Pandemic pounds were no joke – and not only for people! Many pet owners have realized their dog is getting a little thicker around the middle. While an overweight dog can certainly be adorable, keeping your pet at a healthy weight is an incredibly important part of their lifespan and comfort.
If you have an obese dog, it’s time to understand why controlling their weight is important, how to incorporate exercise into their day, and consider implementing an overweight dog diet plan.
Why Your Dog’s Weight Is Important
If you’re worried about your dog’s weight, you aren’t alone! Fat dogs are sadly common, especially in the US. Banfield Pet Hospital released a report in 2020 that said that more than half of the nearly 2 million adult dogs seen at their hospitals were overweight.
Having an overweight or obese dog presents several health risks for your pet. Let’s look at the different weight categories for dogs, signs your dog isn’t at a healthy weight, and what might happen to a dog whose weight is left unchecked.
The Different Weight Categories for Dogs
There are typically five categories of weight for dogs. The happy middle spot is considered the perfect healthy weight for your particular pooch; it will differ depending on your dog’s breed and frame. Underweight dogs are either considered skinny or malnourished. When it comes to fat dogs, there are two categories: overnourished and corpulent. Overnourished means your dog weighs too much but just needs to shed a little bit of body fat to be healthy. Corpulent is the category for overweight and obese dogs.
Many things can contribute to an overweight dog. Lack of exercise and overfeeding are the most common, direct causes of unhealthy weight in dogs, but their age, hormones, and even their breed can influence a dog’s weight. Dogs like Labradors, Cocker Spaniels, and Golden Retrievers are predisposed to being overweight, while Whippets and Greyhounds are pretty unlikely to gain excessive weight.
There are guidelines and charts to help you understand the ideal weight range for various dog breeds, but your dog is an individual, and it can be hard to know exactly where your pet should fall within that range. For example, the weight range for a Beagle is 18 to 30 pounds, but some Beagles would be considered obese at 30 pounds if they have a small frame. This is why it’s important to talk to your veterinarian about a healthy weight for your dog.
Signs Your Dog Is at an Unhealthy Weight
The best way to know if your canine companion is overweight is by taking them to the veterinarian. Your vet can tell you a healthy weight range for your dog and has the tools (like a pet-specific scale) to calculate your dog’s exact weight. They can also support you in making lifestyle changes that will help your dog get to – and stay at – a healthy weight.
Beyond weighing your pet and taking them to the veterinarian to get a check-up, there are visual cues you can use to identify if you have an overweight dog. Most dog breeds are supposed to have a defined waist, so a round or oval-shaped body can be cause for concern. Additionally, your dog’s stomach should be somewhat concave – it shouldn’t be at the same level as their chest. You can also use your sense of touch to learn about your dog’s weight: if you can’t feel the defined protrusion of their ribs when you press lightly, they probably have a layer of fat that could go.
Of course, your dog’s activity level can indicate many things, including unhealthy weight gain. If your dog is inactive, becomes easily winded, or has trouble walking, they might be overweight.
Health Risks for an Overweight Dog
The health issues for obese dogs are plentiful and can be fatal. Not only can an overweight dog suffer from illness and disease caused by their weight, but they can also have blood sugar issues, joint and mobility problems, and extra weight can cause damage to their liver, lungs, and blood pressure.
Furthermore, being overweight is extremely uncomfortable for dogs and causes physical problems with their bones and skeleton. Back and hip problems are common in overweight dogs.
Exercise for an Overweight or Obese Dog
If your overweight dog needs a little exercise support in their daily life to help them shed those extra pounds, there are plenty of fun ways to incorporate activity into your day. Especially if you have an obese dog, you don’t want to shock their system with immediate, strenuous exercise. It’s important to build up their strength and approach physical activities with a caring attitude. The process of dog weight loss needs to be consistent and cumulative: start small and increase the challenge each week.
Here are some of our favorite exercise activities to help fat dogs lose weight:
- Swimming with a life jacket
- Dog park play
- Going for a walk
- Playing fetch or tug-of-war
Swimming for Overweight Dogs
Swimming is a great way to start weight loss exercise for a really obese dog. If your dog’s weight makes it difficult for him to walk and move around, the weightlessness he feels in water will help him be more comfortable and get his heart rate up without the risk of injury. Swimming is also a great way to ensure your pooch gets exercise in the summertime without the risk of heatstroke.
