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healthy canine living
Overweight Labrador on the grass

Chubby lab

The essentials 

  • It’s important to manage your dog’s weight — Keeping your dog at the right weight improves their quality of life.
  • Help your dog lose weight gradually — Exercise, diet, and low stress are key to helping your pup safely lose weight.
  • Obesity is dangerous to a dog’s health — Overweight dogs may be more prone to conditions like diabetes, arthritis, and high blood pressure.
  • Feed your dog the right amount — Follow your vet’s advice on what and how much to feed your pup.

Why managing your dog’s weight is important

It’s important for your dog to be in shape. Why? Overweight dogs are at risk of a variety of health problems. However, it can be difficult to manage your dog’s weight, especially when they like to eat. You should start managing your dog’s weight from an early age because once they’re overweight, it can be even more difficult to help them shed the pounds.

How do I know if my dog is overweight?

If you suspect your dog might be overweight, you should first speak to your veterinarian. Your dog’s ideal weight is very unique, so your vet will help you understand how your pup’s body should look. You can tell your dog is overweight by:

  • Weighing your dog. If your dog’s weight has increased significantly from their normal weight, this is probably a good indicator that they’re overweight.
  • Observing your dog’s body shape. Inspect your dog’s body for a rotund shape or fat pads between their legs and on the top of their hips.
  • Assessing your dog’s mood. Pay attention to your dog’s activity levels. If they’re spending more time on the couch than usual or struggling to breathe as they run or play, they might weigh too much.

👉 Dogs at a healthy weight are lean and straight down the sides of their bodies. If you can’t easily feel your dog’s ribs because they’re covered in layers of fat, your dog is likely overweight.

Healthy pet weight chart

Healthy pet weights. Source: Avma.org

8 vet-approved ways to help your dog lose weight 

If your dog weighs too much, don’t worry! Here are the steps you can take to help your dog safely lose weight:

  1. Consult your vet. The first order of business is to speak to your vet who will help you decide what the best weight-loss plan for your pup is. They’ll also help you determine how much your doggie should weigh.

“A vet visit is important because there may be an underlying cause for your dog’s weight increase.”

Dr. Erica Irish, DVM
  1. Restrict calorie intake. If you want your dog to lose weight, this usually involves putting them on a diet while also restricting snacks and treats. Vets recommend you decrease your dog’s caloric intake by around 10%. The number of calories your dog should eat depends on their size.

👉 Try swapping dog treats out for low-calorie treats. Feed snacks like steamed or raw vegetables like green beans or broccoli, baby carrots, and celery. 

  1. Feed the right diet at the right time. Calorie restriction isn’t the only thing to consider when helping your dog lose weight. You should make sure you’re feeding your dog a nutrient-rich kibble, and feeding smaller meals multiple times throughout the day.

👉 Feeding your dog large meals less often can actually make it harder for them to lose weight. Opt for small meals more often. 

  1. Encourage exercise and make it fun! Your dog should get up to two hours of exercise per day. Exercise can include walks, play, agility, and any activities that get your pup’s heart rate up. Reward your dog for being active. If your dog has a joint disease, they can probably do with a little less low-impact exercise, like swimming and underwater treadmills.
  2. Feed with food puzzles. Food puzzles are a handy way to get your dog to eat slower, which helps them fill up faster and ultimately eat less. We recommend this puzzle to help slow down your dog’s eating speed.
  3. Set goals. Set weekly targets for your dog, checking in on their weight often. Weight loss for pups should be a gradual process. Rapid weight loss can be dangerous.
  4. Get the family involved. Make sure everyone in your household is on the same page about your dog’s diet. That way, nobody will sneak your pup too many treats or table scraps.
  5. Monitor progress. While it’s important to manage your dog’s healthy weight, it’s equally as important to monitor any shifts in their weight to stay on top of their health.

🚨 If your dog starts gaining or losing weight but they’re sticking to the same diet they always have, this may be a sign of an underlying health issue. Sudden weight changes are an indicator that you should take your dog to the vet.

What causes obesity in dogs? 

If your dog continues to gain weight, they may become obese. Obesity is very dangerous to the short and long-term health of dogs. Obesity occurs when a dog consumes more energy than they expend. The following bad habits can cause dogs to become obese:

  • Lack of exercise
  • Eating treats or food with too many calories
  • Pet owners overserving their dog
  • Stress
  • Hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease

👉 Unexplained weight gain could be a sign of thyroid disease, which alters a dog’s metabolism.

