Help! My Dog Is Overweight

How to get him back on track 💪

overweight dog

Belly rubs are so much fun when your pup has a few extra pounds on him. But if your pup’s 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 is overweight, and there are plenty of things you can do to get him 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 bigger than he did a few months ago.

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 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 you — or your vet — would reference when trying to figure out whether or not your dog is overweight.

“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.

Finding out where your pup falls on the BCS involves checking to see if you can feel his ribcage.

“To evaluate a BCS, first feel the ribs of your dog,” Dr. Marteney said. “You should be able to feel them with gentle pressure. They should not be prominently sticking out (too thin) and should not be completely hidden by too much fat.”

There are also visual indicators, too, that’ll tell your vet 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 is overweight if you can’t feel his ribs or if he just doesn’t look as fit.

“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.

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.

“Pay close attention to the feeding recommendations on your pet's food. These recommendations will tell you how much of the food you should be giving every day,” Dr. Marteney said. “I think about it the same way as a 2,000-calorie recommendation on human food packaging. It's a great place to start, but should be adjusted as needed to maintain a healthy body condition.”

Keep in mind, too, that your dog could also be gaining weight due to an underlying condition, like hypothyroidism.

“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.”

Weight gain can also be caused by underlying conditions, like:

  • Cushing’s disease
  • Diabetes
  • Pregnancy
  • Medication
  • Right-sided heart failure

“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.

Problems for overweight dogs

Being overweight can be a bad thing for your pup’s health. It could result in a bunch of different conditions, like:

So if your dog is overweight, you’re going to want to work on a weight loss plan with your vet ASAP so he doesn’t develop any other conditions.

How to help your dog lose weight

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

If he’s overweight because of a medical condition, for example, you’d treat him for the condition so he can actually stay at a healthy weight.

But if it’s a matter of what he’s eating versus what he’s burning, the solution’s pretty straightforward. “If there's no medical cause for your dog's weight gain, diet and exercise are the answer. An overweight dog should eat less and move around more,” Dr. Marteney said.

Don’t expect your dog to magically be at a healthy weight overnight, though, since 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 weight loss dog food

When it comes to weight loss dog food, you have some options.

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.

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.

Like this Purina Pro Plan wet food from Chewy for $41.88

“Just make sure to discuss any diet change with your veterinarian,” Dr. Marteney said. That’s because you want to make sure you’re transitioning your pup safely and to a food that’s best for him.

Watch the treats

Giving your dog treats can add on to his calorie intake pretty easily, so you might want to be careful about just how much you give him while he’s trying to lose weight.

“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.”

A lot of the time, scrapping treats altogether isn’t really an option, which means you might have to cut calories from somewhere else. (Though, you should talk with your vet before doing this.)

“If your pet is getting treats, make sure to decrease the dog food to make up for those calories,” Dr. Marteney said.

Make sure your dog gets his exercise in

Exercise is the other big thing that’s super important for your dog’s weight loss. Getting your dog up and moving will burn more calories and therefore help him shed that excess weight.

“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 ends up overweight, there’s no need to panic. Have your vet help you figure out just how much he needs to lose. And with the right diet and exercise regimen, you’ll get him to a healthy weight in no time.

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