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Are Fat Rolls Necessarily Bad for a Dog’s Health?

Your dog is adorable. They light up your day when you come home from work and see them wagging their tail in the living room.

But are you noticing a little cushioning on the sides of your dog?

It’s hard to monitor your dog’s weight, especially when we all have tons of stuff going on in our lives on top of feeding our dog.

They could be getting into the bag of dry mix while you’re away, not exercising enough, or it could be age-related. But either way, you’ve noticed fat rolls.

Fat rolls may actually be a part of a dog’s breed, and nothing more. That being said, fat rolls are just how your dog stores fat—it doesn’t mean that it’s okay if they have little rings around them when they sit on their hind legs.

What Are Fat Rolls?

Photo of chinese shar pei

A dog with fat rolls may have them because of how their breed grows, but just because they exist doesn’t mean they’re good.

Fat rolls are referred to as seated fat: layers of fat that sit in specific areas under a dog’s skin.

Fat rolls technically help to protect their vital organs, and that’s what fat does in general; it’s there for protection and reserve food in the event of starvation. Some fat is good, but not to the point that it’s in rolls seated on top of your stomach.

With dogs and humans, we both share a similar trait with our fat cells. There’s this common misconception that when we “lose fat”, it disappears. That’s not really true.

We always have the same number of fat cells. What happens is these porous cells end up filling up with fat and expanding, creating that cellulite texture and feeling. You don’t ever gain or lose fat cells; they’re always there.

With dogs, these are stored differently. We’ll learn more about the health risks shortly, but for now, suffice to say that you should work to reduce their fat rolls until they reach a healthy weight.

Fat rolls may also happen as your dog enters their senior years. If your veterinarian says that they’re in a healthy weight range, this could be entirely true. 

How do They Happen?

Photo of Tired Obese Dog

It’s not just black and white—we wish it was that easy. There are a few ways that it can happen, some of which will come as no surprise.

  • Poor Diet: We don’t mean a poor diet like you’re feeding them nothing but french fries from the table, but low-quality dog food with more fillers than nutritionally beneficial ingredients. Consider upgrading their dog food. Apart from preventing them from getting fat, you’ll also be able to extend their lifespan by two to three years on average. All that just from diet—it’s the most important fix here, and you should get on that ASAP.
  • Lack of Exercise: Is your dog exercising? Because a couple of walks to do their business each day doesn’t really count. They should be burning through their energy for at least thirty minutes of moderate intensity activity every single day, whether isn’t a game of fetch, running with you to work out, or running wild in the dog park for a while. It won’t be a magic cure for fat rolls, but just like any exercise, it’s the long-term results that matter the most.
  • Hereditary Traits: Do you have any family timeline? Just like with humans, fat dogs have genetic markers that make their children more likely to become obese. If this is the case, it doesn’t mean that the fat just comes from nowhere, but that they’re more prone to overeating or eating to settle their emotions (yes, dogs do this too; it’s not just people). They may need special feeding bowls, commonly referred to as puzzle bowls, or dietary restrictions.
  • Specific Breed: Some breeds are just built to store fat differently. French bulldogs and pugs tend to get more fat rolls than other breeds, and in some cases, this can be normal. It can just be the way that a healthy amount of fat is being displayed, especially if they’re also very muscly. We’ve done our research on the subject, but your vet will have the final answer for these breeds when you bring them in for a checkup or physical.
  • Aging: Skin contains collagen, a natural substance that increases the elasticity of the skin. It’s why losing weight as a young adult or teenager won’t leave as much loose skin as if you do it later on in life. For dogs, this fades as they age just like it does for humans, but their lifespan is obviously much more condensed. Once they reach their senior years, most of it might be gone, leaving sagging skin that appears in rolls. Your vet can determine if these are detrimental fat rolls, or simply sagging skin.

Can Fat Rolls on Dogs Cause Health Problems?

Photo of Puppy with fat rolls

Yes, they absolutely can. Ideally, your dog should have a slight hourglass shape to their body.

Their chest should be broad and barrel-like, and it should flow down to a slender base of the spine where it meets the hind legs, bowing inward. If you can gently run your hands along your dog’s sides from head to tail and not feel the sign of any of their ribs whatsoever, there’s too much fat there.

Over 55.8% of dogs in the United States are labeled as overweight or obese, and those are just the ones that regularly come into the vet—the number could likely be even higher. These are the health concerns that doggy obesity can cause.

