Walking for Weight Loss: Tips for Overweight Dogs

By PetMD Editorial. Reviewed by Katie Grzyb, DVM on Dec. 11, 2018

Reviewed for accuracy on December 12, 2018, by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM

Obesity in dogs is a big problem for pet owners. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), the number of overweight dogs continues to rise. In 2017, obesity affected 56 percent of dogs in the US.

And while you might think that fur-covered rolls and big bellies look cute, having an overweight dog can lead to serious health problems.

“Pet parents should talk to their veterinarians at the first sign of their dogs gaining weight,” says Dr. Kelly Ryan, director of veterinary services at the Humane Society of Missouri’s Animal Medical Center of Mid-America. “Serious health issues may be managed or even prevented if a good diet and exercise plan are implemented right away.”

Weight Loss for Dogs: Tips for Walking

In addition to veterinarian-recommended dietary changes, getting your overweight dog to walk regularly can help her shed some of the extra weight. Here are some tips you should consider when starting a walking routine to help your dog lose weight.

Before beginning, talk to your veterinarian.

If your dog is overweight, it’s important to consult a veterinarian, says Dr. Ryan, to come up with the best exercise plan that is right for your pet.

“There may be serious underlying medical conditions causing weight gain. Plus, carrying extra weight can lead to arthritis and other conditions that can make exercise painful,” she says. “Your veterinarian will want to rule out any issues first, then he or she will discuss the best way to get started with a walking routine.”

Take it slow.

Don’t assume that your overweight dog will be able to walk far or up big hills right from the start. Take your time and start slow.

“Most pets are able to walk at least short distances, and many can work up to longer distances over time without experiencing soreness or discomfort,” says Dr. Stephanie Liff, medical director of Pure Paws Veterinary Care in New York City. “You know your pet best, so if they seem to be struggling, listen to them and cut that exercise session short and talk to your vet.”

Pay attention to your dog’s breathing.

If your overweight dog is having difficulty breathing while on a walk, it’s important to slow down or take a break and assess the situation.

“Overweight dogs are at risk for respiratory trouble, especially when exercising,” says Dr. Ryan. “This is because extra fat in the chest prevents the lungs from fully expanding. Plus, extra fat in the abdomen pushes up against the diaphragm. The lungs have to work harder to supply oxygen.”

This is true with brachycephalic breeds also. They tend to overheat quickly, even in temperatures you would not expect, so it is pertinent to monitor their breathing during walks.

Symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, says Dr. Ryan, can make a walk uncomfortable or even dangerous for your dog.

Use the right equipment.

If you have an overweight dog, using and bringing the right equipment while out on walks will keep your dog safe. “For walking an overweight dog on leash, use a walking harness or a head halter,” says Dr. Ryan. “Regular collars can put too much pressure on your dog’s trachea, causing additional breathing problems or injury if your dog pulls too much.”

The PetSafe Gentle Leader Dog headcollar and leash is a safe and effective option for overweight dogs. Dr. Ryan says to consult a veterinarian when using a head collar so that you know how to fit it and use it correctly.

If you’d prefer to use a regular dog harness while out on walks, look for a sturdy, no-pull dog harness option, like the HDP Big Dog no pull dog harness or the Sporn no-pull mesh dog harness. And consider a heavy-duty dog leash that won’t rip or tear. The Logical leather dog leash or the Frisco solid nylon dog leash are both solid options.

“You will also want to bring water and a portable water bowl on walks to prevent your dog from overheating and from becoming dehydrated,” says Dr. Ryan.

You can use a clip-on bottle, like the KONG H2O stainless steel dog water bottle, or dog travel bowls, like the Petmate silicone round collapsible travel pet bowl, to provide water throughout the walk.

Consider low-impact alternatives to just walking for exercise.

Although most overweight dogs can handle short walks, dogs that have arthritis or joint problems may benefit from other forms of exercise. “Just like with people, carrying around extra weight is tiring and taxing on the joints,” says Dr. Liff. “Also, some pets will put on weight secondary to arthritis, which restricts their ability to exercise.”

If this is the case, one joint-friendly exercise option is hydrotherapy, where your overweight dog would walk on an underwater treadmill. “This hydrotherapy machine is a great way for pets to burn extra calories with a low-impact workout,” says Dr. Ryan. “The water reduces the stress on the pet’s joints. The warm water can also reduce joint swelling, helping dogs who suffer from arthritis.”

Exercise and Diet: Tips for Overweight Dogs

In addition to getting your overweight dog started on a walking routine, it’s just as important to pay attention to what you’re feeding her. “Diet is extremely important for weight loss, and it is imperative to consult your veterinarian about your own pet’s dietary needs and the best options for weight loss,” says Dr. Liff.

Use these dietary tips along with exercise to help your dog lose weight.

Offer treats sparingly.

While dog treats can be a helpful way to motivate or train dogs during walks, it’s imperative that you pay attention to the types and quantity of treats you’re feeding your overweight dog.

“Too many treats and high-fat table scraps can lead to an unhealthy weight. If you want to give your dog treats, consider healthy options like bite-size pieces of carrots or apples,” says Dr. Ryan. “You can even use your dog’s kibble as a treat. Just put a portion of their daily amount aside and give them pieces throughout the day.”

If you want to offer your dog a special treat while on a walk, look for low-calorie options like NutriSentials lean treats nutritional dog treats.

Ask your veterinarian about a prescription diet.

Don’t just expect that walking alone to help your dog lose weight. A veterinarian may recommend feeding your overweight dog a weight control dog food to help your pup shed some weight.

“Your veterinarian may determine that a prescription diet is necessary if weight gain is caused by a medical issue like poor thyroid function or diabetes, or if a low-calorie diet is the best option for your pet,” says Dr. Ryan.

Stick With Your Dog Weight Loss Plan

If your dog is overweight, it’s essential to build up her endurance slowly and stick with regular walking so that she starts slimming down. Achieving weight loss requires pet owners to be diligent about following veterinary recommendations and instructions for exercise and diet.

“Weight loss in pets can be a long, slow process,” says Dr. Ryan. “Don’t expect results to happen overnight, but with the right routine and expectations, your pet can get back to a healthy weight.”

By Deidre Grieves

Image via iStock.com/goglik83

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