is used to having food available at all times, start cutting back to three or four small meals a day, and then down to two.
No More Table Scraps
Don’t feed your overweight older dog any table scraps, especially those high in fats and sugars.
“Treat” Overweight Dogs Properly
If you want to give your old dog some treats, try feeding her healthy ones, especially antiangiogenic foods.
Anti-what? I heard you ask.
Antiagiogenic foods are those that interfere with or destroy the blood vessels needed for the growth and spreading of tumors.
I know. Your dog doesn’t have a tumor… but listen to this:
Antiangiogenic foods also have the ability to shrink fat cells by cutting off their blood supply!
So where can we get these “antiangiogenic foods”?
Actually, and luckily for us, they are very common food items – Some example of such foods include:
- Berries (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries)
All these can be easily given to dogs as treats and meal toppers.
Other healthy snacks include freeze-dried meat snacks such as (affiliate link):
Remember though, if you feed your dog some snacks between meals, you need to reduce the amount of her regular food accordingly. For example, try giving your dog about 25% less of her regular food and substituting it with chopped cooked or uncooked veggies.
Coconut Oil and Kelp for Overweight Old Dogs
In addition to the above, there are two food items that could help old dogs who are overweight.
One food item is coconut oil.
Wait a minute, coconut oil is fat, right? Shouldn’t we be cutting down on fat?
True, but coconut oil contains mostly medium chain fatty acids, which are metabolized differently from other longer chain fats. They are stored less efficiently, and they can boost metabolism, facilitating weight loss.
Moreover, coconut oil has anti-inflammatory properties and is good for older dogs.
Kelp is another food item that may be helpful. Kelp is a type of seaweed and is rich in iodine and trace minerals.
Iodine is essential in stimulating the thyroid gland that controls metabolism. Again, with better metabolism, you may just see your dog slimming down nicely!
Weight gain in old dogs is not normal and unhealthy.
Get your overweight dog to the vet for a thorough checkup to rule out any underlying health issue (such as hypothyroidism) that may be causing the weight gain.
In the meantime, take a look at her diet, add healthy food items to her meals, and try to help your dog maintain a more active lifestyle.