The time course of metabolic and cardiovascular changes with weight gain and subsequent weight loss has not been elucidated. The goal of the present study was to determine how weight gain, weight loss and altered body fat distribution affected metabolic and cardiovascular changes in an obese dog model. Testing was performed when the dogs were lean (scores 4–5 on a nine-point scale), after ad libitum feeding for 12 and 32 weeks to promote obesity (>5 score), and after weight loss. Measurements included serum glucose and insulin, plasma leptin, adiponectin and C-reactive protein, echocardiography, flow-mediated dilation and blood pressure. Body fat distribution was assessed by computed tomography. Fasting serum glucose concentrations increased significantly with obesity (P< 0·05). Heart rate increased by 22 (se 5) bpm after 12 weeks of obesity (P= 0·003). Systolic left ventricular free wall thickness increased after 12 weeks of obesity (P= 0·002), but decreased after weight loss compared with that observed in the lean phase (P= 0·03). Ventricular free wall thickness was more strongly correlated with visceral fat (r 0·6, P= 0·001) than with total body fat (r 0·4, P= 0·03) and was not significantly correlated with subcutaneous body fat (r 0·3, P= 0·1). The present study provides evidence that metabolic and cardiovascular alterations occur within only 12 weeks of obesity in an obese dog model and are strongly predicted by visceral fat. These results emphasise the importance of obesity prevention, as weight loss did not result in the return of all metabolic indicators to their normal levels. Moreover, systolic cardiac muscle thickness was reduced after weight loss compared with the pre-obesity levels, suggesting possible acute adverse cardiovascular effects.