Everything you need to know to help your overweight dog lose weight

9 October 2020

Concerned about your overweight dog? Don't worry. We've got all the information and tips you need.

overweight dog pug on floor

Do you have an overweight dog? If so, you’re not alone. According to 2018 research from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, over 50% of US dogs are overweight. As dog parents, we play a big role in maintaining the health and fitness of our furry friends. And the good news is, this article can help you understand why dogs become overweight – and what you can do about it.

What are the health problems associated with overweight dogs?

A bit of extra weight can come with a cost – it can negatively impact your buddy’s health and life quality. 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. Dogs that are overweight are at higher risk of these potentially serious health conditions:

  • arthritis
  • diabetes
  • breathing difficulties
  • respiratory disease
  • cancer
  • high blood pressure
  • joint injuries

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.

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.

Your dog’s weight may fall into one of five categories:

  • Skinny
  • Under-nourished
  • Optimum (the ideal weight)
  • Over-nourished
  • Corpulent (overweight or obese)

body condition score chart for dogs - infographic for overweight dogs

If your dog is in one of the last two categories – over-nourished or corpulent – it’s time to understand what may have caused that so that you can take steps to make their life better.

What are the reasons why dogs become overweight?

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:

  • age
  • breed
  • neutering
  • psychological issues
  • lifestyle & family factors
  • hormone imbalances
  • illness
  • genetics

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. Without activity, dogs will become bored, unhealthy and obese. And since our dogs are our responsibility, we have to make sure they get the right amount of exercise. Especially if we also give them a lot of treats during the day!

Age

As dogs get older, they become less energetic. In fact, the daily energy needs of an average 7 year-old dog may be up to 20% less than a young adult dog. But if they eat just as much as they used to, dogs will gain weight fast.

As your dog gets older, you’ll want to be especially aware of weight gain. The first sign of aging is a general decrease in activity levels, including a tendency to sleep longer, and less interest in long walks and games of catch. Learn more about old age in dogs, and what you should look out for.

Breed Predisposition

Certain breeds are more likely to experience obesity. In particular: Cocker Spaniels, Cairn Terriers, Labrador Retrievers, and Golden Retrievers.

On the other hand, some breeds like Greyhounds and Whippets seem to be much less likely to become overweight or obese.

Neutering

Obesity can also be caused by neutering. 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.

Lifestyle & Family Factors

Sometimes, pet parents might find it difficult to assess what counts as a normal body shape for their pets. For example, if they themselves are overweight. A recent study showed that obese pets were about twice as likely to have obese owners. This misconception of an obese pet’s body condition can become a major obstacle in weight management.

Hormonal Disorders & Disease

Hormonal disorders can also cause weight problems. For example, an under-active thyroid gland can lead to lowered hormone production. 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.

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:

Best Diet for Overweight Dogs

  • Ensure your dog has a complete and balanced diet.
  • Count calories, measure portion sizes, and give them small meals (consult your vet for specific recommendations).
  • Reduce processed carbs; replace with healthy proteins and vegetables.
  • Choose high-quality dog foods.
  • Avoid feeding too many snacks and treats.
  • Change your dog’s diet slowly so they can have time to adjust to new, healthier foods.
  • Use treats only to reward your dog for good behavior.

Exercise & Lifestyle

  • Take your vet’s recommended number of walks with your dog each day.
  • Get your dog an exercise buddy.
  • Play, play, and play!
  • Start to track your dog’s activity and calories burned with an activity monitor.
  • Move the food bowl upstairs so your dog will have to get exercise before eating.
  • Let your dog run around at the dog park or in a fenced area – a GPS tracker will let you follow their every move and not have to worry.

overweight dog running through forest

Health

  • Rule out the possibility of a medical condition.
  • Weigh your dog regularly.
  • Make sure your dog gets plenty of water.
  • If you notice panting, limping, or other signs of a potential health condition, talk to your vet.
  • Consider adding supplements to your dog’s diet (with your vet’s guidance, of course).

Lifestyle Changes

  • Get the whole family on board – adopt a healthy lifestyle together.
  • Reward your dog with fun and love, rather than treats.
  • Swap old snacks with a healthy, long-lasting edible chew toy.
  • Ask yourself if there’s anything else you can do to help your furry friend.

How to Help Overweight Dogs: Summary

The number of overweight and obese dogs is going up worldwide. In most cases, obesity affects a dog’s quality of life and can lead to a number of serious and potentially life-threatening conditions. Your overall goal should be to help your dog develop healthy habits, ones that avoid potential health problems in the future.

In short, go for long-term solutions, not overnight success. And follow our tips to get your furry friend to an ideal weight!

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:


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