Canine Weight Management and Obesity Prevention

Canine obesity is one of the fastest-growing health problems seen in dogs today.

By Guest Blogger, Jenna Stregowski, RVT, 

As with people, obesity can lead to various diseases, disorders, and other complications in dogs. In a 2008 study, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimated that 44% of U.S. dogs were overweight or obese. That’s approximately 33 million dogs in the U.S. alone. Dog owners must do something. You can start with your dog. Learn how to manage your dog’s weight, create a weight loss plan for your dog, and prevent weight gain in the first place.

Causes of Canine Obesity

There are many reasons a dog can become overweight. The obvious culprits are improper diet and lack of sufficient exercise. A dog recovering from an illness or injury is usually required to remain sedentary and is therefore at risk for weight gain. It is also essential to know that weight gain may be a symptom of some hormonal disorders, such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s syndrome. Finally, genetic predisposition is a significant factor. Certain dog breeds are more prone to obesity than others, such as English Bulldogs, Beagles, Dachshunds, Pugs, Dalmatians, and Cocker Spaniels – to name just a few.

Health Risks of Obesity in Dogs

Canine obesity is dangerous because it can lead to a significant number of health problems. It may also adversely affect an existing health issue. The following diseases and disorders may be caused or exacerbated by obesity:
*Cardiac disease
*Diabetes Mellitus
*Hypertension (high blood pressure)
*Orthopedic injuries (such as cruciate ligament rupture or patellar luxation)
*Respiratory disorders
*Various forms of cancer

Determining if Your Dog is Overweight

You can often see the telltale signs of obesity in a dog, but sometimes it sneaks up on you. Gradual weight gain is not as noticeable when you see your dog daily. A friend or family member who is not often around your dog may notice a weight change. Other warning signs are exercise intolerance and apparent laziness. These could indicate a weight problem or other health issues. In any event, it is best to visit your vet if anything seems amiss. Be sure your dog goes to the vet for a wellness exam every 6-12 months. This is the best way for your vet to detect changes before there is a serious problem.

Assessing Your Dog’s Weight

There are some basic things you can do at home to evaluate your dog’s weight. Running your hands along your dog’s ribcage, you should be able to palpate the ribs covered by a thin layer of fat. The inability to feel the ribs is a sign of an overweight dog. Looking at your dog from the side, you should be able to see the upward tuck of the abdomen.  An overweight dog will have very little or no tuck. Viewing your dog from above, there should be a moderate narrowing at the waist just past the ribcage.  A straight or bulging line from the ribcage to the hips indicates an overweight dog.

Managing Your Dog’s Weight

If your dog needs to lose weight or maintain his healthy weight, work with your vet to develop a weight management program. That program will consist mainly of a structured diet and an exercise plan. Besides, your vet will help you set up goals and schedule times for quick check-ups to monitor your dog’s progress. It will be helpful to weigh your dog regularly – ideally every week or two. If you do not have the correct scale at home, you can stop by your vet’s office for this. Many vet clinics have a scale in the lobby, so you can just run in and check the weight free of charge.

Canine Weight Loss Tips

Weight loss for dogs is not a matter of willpower for the dog. You, however, may need to use willpower to resist those begging eyes. Remember, food is not love!
For most dogs, the traditional diet-and-exercise plan does the trick. However, some dogs need an extra helping hand. These dogs might be candidates for a canine weight loss drug called dirlotapide.

Another way to boost your dog’s weight loss plan is to get involved with agility or another dog sport. You will be working with experts who want your dog to succeed but will not push him. In addition to losing weight, your dog will have a new skill.

Diet and Exercise – The Cornerstone of Weight Loss


Feed your dog table scraps and human “junk food,” and you might as well be asking for weight gain. Dog food and treats high in calories may also pack on the pounds, depending on the dog. Your vet can help you choose the right food for your dog. In some cases, vets will prescribe a special low fat/high fiber diet that is not available “over the counter.” However, many commercial diets might work, including some holistic/natural diets.

Even healthy food and treats will lead to weight gain if given in excess. Allowing your dog to “free feed” by leaving a full bowl out all day is not a good idea, especially in a multiple-dog household. Establish two or three set mealtimes per day. Use a measuring scoop to give only the recommended amount of food. Feeding instructions on bags are general and may not be appropriate for your dog, so ask your vet to help you determine the right amount.

It would help if you significantly decreased dog treats for an overweight dog. Treats should never make up more than 10% of a dog’s diet, and you should reduce that percentage for weight loss. You will also need to change the type of treats you feed. No cheese, hot dog pieces, or fatty commercial dog treats. Shop for dog treats that are low in calories. Better yet, give small pieces of carrots and apples as treats – many dogs love them.


Your dog is going to need more exercise to lose weight. If you do not already walk your dog daily for a specific period, start now. Schedule times to play fetch or tug-of-war. If you have an exercise schedule, increase the frequency and difficulty if possible – this will be good for you, too. The most important thing is to make a commitment to a plan and stick with it. Your dog is at your mercy.

Many dogs will be happy to be getting more exercise and attention, and they will joyfully await their scheduled exercise sessions. However, dogs that are very overweight and out-of-shape may pose a challenge. Some dogs will stop in the middle of a walk, refusing to continue. This is probably because they are winded and in pain. To be safe, stay close to home and keep a slower pace. These dogs benefit from several short walks a day rather than one or two long ones.

Some dogs cannot exercise as needed due to an illness or injury brought on or worsened by obesity. Consult your vet for recommendations. You may find that physical therapy with a canine rehabilitation practitioner helps.

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