Is Your Dog Too Fat?

My son and daughter-in-law lived with me when we got my dog, Bo. They finally bought their own house and moved out of mine. They had always taken Bo on daily walks or runs, but now it was up to me. I have bad knees, and walking is hard, especially when being pulled along by a strong, 80 pound dog. So Bo began to gradually gain weight, until he tipped the scale at an unhealthy 99 pounds.

Overweight Dog

(This is not Bo)

A “Growing” Problem

The United States is said to have an overweight epidemic, with 2 out of 3 humans being either overweight or obese. Sources indicate that some 40 percent of the pet dogs in the United States are also overweight or obese. Pfizer Animal Health, one of the leading producers of pet pharmaceuticals in the world, found that veterinarians consider about 47 percent of their patients overweight in the U.S. In the same study, only 17 percent of dog owners believed that their dogs were overweight. It seems as though vets and owners have very different ideas about whether dogs are fit or not.

The Problems It Can Cause

Among others:

  • A shortened lifespan (generally anywhere from 6 months to 2 years)
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Osteoarthritis
  • High blood pressure
  • Cancer
  • Heart Disease
  • Respiratory Disease
  • Kidney Disease
  • Urinary bladder stones
  • Less tolerance to heat

Many of these problems can be reversed with weight loss and exercise.

How To Tell

So, how can you tell if your dog is overweight? Here are a few guidelines:

  • Can you find your dog’s ribs? You should be able to feel his ribs, but not see them.
  • Does your dog have a “tuck-up”? The tuck-up is your dog’s waist and, in almost all breeds, a dog is supposed to have a tuck-up. If your dog forms a straight line from his ribs to his back legs (like the guy in the first image) he probably doesn’t have a tuck-up, which means he could be overweight.
    Tuck Up
  • Does your dog have difficulty standing or getting mild exercise? If your dog is out of breath after just 5-10 minutes of moderate exercise then he may be overweight.
  • If you allow your dog on furniture, does he have difficulty hopping up on the sofa or other low pieces of furniture? This can be a sign that he’s carrying too much weight.

Some breeds are prone to weight gain, including some of America’s most popular breeds: Labs, Golden Retrievers (Bo), Beagles, Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, and Shelties will all gain weight quickly if you overfeed them. Some terrier breeds, too, are prone to putting on weight. But any dog will gain weight if you consistently overfeed him.

Of course, you will want your vet to rule out any diseases that would cause your dog to gain weight, such or Cushing’s disease (overactive adrenal glands) or hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland).

How Much Is Too Much Food?

Many popular dog foods today provide feeding estimates on the side of the bag that are overly generous. If you follow the recommendations on the bags then your dog can quickly begin to gain weight. Remember that the guidelines on the bag are only suggestions. When you start feeding a new food you need to keep a careful eye on your dog to see if he is gaining or losing weight. If your dog begins to put on too much weight you should cut back on the food. Some experts will tell you NOT to cut back on the amount of food, as this can lead to malnutrition over time. They will tell you to feed your dog special reduced-calorie food.

Three Fat Puppies

(Aww! Maybe this is just baby fat 🙂 )

I had been overfeeding Bo. I was feeding him 18-20 oz (in a 20 oz cup) 3 times per day. The kids were constantly on me about it, but I felt like what they wanted to give him would be a starvation diet. Boy, was I wrong! We later switched over to canned dog food and according to the recommendations, Bo should have been eating almost 6 cans per day. During his diet, he was getting 2 cans.

Bo’s vet says she has seen cases where a dog had to be fed only a couple of tablespoons of food per day in order to lose weight. I didn’t think to have that comment clarified, but hopefully she was referring to very small dogs, not a large one like Bo. But I don’t know that for sure.

Multiple Dogs

If you have more than one dog, your dogs may also be more prone to gain weight. When several dogs live together they tend to eat every bite and even compete for food. They can gain weight much faster than a single dog who may be a pickier or more leisurely eater.

Multiple Puppies Eating

Older Dogs

Is your dog aging? If your dog is between five and seven years old then his metabolism may be changing. If you are feeding him the same food he was eating when he was two years old then he may not digest it the same way. He may be packing on more weight from the same amount of food.


