10 Simple Ways to Help Your Overweight Dog

Image: Denis Babenko / via Shutterstock
Image: mariait / via Shutterstock

Is My Dog Overweight?

By Amanda Baltazar


As we humans get larger, our dogs do too. And the figures are nothing to scoff at: 50 percent of today’s pooches are overweight and more than 20 percent are obese, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.


“Obesity in pets is mirroring obesity in people and it’s due to diet and lack of exercise,” says Dr. Karyn Collier, DVM, chief medical officer at Saint Francis Veterinary Center for Animal Physical Therapy in Woolwich Township, N.J.


“We humans enjoy food so we want to see the same with our pets. We’re killing them with kindness. If dogs don’t dive in [to their food] we add things like gravy or some chicken or beef just to see our pet eat. It may be that that dog is just not hungry right then.”


An overweight pet is no laughing matter. Too many pounds can cause problems ranging from heart disease to diabetes and arthritis.


Fortunately, making a few simple changes to your dog’s diet and lifestyle can allow him to shed some pounds. Read on for some suggestions…

1. Turn to Science

Check out the tips for weight assessment using tools such as the Healthy Weight Protocol. This is a scientific method for determining a pet’s ideal weight. Your vet will take four measurements of your dog, which are then used to assess her body fat index through a computer program. Your vet can then tell you exactly how overweight your pet is and her ideal weight.

2. Ask Your Vet

When you take your dog for his annual checkup, ask your veterinarian to do a body condition score so you know how your dog is doing and how much weight he needs to lose, if any.


You can also use these tools online, which are often provided with handy pictures of how your pet looks and what his ideal body looks like. Scoring ranges from one to five or one to 9. A pet with a perfect weight will have a number that falls in the middle.

3. Use Your Eyes — and Hands

Check out your dog yourself: “You should be able to feel her ribs without an excessive amount of fat on them,” says Dr. Collier. “You should be able to count them.”


Looking from above, the flank — the area between the ribs and the pelvis — should be indented, and your pet’s chest should be wider than the flank. If you are standing to the side of the animal, the chest should tuck up as it goes into the abdomen.


“If you have a hard time finding the ribs and you really have to press, the dog is getting heavy,” said Dr. Collier. “If you’re starting to lose the indentation on the waist and the tuck up to the abdomen, the dog is overweight.”


You may also want to watch how your dog manages his walks. “If you notice he pants heavily on walks he used to be able to make,” Dr. Collier explains, “he may be getting too heavy.

4. Assess Food Intake

Take an objective look at how much your dog is eating. If you don’t measure her food, but feel she’s overweight, ask your veterinarian how much your dog should be eating. However, Dr. Collier is a proponent of measured feeding. “Some dogs eat no matter how much food you put in the bowl so it’s important to measure since you can’t always depend on the dog to stop,” she says.


Dr. Collier does point out that the more quality time you spend with your dog, the better for the dog's health: “Bonding leads to a happy dog who is less likely to overeat.”

5. Be a Snack Monitor

Avoid snacks from the dinner table because all the small bites add up, Dr. Collier says. Be particularly mindful if you have small children who drop a lot of food. It may seem funny to have a living vacuum cleaner, but an overweight dog is not as amusing.

6. Walk, Walk, Walk

Gradually increase your dog’s exercise. You’ll know when your dog is tired, says Dr. Collier, because he’ll lag behind you. Take note of the distance he walks and gradually add a little more each day. Walks should be at least 30 minutes, says Dr. Collier, “and you want a good pace so the owner should feel his or her heart rate go up too.” Your pooch shouldn’t have lots of time to stop and sniff things on an exercise walk, although you can always do a pleasure walk later.

7. Mind the Treats

Look at the number of treats you give in a day. All dogs can get into a habit of expecting something if they are always rewarded with a treat. “If you’ve been using a treat, go to a smaller one or just give them a piece of a biscuit instead of a whole one,” Dr. Collier suggests. But, she points out, treats aren’t essential for dogs; for them, the pleasure is getting the reward, not eating it. Using verbal praise or a rub often suffices as a treat, especially if you use them from an early age.

8. Follow Feeding Instructions

Remember to read the feeding instructions on the food you give to your dog, and make sure your dog is eating the right food for the right phase of her life. Don’t give her puppy food when she’s too old for it. And ensure your dog isn’t consuming high performance dog foods unless she’s incredibly active.

9. Have Fun with Your Pooch!

Don’t confuse eating with pleasure for a dog. “He can get equal or more enjoyment out of going for a walk or playing with you than in eating a meal,” Dr. Collier says.

10. Consider Nutritional Formulas

Some researchers believe they have discovered nutritional formulas that may help dogs that are more genetically disposed to store rather than burn fat, thus changing their body chemistry to be more like that of lean dogs.


This could be something to try, says Dr. Collier, but she stresses trying diet and exercise first, after consulting with your veterinarian. Your dog's doctor can not only give you dietary tips and food recommendations, but can ensure your dog doesn’t have an underlying metabolic function and is healthy enough to exercise.

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