What Makes Dogs Fat? Getting An Overweight Dog Back In Shape
Let's admit it - chonky dogs can be kinda cute. But in the long run, being overweight makes your dog more vulnerable to dangerous and even life-threatening diseases. So here are some of the most common reasons why dogs get fat & what you can do about it.
As a loving dog parent, we know you’re always going the extra mile to keep your buddy healthy and safe. So if you’ve ever found a smile on your face looking at (or thinking of) an overweight dog…we get it.
But with that said, over 50% of dogs in the US along are overweight.1 And as adorable as a chonky dog might be, it can have a terrible impact on your buddy’s long-term health, happiness, and quality of life by your side.
Our role in our dogs’ lives is a big one. As responsible dog parents, it’s our job to keep them healthy and strong – so they can live longer, healthier, happier lives with us. (Yes, that means no more Thanksgiving or Christmas table scraps.) So in this post, we’re going to help you understand why dogs become overweight – and how tracking their daily activity can help overcome it.
Table of contents
- What kind of health problems do overweight dogs have?
- How can I tell if my dog is overweight?
- What makes dogs fat?
- How can I help an overweight dog lose weight?
- Wrapping up: Helping an overweight dog get (and stay) in shape
What kind of health problems do overweight dogs have?
Dogs that are overweight are at higher risk of these potentially serious health conditions:
- breathing difficulties, including sleep apnea
- respiratory disease
- high blood pressure
- joint injuries
Which means even those extra table scraps (and the resulting weight gain) can come at a cost. Overweight dogs’ health is inherently compromised – along with their quality of life. Because much like humans, dogs who put on more weight experience more pressure on almost all their organs. Overloaded organs can cause disease, and even lead to death.
Also, overweight dogs will likely have a shorter lifespan than their fellow four-legged friends. That’s why it’s important to understand if your dog is overweight, which factors may have led to this, and how you can help your dog lose weight and regain full health.
💡Tracking your dog’s daily activity can help you pick up on whether they’re getting enough exercise – or have gotten more sedentary over time.
Plus, your Tractive device comes equipped with Health Alerts, which notify you if your dog seems less active than usual. (Which can indicate illness, infection, or injury in some cases.)
How can I tell if my dog is overweight?
There are several ways to check if your dog is overweight. If you can no longer feel your dog’s ribs when you touch their chest, this is a good sign that your dog is overweight, or maybe even obese.
You can also use the Body Condition Score Chart below or our dog BMI (body mass index) calculator to check if your dog’s weight falls within a healthy range.
Finally, your vet will be able to tell if you if your dog is overweight, how much they should ideally weigh, and recommend a plan for weight loss that is specific to your dog’s needs.
Body Condition Score Chart for overweight dogs
Use the Body Condition Score chart for dogs below to see if your dog is undernourished, at an ideal weight, or overweight. This is what vets consider the best way to evaluate a dog’s weight.
If your dog is considered overweight – it’s time to understand what may have caused that so that you can take steps to make their life better.
What makes dogs fat?
Despite our best intentions, dogs can become overweight or obese for many reasons. The obvious ones are:
- too many calories, or the wrong type of calories
- not enough exercise
But many other factors can also play a role, including:
- breed (especially if you have a brachycephalic dog. On the other hand, active, high-energy dog breeds tend to be less likely to gain weight.)
- psychological issues
- lifestyle & family factors
- hormone imbalances
And most importantly: the habits and routine your dog picks up. Most of which develop as a result of them adapting to living with you. Aka, if you’ve gotten a bit less consistent with your own exercise and eating habits, your dog is likely to pick up on these as well.
Here’s a brief explanation of each reason why your dog might be overweight.
Inappropriate food & diet
When dogs reach adult size, it’s time for them to start eating grown-up dog food. Feeding an adult dog high-calorie puppy food can lead to obesity and problems with their bones and muscles.
Also take care to avoid giving extra treats. Often, people forget to account for dog treats in their dog’s daily food intake. A few small snacks a day can add up to a lot of extra calories.
Food meant for people can have a similar effect as dog treats, gradually adding on extra weight. A study showed that obese pets are more likely to be fed with low-quality food. So it’s not just about quantity, but quality as well.
Lack of exercise
Big or small, young or old – dogs need to exercise daily. While some breeds have special needs that have to be taken into account, all dogs need some form of daily physical activity.
So consider taking your dog along with you when out on a run or try a gentle hiking trail together. Your dog will benefit tremendously from the exercise – but also the sensory stimulation of being out in nature. (And getting to interact with other people and pets.)
Without activity, dogs will become bored, unhealthy and obese. Which, if they’re just bored, might manifest as destructive behaviors. (Like chewing up your slippers, barking endlessly, or even an escape attempt from home – where they might get lost.)