Don’t forget to count the treats you feed your dog each day, too. They can add up and cause your dog to gain weight. The vet gave me a sample of some tiny, low-cal treats I could give Bo. She said any treat should be tiny. For the most part, dogs don’t care whether their treats are teeny-tiny or super-sized, they just want something.


Finally, most dogs in the U.S. don’t get enough exercise, which also contributes to weight gain. If your dog isn’t getting enough exercise, it can start adding weight very quickly.

Our vet suggested that we start with a 3 minute walk each day, and build up to a 20-30 minute walk. I had a couple of concerns:

  • Pulling on the leash – I have bad knees, and my dog pulls strongly at the beginning of the walk. He weighed nearly 100 pounds, and to hold him back I dig in with my legs, and the pressure and pain go straight to my knees. The vet suggested I get a special “collar”. It’s more like a halter that you would put on a horse. In fact, it’s called a Halti (there is also another brand, but I’ve forgotten the name). It is put on the dog’s head, rather than his neck. A dog’s neck is incredibly strong, but if you can control his head, you can control the dog. Haltis come in various sizes, according to the size and weight of the dog. They can be purchased at most pet stores, or at AmazonHalti Warning: We picked one up at PetSmart, but Bo wasn’t havin’ it. He frantically pawed and pawed at it until he had scratched himself deeply enough to bleed. Hopefully, your dog wouldn’t be quite so obstinate.
  • Not enough exercise – My next concern was that even using the Halti (which we didn’t), because of my knees I walk painfully slow and didn’t think a very slow 3 minute walk would do my dog much good. He would be mostly waiting on me to come on. The vet assured me that it would still be helpful, that it was better for him to take a slow 3 minute walk than to be laying on the floor doing nothing.

Other suggestions:

  • Have your dog follow you around the house as you go about your day. Bo does this anyway, your dog may, too.
  • As the weather gets hotter, take your walks in the early morning or late evening, when the pavement is not so hot. Hot pavement can burn the pads of your dog’s feet.
  • Do stairs. I would go to the top of the stairs and make Bo think I was going down them. He would run down, then I would call him back up. Rinse and repeat a couple of times, as long as your dog doesn’t have hip problems.
  • Playtime counts. If your dog likes to fetch, play a game of it everyday. The running back-and-forth counts as exercise. Bo likes to fetch, but he doesn’t want to drop it once he brings it to you. He wants to play tug-of-war with it. Still, he’s jumping around and pulling, instead of just laying on the floor.
  • Take your dog to an exercise class with you? 🙂

(This isn’t Bo either, but it looks like him 🙂 )

If you think that your dog may be overweight take a good look at him. Ask your vet for their opinion. You don’t have to change food or do anything drastic. Cutting your dog’s portion slightly and helping him get more exercise will start to show results. Again, ask your vet.

Don’t expect your dog to lose weight rapidly. Rapid weight loss isn’t good for a dog. If your dog only loses a few ounces per week then he will soon be fit. You can do your part to stop canine obesity just by taking a good look at your dog and feeding him appropriately.

Bo’s Outcome

Because of the problem with my knees and walking, my kids started coming over twice a week to take Bo for walks. With their young and healthy knees (I’m so jealous!) they are able to run with him, and he loves it. I did my best to have him run the stairs a couple of times, and play fetch/tug-of-war, on other days.

So we:

  1. Cut his food down to only 2 cans a day, one in the morning and one in the evening.
  2. Only gave very, very occasional treats. And that was usually something like carrots or celery.
  3. Took him on long walks or runs twice a week.
  4. Ran him up and down the stairs 2 or 3 times on “no-walk” days.
  5. Played fetch/tug-of-war on “no-walk” days.

Bo is now down to a healthy and happy 77 pounds! He is much more energetic, is able to reach further back on the counters to get things he shouldn’t, and wants to jump up on me when I get home. All things he couldn’t do before.

Has your dog had a weight problem that you’ve been able to overcome? What are any tips you might have for our readers?

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