How To Tell If Your Dog Is Overweight And What To Do About It

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How To Tell If Your Dog Is Overweight And What To Do About It

  • 8 min read

Dr. Ruth MacPete, DVM

Americans are obsessed with weight loss. Just look at the latest fad diet, exercise trend, “fat burning” supplement, or prescription weight loss drug. Considering that 65% of Americans are overweight, this infatuation with getting slim is not all that surprising. Unfortunately, many people overlook the fact that their own pets need to lose weight. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 50% of dogs are overweight. Although an overweight pet may look cute, it is not healthy. 

Being overweight can lead to a number of different medical issues

Just like in people, being overweight makes your pet more likely to develop a number of different medical conditions. Overweight pets are at risk for developing arthritis, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, respiratory and heart disease, and some forms of cancer. Compared to normal weight dogs, overweight dogs live shorter lives.

Causes of obesity

Why do dogs become overweight? Unlike people, our dogs can’t order a supersized Big Mac meal at McDonald’s or drink a 590 calorie Starbucks Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino. The answer is simple: our dogs are overweight primarily because we feed them too much. Besides eating too much at mealtime, dogs can also gain weight from treats. Treats add empty calories that add up quickly, especially if they are given frequently. Finally, the other side of the weight gain equation is exercise. Our dogs are overweight because they are not active enough for the amount of food they eat. An active dog has a higher caloric demand and can stay trim even if they eat “a lot.”

How can you tell if your pet is overweight?

How do you know if your pet needs to lose a few pounds? First, you should be able to easily feel but not necessarily see your pet’s ribs and spine. While looking from above, you should see a waist, and while looking from the side, you should see the abdomen tucked up. This hourglass figure is desirable not just with swimsuit models but with our pets as well. If you suspect that your pet may be overweight, your pet should have a complete physical examination by a veterinarian before initiating any diet plans. Your veterinarian will not only give you an objective opinion about your pet’s weight, but they will also ensure that your pet’s obesity is due to excess calories and not an underlying medical condition. 

If you aren’t sure if your dog is overweight, you should check with your veterinarian. In addition to weighing your pet, your veterinarian will determine their body condition score by examining their appearance from above, from the side, and by palpating their ribs, spine, and other bony prominences. The body condition score ranges from 1 to 9, with 1 being very thin, 9 obese, and 5 being ideal. If your dog is overweight, your veterinarian will help you develop a diet plan and most importantly make sure your dog doesn’t appear overweight because of a medical condition. 

Some pets that are overweight have medical conditions. For example, hypothyroid disease, a condition where the body fails to produce thyroid hormone, which helps control metabolism, can cause a pet to become overweight. The good news is this is a manageable condition in pets just like it is in humans. In addition, some medical issues can cause a pet to look overweight, when in fact they are not. Heart disease and some types of cancer can cause ascites, a condition where the abdomen fills up with fluid. This causes pets to look like they have a large belly. Cushing’s disease is another condition that also causes affected pets to have a bloated stomach. That’s why it is important to always have your veterinarian check your pet before starting a diet. In addition to ruling out medical issues, your veterinarian will help you determine your dog’s goal weight.  

What can you do if your dog is overweight?

The key to helping your dog lose weight safely is to have a plan. Ask your veterinarian to develop a program to help your dog reach their ideal weight. The main treatment for obesity consists of decreasing caloric intake and increasing physical activity.

Evaluate Your Dog’s Diet

Once you determine that your dog is overweight you will want to examine their current diet. What food are they eating? How much and how often are they eating? Do they get treats? How many and what? Table scraps? Do they have access to another pet’s food? 

Your Pet’s Food

Most commercially available diets are formulated for the needs of active, intact dogs. To help your overweight, neutered, or spayed dog lose weight, most veterinarians recommend decreasing the amount of food and giving it in three separate meals. Another option is to switch to one of the many available low-calorie weight-loss diets or high protein, low carbohydrate diets. Speak with your veterinarian to find-out which option is best for your pet. Check with your veterinarian regularly to ensure that your dog is losing weight at an appropriate rate. 

Once your pet’s ideal weight has been established, there are several ways to obtain this goal. The underlying principle is to decrease overall caloric intake. This can be accomplished by decreasing the quantity of food or by switching to a low-calorie diet. These diets allow you to feed your pet similar quantities of food, but by replacing fat with fiber they will get fewer overall calories. If you choose to change diets, be sure to switch foods gradually since abrupt food changes can lead to gastrointestinal distress. 

Limit Treats

Remember any calorie adds up. If your pet is eating the perfect amount of a well-balanced diet BUT they are also getting treats several times a day or helping themselves to another pet’s food bowl they are consuming excess calories. It is also important to remember that table scraps have calories, and these can add up quickly. Instead of rewarding your pet with a high calorie treat, use verbal praise, or offer them pet-safe fruits and veggies. Carrots make an excellent low calorie treat.