⚠️ A lack of exercise is also a prime reason some runaway dog breeds, well…run away. (Because they just have so much pent-up energy, they need to let off some steam.) High-energy puppies, similarly, are also more likely to bolt off out of curiosity. Which, with their underdeveloped senses, might mean they won’t be able to sniff their way back home to you.
But with regular activity tracking, you can keep track of your dog’s active minutes throughout the day – and see if they’ve gotten enough exercise. (Kind of like checking whether you’ve gotten your 10,000 steps for the day – or making sure your Duolingo streak is safe.)
Which can help you stay motivated and accountable to your dog’s daily exercise…and ensure they’re too tired to run away.
Stay on top of your dog’s wellness
See how they’re doing at a glance with Wellness Score. Set goals. Compare with dogs like yours. Monitor sleep. Detect issues and keep them healthy.
Certain breeds are more likely to end up as overweight dogs. In particular:
- Cocker Spaniels
- Cairn Terriers
- The Retriever family
- Brachycephalic dog breeds, like Pugs, Staffies, Boxers, and Bulldogs
- Beagles (despite being a high-energy dog breed!)
- Basset Hounds
Wondering how breed plays a role? Well, it could be due to factors like a tendency to lay around if not prompted to exercise, being more likely to overeat, or even anatomical abnormalities that make them reluctant exercisers. Some dogs, like Scottish terriers, are even prone to health conditions like hypothyroidism – which can lower their everyday energy.
At the bottom line, however, we’d like to emphasize that habits and routine play a more important role than breed.
- If your dog, for example, learns that the puppy eyes trick gets them treats from one family member over another, they’re likely to repeat this behavior (and end up gaining weight.)
- If you’re not making regular exercise a priority, your dog will adapt to a sedentary routine as well.
So while breed-specific factors (like a predisposition to certain health conditions) are important, make sure you’re staying consistent to regular exercise and good eating habits. (Both for you and your dog.) And make sure to check in with your local vet for any breed-specific factors to keep an eye out for.
One of the first signs your dog has officially graduated to a grand-paw (or their senior dog years) is if they seem less active than before. (Which, if you’ve a responsible dog parent, you can catch on to early with your dog’s Activity Monitoring data.)
- In fact, your senior dog might need fewer calories than a young adult dog. (Because they’re less active.)
- But if they eat just as much as they used to, senior dogs might gain weight fast.
Most medium to large dogs reach their senior dog years by 7 years of age. (Smaller dogs a few years after.) And besides a drop in their activity, other easy-to-miss signs of aging in dogs include a tendency to sleep longer.
Read more: How to convert dog years to human years
Luckily, your Tractive device also includes Sleep Tracking, which can help you pick up on how much quality sleep your buddy has gotten – and how many times they woke up from a disturbance instead. Which can actually help you catch on early to sleep-related health conditions in senior dogs – like cognitive dysfunction syndrome.
Got a dog that’s spayed or neutered? It might result in changes to their bodies and systems that make it easier for them to gain weight. This is because sex hormones control the appetite and metabolism of pets. If neutering limits the effect of these hormones, it can lead to an excessive appetite and lower energy. Neutering might also change your pet’s feeding patterns, making your dog beg for more food.
Lifestyle & family factors
This isn’t an easy pill to swallow – but if you (or your loved ones) are overweight, it’s more likely your dog might end up overweight as well. (According to a 2020 study from the National Institute of Health.)2
Why might this happen? Well, when we’re surrounded by people who are overweight or obese, it can skew our perception of what counts as:
- A healthy weight range for your height
- Healthy portion sizes
- A normal, healthy body shape for your pets
- Healthy portion sizes of dog food (or other human foods or treats you might feed them)
Besides, your daily habits (like eating and exercise) all play a role in not just gaining weight – but staying overweight over time. So, for example, if you’ve given up on more than one occasion of taking your dog out on walkies, it can become a habit that sticks for the long run.
And over time, obese pets end up about twice as likely to have obese owners.3 (Especially due to misconceptions of an obese pet’s body condition, which can become a major obstacle in helping them stay at a healthy weight.)
Hormonal disorders & disease
Hormonal disorders can also cause weight problems.
- For example, an under-active thyroid gland can lead to lowered hormone production. Like we’ve mentioned, some dogs (like Scottish terriers) may be predisposed towards hormonal conditions like hypothyroidism. Which can put a damper on their energy and make them more likely to laze around over joining playtime.
- Or a dog’s adrenal glands may produce too much of a hormone called cortisol and lead to a condition known as Cushing’s Disease. Dogs with Cushing’s Disease don’t actually gain weight, but their fat is redistributed to the abdomen, giving them a pot-bellied look.
So while your habits and routine play an important role in keeping your dog healthy, make sure to check in with your local vet too. They can help you identify breed-specific factors that might predispose your dog to gaining weight.
How can I help an overweight dog lose weight?