  • Heart Disease: As with humans and any animals for that matter, obesity brings the threat of heart disease with it. When your dog’s heart has to work extra hard just to function at a base level, it doesn’t have the necessary time to repair itself during sleep. It doesn’t matter how much sleep they get, the fat is literally killing their heart. This is one of the biggest issues that you’ll face with just about every dog breed.
  • Joint Degeneration: If your dog isn’t taking joint supplements right now, you need to get them on one. Most dogs, whether they’re super active or not, have a serious issue with their joints. Every extra ounce can make a difference, which is why slender, fit dogs have a much easier time as they enter their senior years. Obese dogs can expect their joints to give out entirely about one to two years before fit dogs.
  • Temperature Intolerances: This can happen with both heat and cold, but usually it happens with heat. Dogs already have a problem regulating their body temperatures, and when you factor in the amount of fat on the outside of their body, they feel suffocated. That, and they have more to ventilate, so you end up running into a compounding problem. 
  • Cancer Risks: All cancer risks rise when your dog is obese. Lung cancer, heart cancer, skin cancer—everything. Weight is directly associated with cancer risks in humans and dogs.
  • Quality of Life: This is more of a combined problem with everything, but overall these issues will lead to a shortened life expectancy, and a lower quality of life. If changing a dog food diet can give your pup an extra two to three years of life, then what’s happening inside of them right now with fat rolls and obesity? Nothing good.

How to Help Your Dog Lose Weight

Photo of Obese Dog

The purpose of this article is to discuss fat rolls, but we do want to give some fast tips on how to help your dog lose weight and live a healthier life.

  • Dog Exercise Wheel: Great for fantastic cardio and weight loss.
  • Treadmill: Also a source of good cardio.
  • Feeding Puzzles: These are basically dog bowls designed to make eating harder (in a humane way).
  • Change Dog Food: Fillers aren’t helping; get rid of them.
  • Underwater Exercise: Usually treadmills that are underwater. Your dog walks in the water for zero damage to joints during exercise.

Where do Fat Rolls Cause Problems?

If you’ve ever seen a picture of a dog with tons of fat rolls, or your pup has started to display them, then you know that they can appear anywhere from the head to the tail.

They don’t appear on the legs because at that point your dog would likely be immobile.

Fat rolls primarily cause problems around the vital organs. Fat can sit and add pressure to vital organs, causing bowel obstructions, increased blood pressure, and a higher chance for heart attacks. These are just a few of the immediate and major problems.

Others include increased difficulty breathing (which is problematic because dogs already have weakened respiratory systems that are more susceptible to damage), decreased activity, and a sign of poor dietary health, which impacts their skin, coat, and even eye function.

How to Tell if Your Dog’s Fat?

Photo of Fat And Normal Sized Pug

There are a few different ways that you can tell if your dog is fat.

We already discussed feeling for their ribs and seeing that hourglass shape to their body, so we won’t reiterate that point, but it does belong on the list of ways that you can tell if they’re overweight or obese.

Hanging Fat Sacks

It’s an odd way of putting it, but that’s what they are. When your dog stands still, they’ll have sacks of fat that hang between their legs and dangle.

You’ll notice them when they walk around. The easiest way to spot them is to put your dog on an exercise wheel or a treadmill, and simply watch them to see if these pop up.

Keep in mind that senior dogs will simply have sagging skin in some areas, so spotting a difference between the two is going to be key. Fat sacks can also  form underneath dogs, so if you just get a side profile of your dog you should be able to spot them.

Side Jiggles

Fat sacks can also appear on the sides of their hips; they don’t just have to be underneath the dog. When we mentioned that hourglass shape earlier, we weren’t kidding.

It should be very well defined. Side fat will be prominent on your dog’s hips before it really shows up anywhere else, and in front of the hips where the thinnest point of that hourglass shape should be.

Side fat will only begin to appear around the chest when fat rolls start to get serious. These fat pads begin to turn into full-blown fat rolls if left unchecked.

Weigh Them (Often)

Get in the habit of weighing your dog at least every forty-eight hours. This may seem excessive, but one or two full weeks of their weight steadily rising will already set them on a harder path to lose those extra ounces or pounds.

The more often you do it, the more your dog will get used to the practice, and the less resistance you’ll get. Catalog the weights on paper so that if need be, you can bring it to the vet with your dog during their next physical.

Breeds With Natural Fat Rolls

Photo of Sharpei

Shorter, smaller breeds can naturally develop fat rolls. It’s still not healthy, but this is where they store their fat, and it’s definitely more pronounced than other breeds.

This is a short list of those dogs.

These dogs will naturally develop fat rolls as they gain weight, and will show more fat rolls from aging, but that doesn’t mean you should stop attempting to stop it and seek out vet assistance as needed.

Keeping Your Dog Healthy

Your dog could just naturally store fat in rolls on their sides, but if anything, that should just be an easier way to indicate that they’re not very healthy.

Breed, size, and age all affect how your dog looks, so if you have concerns about your dog’s weight be sure to consult your veterinarian before jumping to conclusions.

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