Weigh-ins

An important part of any weight loss regimen includes monitoring. Monitoring how much weight your pet is losing helps ensure that they are losing weight at a healthy rate and provides confirmation that your plan is working. This can be achieved with regular weigh-ins, ideally monthly. If your dog is not losing weight at the weigh-ins, it tells you that you need to change something about the weight-loss plan. On the other hand, seeing your dog’s progress can be motivating and help stick with the plan. 

Besides changing their diet, how can you help your dog lose weight? 

Lastly, just like people, pets need exercise. Exercise is an important part of the weight loss equation because it increases your dog’s metabolic rate. That means your dog is still “burning” calories even after they stop exercising. 

Before starting an exercise regimen, check with your veterinarian to ensure your pet is healthy enough and to formulate an exercise plan. Some breeds, like the brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds (pugs, bulldogs, etc.) are exercise-intolerant. Running with large breed puppies should also be avoided since it can harm their growing bones and joints. Likewise, older dogs should avoid strenuous exercise that aggravates their arthritis. 

There are many ways to increase your pet’s activity. One easy way to increase your dog’s activity is to go on walks. Going on a walk is a low impact exercise that can be adjusted to your pet’s fitness level. Just make the walk shorter if your dog is getting tired. Another reason to take your dog on a walk is the side benefit that walking has on the human walker. 

Another fun way to increase your dog’s activity is to take them to your local dog-friendly park. Playing off-leash is a great way to burn calories. Some dogs love to play with other dogs by chasing each other or wrestling. Playing with other dogs is mentally and physically stimulating. If your dog is not a social butterfly, bring a frisbee or ball to play fetch. Playing fetch with your dog not only exercises them but also strengthens their bond to you. Taking your dog to a dog-friendly park is an easy and fun way to exercise your dog without breaking into a sweat. 

If you are feeling extra motivated to become fitter yourself, you can also run with your dog. Just check with your veterinarian to be sure that your dog is healthy enough to run and their breed is conducive to running. Remember, some breeds, like brachycephalic breeds (pugs, bulldogs, boxers) should never run for long distances. If possible, choose dirt trails which are easier on your dog’s, and your own joints. Start with shorter distances and gradually run longer distances to build endurance. Remember to avoid running when the weather is too hot since dogs are less heat-tolerant than people in general. Some breeds, like Vislas, Weimaraners, Dalmatians, and Dobermans are natural runners and can become your long-term running buddy. They are super athletes and will motivate you to run faster to keep up with them!

If your dog has arthritis and can’t run, there are other activities they can do. Swimming is an excellent exercise that will help your dog burn calories without putting stress on their joints. In fact, water physical therapy is often used to rehabilitate dogs after they undergo surgery.

How to keep your dog from becoming overweight?

Unlike other health problems, obesity can easily be prevented and treated because we control what our pets eat. As Dr. Ernie Ward, founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention sums it up, “Obesity is the greatest health threat our pets face today. What and how much you feed your dog is the most important decision you make each day regarding their health.”  Start by taking your dog to the veterinarian to identify their ideal weight. Monitor their weight by weighing them regularly at home. Taking your dog to the veterinarian for routine visits will also ensure that your dog is at the right weight. Your veterinarian can also recommend the right diet for your dog’s metabolic needs. Finally, promote an active lifestyle by encouraging play and taking lots of long walks. Obesity is a serious problem, but you can help combat it by having fun with your dog and promoting active play.

FAQs

What makes a dog overweight?

A dog can become overweight if they consume more calories than they burn through daily activities and exercise. An inactive lifestyle, feeding them table scraps, giving them too many treats, and feeding them an unhealthy diet can also contribute to weight gain in dogs.

How to tell if a fluffy dog is overweight?

The best way to determine if a fluffy dog is overweight is to feel their ribs. If you cannot feel the ribs, then your dog is likely overweight. You can also check to see if there is a noticeable waist, if there is no waist, this is another indication of an overweight dog. But if you are unsure, remember you can always ask your veterinarian. 

What is the fastest way for a dog to lose weight? 

The fastest way for a dog to lose weight is to create a calorie deficit diet by reducing their food intake and increasing their physical activity. It is essential to do this under the guidance of a veterinarian to ensure the weight loss is safe and gradual. Rapid weight loss can cause health problems and slow down the metabolism.

Is 10 pounds overweight for a dog?

It's difficult to determine if a certain weight is overweight for a dog without knowing their breed, age, and activity level. The ideal weight range for a dog can vary based on these factors. It's best to consult a veterinarian to determine a healthy weight range for your specific dog.

What is the best indicator if a dog is obese or overweight?

The Body Condition Score (BCS) is a commonly used tool by veterinarians to assess if a dog is overweight or obese. BCS takes into account the dog's overall body shape, including their ribs, spine, waist, and belly. If your dog is overweight, your veterinarian will help you develop a diet plan and most importantly make sure your dog doesn’t appear overweight because of a medical condition.

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