Help! My Dog Is Overweight

How to get your overweight dog back on track 💪

overweight dog

Belly rubs are so much fun when your pup has a few extra pounds on him. But if your dog’s too overweight, it can actually cause a whole bunch of other health issues — and you definitely don’t want that.

Luckily, there’s a pretty easy way to tell if your dog’s overweight, and there are plenty of things you can do to help him get down to a healthy size.

The Dodo spoke with Dr. Zach Marteney, a veterinarian and medical director at Meadowlands Veterinary Hospital in New Jersey, to find out everything you need to know about helping your overweight dog.

Is my dog overweight?

You might think your dog looks healthy — until one day you wake up and realize he looks a little chubbier than he did a few months ago.

Other than just noticing that your pup looks a little round, you can tell your pup’s overweight if he’s struggling to get up or has more difficulty walking, is panting more than usual, gets easily tired or winded, or needs help getting up stairs.

You can tell for sure whether or not your dog is overweight by using what’s called a body condition score.

“The best way to tell if a dog is overweight is to check a body condition score, or BCS, a nine-point [or five-point] scale to evaluate a pet for healthy body condition,” Dr. Marteney told The Dodo.

What is a body condition score for dogs?

A body condition score is what your vet references when trying to figure out whether or not your dog’s overweight, but once you know what it is, you can use it, too. 

“Much like a body mass index (BMI) in humans, it's not perfect, but it gives a systematic way to evaluate pets for obesity,” Dr. Marteney said.

When checking your dog’s body condition score, you should first touch your dog’s rib cage to check if you can feel his ribs. “You should be able to feel them with gentle pressure,” Dr. Marteney said. “They should not be prominently sticking out (too thin) and should not be completely hidden by too much fat.”

There are also visual indicators that’ll tell you whether or not your dog is underweight, overweight or just where he needs to be. 

“When looking down onto the dog, there should be an evident waist — a narrowing between the ribs and hips,” Dr. Marteney said. “If there's no waist, it's likely the dog is overweight. Additionally, when viewed from the side, the abdomen should be tucked up tight under the pet.”

So in general, you should be able to tell if your dog’s overweight if you can’t feel his ribs or if he starts to get a bit of a belly. 

“As a dog gets overweight, its ribs become harder to feel under the fat covering, it loses its natural waist and the abdomen starts to hang down or even starts to look distended and over-full,” Dr. Marteney said.

body condition score for dogs

Why is my dog gaining weight?

There are a whole bunch of reasons why your dog might be gaining weight, but the most common one is that he’s simply eating more calories than he’s burning.

“Most dogs get overweight by eating too much and not getting enough exercise,” Dr. Marteney said. “Healthy weight management is all about calorie balance. They need to burn the same number of calories they're taking in.”

That’s why it’s important for you to keep an eye on how much your pup is eating and make sure he’s getting enough walks and playtime in. Be sure to feed your dog the appropriate amount by checking the feeding instructions on his food.

Keep in mind these are only guidelines, and you may need to adjust them based on your individual dog. “I think about it the same way as a 2,000-calorie recommendation on human food packaging,” Dr. Marteney said. “It's a great place to start but should be adjusted as needed to maintain a healthy body condition.”

If your dog has been getting enough exercise and not eating too much, there could be something else to blame for a sudden gain in weight, like an underlying medical condition.

“Some dogs suffer from hypothyroidism, [which is] decreased function of the thyroid gland that results in a much lower baseline metabolic rate,” Dr. Marteney said. “This slower metabolism results in weight gain.”

Conditions that can cause weight gain in dogs include:

“Any change in weight should be discussed with your family veterinarian to make sure there's not a medical condition causing it,” Dr. Marteney said.

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, such as dachshunds, beagles, pugs, Labs, golden retrievers and basset hounds. After a dog is neutered or spayed, the decrease in hormones can cause weight gain if you don’t adjust the dog’s diet or exercise.

Problems for overweight dogs

Being overweight can cause a bunch of other health problems for your dog, such as:

  • Arthritis
  • Joint problems
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver problems
  • Breathing problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart problems
  • Cancer

So if your dog’s overweight, you should talk to your vet to work on a weight-loss plan ASAP to keep him healthy.

How to help your dog lose weight

When you’re trying to help your dog lose weight, the first step is to figure out what’s causing the extra weight gain in the first place.

If a medical condition’s causing his weight gain, for example, you’ll have to treat the condition first so he can actually stay at a healthy weight.

But if it’s a matter of eating too much or not getting enough exercise, then the solution’s pretty straightforward. “If there's no medical cause for your dog's weight gain, diet and exercise are the answer,” Dr. Marteney said. “An overweight dog should eat less and move around more.”

But don’t expect your dog to magically lose all the weight overnight. It can take a while.

“Slow, steady weight loss is the goal,” Dr. Marteney said. “It may take six months or more to reach our goal, but as long as we're continuing to make progress, we're successful.”

Here’s how you can get your dog down to a healthier weight.

Try diet dog food

When it comes to weight-loss dog foods, there are few different types to choose from.

According to Dr. Marteney, you can try a formula with fewer calories, which will make it easier for your dog to burn more calories than he’s eating. Diet dog foods also generally have fewer carbs and more protein and fiber.

Try this Natural Balance low-calorie dry food from Chewy for $33.98

You can also go with a prescription dog food made specifically for weight loss.

Try this Purina Pro Plan Overweight Management wet food from Chewy for $46.99

“Just make sure to discuss any diet change with your veterinarian,” Dr. Marteney said. They can help you make sure you’re choosing the best food possible for your dog and that you’re transitioning him safely to a new food.

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 dog treats can add on to his calorie intake pretty easily, so you should be careful about just how many you give him while he’s trying to lose weight. Most vets recommend that treats make up only around 10 percent of a dog’s caloric intake.

“Make sure to pay close attention to any treats or table food your dog is receiving — those are calories, too,” Dr. Marteney said. “A 1-ounce piece of cheese for a 20-pound dog is like an average adult eating two and a half cheeseburgers. A little bit adds up quickly.”

Try to find ways to reward your pup other than just treats, like extra playtime and pets or even taking him on a super long walk (plus, that’ll give him some extra exercise).

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

Make sure your dog gets enough exercise

Losing weight isn’t just about the food. It’s super important for your dog to get enough exercise every day so he burns calories. Otherwise, all the food he eats will just keep adding up.

“In addition to a healthy diet, exercise burns extra calories and helps maintain lean muscle mass,” Dr. Marteney said. “Even an extra 15- to 20-minute walk every day adds up, and it's a great way for you to spend more time bonding with your pet.”

Gaining weight happens, so if your dog gets to be a little overweight, there’s no need to panic. Talk to your vet to figure out the right diet and exercise regimen, and you’ll get him back to a healthy weight in no time (like this obese rescue dog who can’t stop smiliing because she lost half her weight).

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