There’s a lot you can do to ensure your pup lives a healthy, happy life. Here are our top tips for how you can help your dog lose weight:
Gradually change your dog’s diet
Helping an overweight dog get back in shape doesn’t need an extreme diet. These tend to not be the most sustainable – and a big change might just stress your dog out. (Which might end up in an escape attempt to go dumpster diving – or find a friendly neighbor who might feed them instead.)
So go slow and steady – one step at a time.
- Gradually adjust portion sizes. Use a food scale to know exactly how much they’re going to eat.
- Replace snacks with healthier options. If your dog has picked up the habit of grazing on treats throughout the day, they’ll protest if you suddenly cut these off completely. So opt for healthy snacks like kibble instead.
- Quality + quantity. Avoid foods that include preservatives and processed carbs. Rather, pick high-quality dog foods and healthy proteins and vegetables.
- Keep a limit on the treats. In general, treats should only make a small portion of your dog’s diet. Mix them up by rewarding your dog with treats – but also pets, praise, or extra playtime. So they don’t start “behaving” only for the prospect of extra snacks.
💡Worried your dog might escape to find a yummy snack outdoors? Set up a “safe zone” with Tractive’s Virtual Fence. With this, you instantly get an alert if your buddy’s trying to sneak past it. (So you can intervene and pick them up before they escape – and potentially eat something that’s dangerous for them.)
Make regular exercise a priority
Regular walks outdoors isn’t just a fun, bonding activity. Rather, some countries (like Germany) might even make it a legal requirement to walk your dog twice a day! So make sure to check in with your vet the recommended number of walks with your dog. Or what indoor and outdoor playtime activities you can get up to together. Other small hacks include moving your dog’s feeding bowl upstairs – just to get them a few more steps.
Read more: How to tire out a puppy
Besides that, consider getting your dog an exercise buddy. (Whether you or a loved one with a dog.) It’ll help both you and your dog socialize, as well as keep you accountable and motivated to their daily exercise.
💡Worried your dog might run off too far from safety when out in a dog park or outdoor area? Your Tractive GPS helps you follow their every step in real-time and over an unlimited range.
So you can chill out more while out on walks – because you have the peace of mind you’ll always know where your dog is. (No matter how far they roam.)
Track your dog’s daily activity
Another great way to stay motivated? Tracking your dog’s daily activity and how many calories they’ve burned.
Vets even recommend regular activity tracking to stay on top of your dog’s health. Because if you notice a sudden, sharp drop in their energy – or if they seem more lethargic than usual, it could indicate they’re struggling with a sickness, old age, or injury.
So with its built-in motion detector, your Tractive device picks up on your dog’s movements throughout the day. Which can help you better understand their daily activity, if they’re getting enough exercise, and whether it’s time to go and see a vet. (Preventing a possible health condition from worsening – and costing you a ton in medical bills.)
Stay on top of your vet visits
Looping in your local vet can help you rule out the possibility of a medical condition. If you notice your dog panting, limping, or generally finding it more difficult to move, get in touch with them immediately. Your vet can also advise you what supplements you could add to your dog’s diet to make weight loss easier.
Make healthy habits a team activity
If you can get your loved ones on board, a healthy lifestyle can become as much a part of your life as your dog’s. Track portion sizes and prioritize regular exercise together, weigh your dog regularly, and make sure everyone’s drinking plenty of water. Because if you’re sticking to a habit consistently, you’ll find it easier to do so for your dog as well.
💡Tractive’s fun Dog Walk feature helps you log in your daily walk with your dog. So you can stay motivated and accountable to getting your dog their daily exercise and outdoor time.
Wrapping up: Helping an overweight dog get (and stay) in shape
Overweight dogs are vulnerable to serious and potentially life-threatening conditions. So make sure to:
- Start slow and steady. A big change in diet or lifestyle might just stress your dog out. (And trigger an escape attempt to go dumpster diving in search of treats.) So start slow and gradually adjust their portion sizes and the kind of snacks they’re accustomed to.
- Aim long-term. Ideally, your goal should be to help your dog stay in shape – not just temporarily lose weight. So make your weight loss efforts a joint activity to stay extra motivated.
- Track your dog’s regular activity to stay on top of their daily movements. Great for staying motivated and accountable to their exercise routine.
It can be difficult relying on memory alone when you’re describing your dog’s everyday habit. But with their Activity Tracking data at hand, you’re more likely to have a productive conversation with your vet.
It’s how Tractive pet parents around the world – just like you – are monitoring their buddies’ health. And helping them live a longer, happier, healthier life together.
Need some motivation to help you get your pup in shape? Check out this inspiring story of how one overweight dog got back to his happy, healthy self with the help of loving adoptive parents:
And if you found this post useful, share it with a fellow dog parent today – and create a healthier, happier world for our furry friends together.