If you take your overweight dog swimming, be sure to use a floatation device for your pet. Especially if your dog is unfit, drowning is a very real risk. Also, remember that some dogs (like French Bulldogs) are not natural swimmers, and this activity might not be the best choice for them.
Calorie Burn at the Dog Park
If you have a social, overweight dog, the dog park can be an excellent place to burn calories. Often, dogs have so much fun chasing each other and running around; they don’t even realize they’re getting exercise. The addition of other dogs to play with can really engage an otherwise lazy dog who is disinterested in running around.
Remember to keep it gradual – if your dog hasn’t exercised in a long time, don’t let them overdo it at the park. Start with a short visit and let them stay longer as they get stronger.
Go for a Walk
Giving your overweight dog daily exercise doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be good for your health, too.
Take a leisurely walk around the neighborhood each day. As your dog gets stronger and starts to lose weight, you can try different routes that are longer or incorporate hills and more challenges for you and your pet. Because it is low-impact and doesn’t stress the joints, walking is a wonderful way to lose weight for both pets and people!
Play Is Exercise
Simply playing with your dog can be a wonderful form of exercise to help them burn calories. A game of tug-of-war or fetch can engage your dog’s mind and body. Make sure they have plenty of safe, size-appropriate toys to play with. And if you’re playing outside, just be mindful of the temperature, so your dog doesn't overheat.
Planning an Overweight Dog Diet Plan
Nutrition is crucial to keeping your dog at a healthy weight. In addition to choosing a healthy dog food, there are three components to consider when planning your dog’s diet plan to help them lose weight:
- Feeding times
- Snacks and extras
Choosing the Right Portion Size
Inappropriate portion sizes can easily result in an overweight dog. Perhaps you think you’re giving your pooch the same amount of food in each serving, but there can be a big difference between a heaping cup and a scant cup of dog food. Those extra bites of kibble add up!
Your veterinarian will be able to help you decide how much daily food your dog should get according to their breed, age, current weight, and activity level. Keep in mind that you don’t want to dramatically change your dog’s diet because this can make them grumpy. If you're going to reduce their portion sizes, you need to do so gradually for a couple of weeks to let their body get used to the new diet.
Most dogs eat twice a day, so take the recommended daily serving and split it up into the number of times you feed your dog daily. If feeding the dog is a children’s chore at your house, ensure your child measures your dog’s food properly.
You also might want to look at the type of food you’re feeding your dog. Some dog foods are less high-quality than others and might be contributing to weight gain.
Set a Feeding Schedule
While some people choose to free-feed their dog, this is rarely recommended, and it’s a terrible idea if your dog is already overweight. It’s important to be consistent with your dog’s feeding schedule and try to feed them at about the same time each day. This will help them manage their hunger, and it also creates a predictable routine for them that can reduce stress.
You can set your pet’s feeding times according to what works best for you, but it’s generally advisable to feed your dog twice a day – once in the morning and the evening.
Be Cautious with Snacks and Extras
If you’ve been generous with the table scraps and handing out doggie snacks, it might be contributing to your dog’s weight gain. If you’re putting your overweight dog on a diet plan, that doesn’t mean they have to give up special snacks entirely. It just means you need to be more selective and careful about them.
Make sure the whole family is on board about how many snacks your pet gets each day. You might even keep a dry erase board on the fridge to mark how many snacks your pet has had so everyone is on the same page. Ensure that the dog biscuits you buy are healthy and wholesome.
When it comes to table scraps or human food for an overweight dog, consider naturally healthy snacks like fruits and vegetables rather than cheese or peanut butter. Remember that there are some foods dogs should never eat, and make sure you know the fruits and veggies that are safe for canines.
Your Dog’s Health Is Your Responsibility
If you have an obese or overweight dog, it’s your responsibility to get your pet’s weight under control. Obese dogs tend to have much shorter lifespans and suffer a variety of health issues. We know you want the best for your best friend, so keep their weight in check with plenty of exercising and a healthy dog diet plan.