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Published: May 29, 2012

While conditions like canine diabetes and arthritis in dogs are quite common, many pet owners may not realize what is contributing to these conditions: obesity. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, more than 50 percent of dogs in North America are overweight or obese, and the issue only seems to be getting worse.

The reasons for obesity in dogs vary, but many of the same issues that cause the issue in humans also apply. In the past, many dogs were put to work on farms herding cattle or sheep, or possibly used to help hunt other animals. At the very least, many dogs had wide, open areas in which to get plenty of exercise. Modern pets, however, are often confined to an apartment or are only brought outside for short walks. This lack of exercise is a major contributor to the widespread problem of obesity.

Over-feeding also has a big role to play in overweight dogs. Many owners fill their dog's bowl with food and allow them to eat at all times throughout the day. Additionally, they may also not be choosing dog food that is healthy for their type of dog. When a dog gets used to eating an excessive amount of food, it can be difficult to adapt to a smaller intake.

Diagnosing obesity can be difficult for a pet owner - they may not be able to tell if their dog is heavier than it should be. Typically, a dog of normal weight will have a contour to their body that leads to a "tucked in" abdomen. In overweight dogs, the abdomen is distended and curves outward, rather than inward. While this is a helpful way to recognize obesity, owners should talk with their veterinarian about their concerns with weight to find out if it's a major problem.

Unfortunately, obesity contributes to a number of medical issues in dogs, chief among these being osteoarthritis. In the past, it was thought that carrying excess weight led to more stress on certain joints - and this is true. However, recent studies have also shown fat tissue actually secretes harmful chemicals which can inflame the joints and cause the animal to be in more pain than normal. Fatter dogs with arthritis may experience much more pain than those with the condition who are at an acceptable weight.

Talk to your veterinarian today about obesity and find out if you need to alter your dog’s feeding or exercise program to ensure they are as healthy as possible.