What should I do about my overweight dog?

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Just like us humans, it’s easy for a dog to put on unwanted weight. Sadly, overweight dogs have shorter lifespans and lead unhappier lives. They’re also more susceptible to a number of medical conditions like diabetes, skin conditions, and arthritis. Keeping your dog slim and trim is therefore an important part of maintaining their overall physical health, as well as providing them with play, walks, and fun times with you.

Don’t feel ashamed to ask your vet about your dog’s weight. It’s a really common scenario these days and your vet would much rather help you get your overweight dog back on a healthy track than ignore it.

Overweight dogs - what to look out for

Because dogs vary so much in size and shape, it can be difficult to determine if your dog is overweight. When you stroke them, it should be fairly easy to feel their ribs, shoulder blades and hip bones . When extending their body, e.g. when jumping, the ribs should be visible. When you look at your dog from above, they should have a distinctive waist in front of the hips.

Some broader, more muscular breeds can hide excess weight fairly easily. Your vet will be able to make an accurate assessment of weight and physical fitness, determining if your dog is overweight and for what reason. 

Most dogs are overweight because of overfeeding and it's all too easy to understand why. We quickly learn just how happy a special treat will make them, and they’re frequently trained with food as a reward.

Talk to your vet about weight management nutrition

Simply cutting back on food can be dangerous for your dog, as you may underfeed some important nutrients like vitamins or protein. Your dog may also feel more hungry, which means they’re more likely to beg. Your vet can recommend a bulkier, low-calorie food for your dog that is perfectly balanced for safe and effective weight loss. Some weight loss diets even have specific ingredients that can change your dog’s metabolism from fat-storing to fat-burning.

Some tips for managing your dog’s weight 

Your vet is the best person to help you set a healthy feeding programme for an overweight dog. These tips can also help:

  • Remember that feeding guides on food packaging are for your dog’s ideal weight, but this may not be your dog’s current weight! Ask your vet if you’re not sure if your dog is an ideal weight. 
  • Splitting your dog’s food ration into three to four meals can help your dog feel fuller through the day. Remember that puppies need four meals a day to start with, whether they are an ideal weight or not.
  • Your dog no doubt loves food from your table, but this can quickly add up to excess calories and weight gain. Table treating can also lead to excessive begging.
  • Go easy on the treats. Most of them are formulated to be extra tasty, but they also contain extra calories. Remember that calories from treats also count towards your dog’s daily calorie intake, and should make up no more than 10% of the total calories consumed every day. 
  • Dogs tend to have a sixth sense when it comes to sniffing out generous treat givers! If necessary, ask your neighbours and family not to hand out treats.
  • Make sure your dog has at least two good walks each day. This will help keep their metabolism up and their appetite down.
  • Your dog may need special weight-controlling food. Even if they prefer the old food, persevere and your dog will get used to the new food. Always supply plenty of fresh water.

Your vet is an expert in pet nutrition and should be consulted before making any changes to your dog's feeding plan. At your next visit, ask for a free weight check to confirm if your dog is overweight. If so, your vet can recommend the best course of action to ensure your dog remains happy and healthy.

Reviewed by Dr. Hein Meyer, DVM, PhD, Dipl-ECVIM-CA and Dr. Emma Milne BVSc FRCVS