Help! My Dog Is Obese!

Here's what to do if your dog's super overweight.

fat dog

You might think your dog gaining a little extra weight is no big deal, but if your dog puts on too much weight, he could become obese — which is actually a major problem.

Obese dogs can develop a ton of health issues, like diabetes and joint problems. Plus, they won’t have the energy to go on walks or play with you.

The Dodo spoke to Dr. Katie Pagan, a partner veterinarian of Heart + Paw Fells Point, to find out how to tell if your dog’s obese and what to do about it.

Is my dog obese?

If your dog’s obese, he’ll be extremely overweight. And that doesn’t mean he just has a little extra weight to lose. Obese dogs have gained so much weight that they’re often already showing symptoms of other health problems.

“An overweight dog may only have a few pounds to lose, but an obese dog will have much more to lose,” Dr. Pagan told The Dodo. “Obese dogs are usually starting to show some joint disease already due to extra weight and may be hesitant to go out for walks. We can also start to see other health conditions emerge when a dog is obese.”

Other signs that your dog’s obese include difficulty walking or getting up, difficulty breathing or getting winded, and having trouble getting up stairs or into the car.

Dogs who are overweight are around 10 to 20 percent above their ideal weight, while obese dogs are more than 30 percent overweight.

What is a body condition score for dogs?

To be sure how healthy or overweight your dog is, compare him to a dog body condition score. A body condition score is what vets use to determine if a dog’s overweight or underweight.

“Many veterinary clinics have these [body condition score] posters hung up in the hospital to show clients,” Dr. Pagan said. “I always tell my clients that you still should be able to feel your dog's ribs and spine when petting them. If you cannot feel anything, they are too chunky. If you can visually see ribs/spine, they are too thin.”

You can start by feeling your dog’s ribcage for his ribs. Then look down at your dog while standing above him. He should have a narrowed waist and shouldn’t look like a stuffed sausage (even if you think it’s cute). When looking at your dog from the side, his belly shouldn’t hang down and should be tucked underneath him.

body condition score chart

Causes of obesity in dogs

The most common reason for weight gain in dogs is when they eat more calories than they burn, which means they’re overeating or not exercising enough — or both.

That’s why it’s important to feed your dog the right amount and type of food for his age and size and why he needs lots of walks and playtime.

There are certain medical conditions that can cause your pup to gain weight, too. These include:

If your dog has been eating a normal amount and gets plenty of exercise, there could be an underlying condition causing him to gain weight, so you should talk to your vet.

Some other factors that can lead to weight gain include age, breed and neuter or spay status. Older dogs are more likely to become overweight, and certain breeds are predisposed to obesity. After a dog is neutered or spayed, the decrease in hormones can cause weight gain if you don’t adjust the dog’s diet and exercise.

Obese dog health problems

Obesity is a serious problem for dogs because it can lead to a variety of health issues.

“Osteoarthritis is a health problem many obese dogs will present with,” Dr. Pagan said. “Other conditions like diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, cancer, bladder stones and an increase in anesthetic complications can also affect obese dogs.”

Because of their greater susceptibility to health problems, obese dogs often have a shorter life expectancy than dogs who aren’t overweight, which is why you should talk to your vet to plan out a weight loss program to get your pup back to a healthy weight.

Obesity in dogs treatment

To help your dog lose weight, you’ll first need to figure out why your dog’s gaining weight. Any underlying medical problems will need to be treated first, otherwise he’ll keep gaining weight no matter how much exercise he gets.

Aside from treating medical conditions, the best ways to help your dog lose weight are with a healthy diet and exercise.

“Your veterinarian will usually recommend a prescription weight loss diet and increasing exercise to help your dog lose weight,” Dr. Pagan said.

Try diet dog food

You can try feeding your pup weight loss dog food, but be sure to talk to your vet before trying one out to make sure it’s good for your pup. Diet dog foods generally have fewer calories and carbs while adding more fiber and protein. This isn’t ideal for healthy pups but can really help dogs who have weight issues.

“A prescription weight loss diet is the way to go if your dog is overweight/obese,” Dr. Pagan said. “Royal Canin, Purina or Hill’s all have great weight loss diets that your veterinarian can easily prescribe.”

Try this Hill’s Prescription Diet weight management dog food from Chewy for $41.99

Be sure to measure the amount of food you’re feeding your dog so you don’t overfeed him, too.

Watch the treats

Giving your pup too many treats can make him gain weight. Since you don’t really think about the calories that treats add on, they often get overlooked. As a rule of thumb, most vets recommend that treats make up only around 10 percent of a dog’s caloric intake.

Try to find ways to reward your pup other than just treats, like extra play time, pets or a super long walk (plus, that’ll give him some additional exercise).

Try these Purina Pro Plan Lite Snackers treats for dogs on weight loss or management programs from Chewy for $10.49

Exercise more

Making sure your dog gets enough exercise is just as important as watching what he eats. If your pup just lies around all day, he won’t burn any calories and will still likely gain weight, even if you’re feeding him diet dog food.

Most dogs need around 30 minutes to an hour of exercise every day, which can include walks, playing with toys or running around the dog park. If you’re trying to help your dog lose weight, you may need to add in an extra walk each day.

Prevention of obesity in dogs

To prevent your dog from becoming obese in the first place, don’t overfeed him, make sure he gets physical activity every day, and take him for regular vet checkups to catch any illnesses that could lead to weight gain.

“Ensuring your dog gets enough exercise is an important factor in decreasing chances of becoming overweight/obese,” Dr. Pagan said. “It is also very important to monitor their daily food intake and limit the amounts of treats per day they consume.”

And keep an eye on your dog’s weight. If you notice he’s starting to look a little rounder than he used to, get him checked out to make sure he’s still at a healthy weight.

If you think your dog’s obese, the best thing to do is take him to the vet to get him started on a weight loss program so you can get him back to his healthy self. And watch this obese dog’s transformation for some inspiration.

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