Some dog breeds are more likely to be overweight

Some dogs are more likely to become obese, either because they have lower energy than other dogs or because they’re lower to the ground. Dogs lower to the ground are more likely to have back and joint problems, restricting their ability to exercise. These breeds include:

  • Cairn terriers
  • West Highland white terriers
  • Scottish terriers
  • Shetland sheepdogs
  • Basset hounds
  • Cavalier King Charles spaniels
  • Dachshunds
  • Beagles
  • Cocker spaniels
  • Labrador retrievers

🚨 Recent studies have shown the POMC gene mutation may cause labrador retrievers to gain excessive weight.

Spayed and neutered dogs have fewer sex hormones, so they’re also more likely to gain weight. And if you’re an owner to a sweet senior pup, they’re generally less active than younger dogs. So it’s extra important that you keep an eye on their diet.

The consequences of obesity

By preventing obesity in your dog, their life expectancy can increase. The ASPCA shares that excess weight can reduce a pet’s life expectancy by two years. That’s because obese dogs can develop a range of health issues that greatly affect their long-term health:

  • Diabetes. Obesity can lead to insulin resistance which contributes to canine diabetes. 
  • Heart disease. When a dog is obese, there hearts have to work harder, and ultimately they may be more prone to heart disease.
  • Arthritis. The added weight that comes with obesity puts extra pressure on a dog’s joints. If your dog has arthritis due to obesity they may exhibit symptoms like lethargy or swollen joints.
  • High blood pressure. Dogs with obesity typically have high blood pressure. This can lead to serious problems like congestive heart failure (CHF) down the road.
  • Breathing difficulties. Obese dogs are more prone to tracheal collapse. When dogs are overweight you may notice they pant, because oxygen struggles to travel around to a dog’s vital organs.
  • Cancer. Overweight dogs are at a higher risk for developing certain forms of cancer. This is because fat cells secrete lesser amounts of a substance called adiponectin which protects a dog’s body against cancer.

Healthy doggie diet tips

Canine nutrition depends on two things: what dogs eat and how much.

What should you feed your dog?

Healthy dog diets include all the nutrients that a dog needs to maintain a recommended weight. Your dog’s food should include a balanced diet of protein and other essential nutrients. If your dog is picky and rejects their dry food, try a diet that includes both dry and wet food.

Dr. Irish says it’s also possible to feed your dog a therapeutic diet. She suggests products like Royal Canin’s Satiety Support (to help pets feel fuller longer) and Hill’s Metabolic diet (to speed up a pet’s metabolism).

How much should you feed your dog?

Just as important as it is to choose what you feed your dog, it’s important to feed them the right amount at the right time of day. In general, adult dogs should eat two times a day, in portions based on their total body weight. Puppies should eat three to four times a day, with the correct portion size for their age and weight. The rule of thumb is to follow the specific instructions on the label of your dog’s food or ask your vet.

Mix omega 3’s into their diet

Omega 3’s can help your dog fight certain diseases associated with obesity such as kidney disease and arthritis. You should ask your vet if your pup could benefit from an omega-3 supplement once they’re at a healthy weight. Our favorites include Natural Dog Company’s single-ingredient Salmon Oil and Premium Care’s yummy Omega treats.

👉 Never give your pup a new food or supplement without checking with your dog’s vet first.

Frequently asked questions

What if my dog is still begging for food?

If your dog still seems hungry, try feeding them smaller food portions throughout the day to curb their appetite.

What if my dog’s diet doesn’t seem to be working?

If your dog’s diet doesn’t seem to be working there may be another underlying health issue at play. If you’re following dog weight-loss tips but still struggling to help your pup lose weight, you should speak to your vet.

How long should overweight dogs be on a diet?

Overweight dogs should be on a diet until they reach their target weight. Your dog’s weight loss should be gradual and can take several weeks. Healthy weight loss plans allow your medium or large dog to lose between one and five pounds per month. Small or toy breeds may lose less than one pound of weight over a gradual period. Even when your dog loses weight, you may be able to increase their calorie intake slightly. However, you shouldn’t ditch the new healthy habits you’ve developed with your pup.