Is my dog Fat? How To Identify The Signs

Is my dog fat? Identifying weight gain in dogs
Is my dog fat? Identifying weight gain in dogs

Welcome to Is My Dog Fat? A Guide For Dog Obesity, the 1st installment of the 4-part Dog Weight Loss Guide. After you learn how to identify weight gain in your dog, continue along the journey to learn why dogs gain weight.

Dog weight loss guide journey:

Is My Dog Fat?

Our dogs are our family, loyal companions, and best friends. We love to see our pups happy. But, sometimes, our unwavering love leads to one—or three—extra treats as a nighttime snack. Leaving you to ask, is my dog fat?

If your dog is overweight, you’re not alone. In the most recent survey by the Pet Obesity Prevention Organization, 56% of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese, making obesity the most preventable disease our dogs face today.

When facing obesity in your dog, it’s essential to remember their short-term happiness isn’t worth the long-term health risks. The lifespan of an overweight dog is 2 1/2 years shorter than the lifespan of dogs who maintain a healthy weight.

The shorter lifespan is caused by a number of potential health risks of obesity in dogs, including:

  • heart disease
  • hypertension
  • diabetes
  • cancer
  • bladder stones
  • osteoarthritis
  • degeneration of joints

This dog obesity guide will help you discover if your dog is overweight or obese and put your pet on the path to health by building a weight loss and diet plan. By the end of the guide, you’ll have a diet, supplement, and exercise plan that will have your dog happy, active, and playful again in no time.

Before you begin a diet or exercise plan, always consult your veterinarian.

Your dog’s weight gain could be caused by an existing illness — like hypothyroidism and Cushing’s Disease (hyperadrenocorticism) — or obesity may have caused diseases like diabetes. A complete physical and blood work is critical before starting a diet.

  1. How to determine if your dog is overweight.
  2. What’s the best diet for overweight dogs?
  3. How much exercise does your overweight dog need?
  4. How do you maintain your dog’s weight?
Is my dog overweight? An overweight dachshund plays with an orange rubber ball on a sandy beach

How to determine if your dog is overweight.

“She’s just a big body breed.” I offendedly rebutted when my Shelby — a petite basset griffin vendeen mix with eyelashes for days — was declared fat by her mom. 

It’s easy to be blinded by love and adorableness when diagnosing our dog’s weight. For the health of your loved one, it’s essential to remove that bias and view your dog through the lens of a veterinarian.

Is my dog fat? A dog body condition scoring chart

You’ve likely seen the above body condition scoring chart at your vet or during your research. A quick visual doesn’t do the trick with every breed, however.

Follow the below steps to identify and examine your dog to determine if now is the right time to start a diet and exercise.

What are the signs your dog is overweight?

With over 199 canine breeds listed by the American Kennel Club — and so many of us who adopted our mixed breeds — it can be challenging to find an easy answer for your dog’s ideal weight.

Luckily, from chihuahuas to huskies, all dog’s bodies share similarities in structure to help you determine if they are at a healthy body fat percentage.

There are four primary methods for determining if your dog is overweight:

  1. Weigh your dog
  2. Examine their waist
  3. Feel for your dog’s ribs
  4. Keep track of their energy and endurance levels

Your dog’s age can also impact the type of fat they store, making weight loss more challenging and more vital.

A study analyzing fat distribution in dogs by BMC Veterinary Research showed older dogs store fat in their visceral fat — the intra-abdominal area beneath the abdominal wall — more than younger dogs.

This intra-abdominal fat contributes to insulin resistance and obesity-related diseases. That’s why it’s essential to catch obesity early and maintain a healthy lifestyle into your dog’s senior years.

How do you weigh your dog at home?

Even getting your stubborn dog on a big scale at the vet’s office can be a struggle for some of us. If your dog isn’t a 150 lbs Great Pyrenese, there’s an easy method to weigh your dog at home.

Grab your scale and set it on a flat surface to first weigh yourself. Write down or remember your exact weight, then pick up your dog and weigh the two of you combined.

You can then subtract your weight from the combined weight.

If your dog is purebred, use our breed book to research their breed characteristics and find their ideal weight.

Examine your dog’s waist.

Our waists and abdominals are usually the first to show the extra pounds we added over the winter. That’s no different than your dogs.

When examining your dog’s waist, first look at their side profile.

Our dog’s waistlines should have a pronounced taper on the bottom, and their stomach should not sag lower than their chest or ribs. When looking from above, the sides should have a noticeable taper also.

Spotting signs of weight gain in fluffy dogs are more challenging. Examine during a bath to better see the definition.

Feel for your dog’s ribs.

A healthy dog should have easily discernible ribs without excess fat covering. You should be able to feel each of their ribs without pressing too deep.

When your dog is overweight, the fat directly below the skin — known as subcutaneous fat — will begin to cover their ribs with a soft layer.

When examining your dog’s ribs, start by standing over them with your dog facing the same direction. Run both hands from each side of their waist and follow the rib cage line. If you have trouble feeling the rib cage to start, your dog is likely obese.

Follow the rib cage line down to the chest and feel for individual ribs. A healthy dog’s ribs are prominent and easy to discern.

Keep track of your dog’s energy levels and endurance.

Dogs, like people, can gain weight easier as they age and begin to move less. It’s essential to be aware of declining energy levels and strain or difficulty exercising, especially in senior dogs.

If you notice your dog has a hard time keeping up with you on walks or is short of breath, these could be signs of obesity.

A healthy dog is always ready to play, so watch if your dog is less eager to fetch their favorite ball or naps more often than usual.

Additional signs of an overweight or obese dog.

In addition to the physical signs of obesity, your dog’s actions and attitude may indicate weight gain.

If you notice any of the following signs in your dog, :

  • Difficulty rising after lying down
  • Can’t jump up on furniture or into the car
  • Always hungry
  • Coat is dull
  • Suffering from joint pain or arthritis

Maintaining your dog’s weight is vital for preserving a happy and healthy life. If you think your dog is overweight, talk to your veterinarian and take steps to help slim down. With a bit of effort, you can help your furry friend live a long and active life.

Is my dog fat? A mid-sized breed of dog eats with his head completely in the green bowl.

What’s the best diet for overweight dogs?

The amount of food your dog needs will vary based on their weight, activity level, and other factors. Most diet foods suggested servings recommend 30% less food between weight loss and maintenance.

Before starting a diet, calculate how many calories your dog consumes each day. Go about your typical day with your regular food and snack routine, then compare the results to your dog’s daily caloric needs.

Approximate daily caloric needs of a dog:

  • 10lbs. 200 to 275 calories
  • 20lbs. 325 to 400 calories
  • 50lbs. 700 to 900 calories
  • 70lbs. 900 to 1050 calories
  • 90lbs 1100 to 1350 calories

Often, counting your dog’s calories will be the first sign that too much food and snacks are the culprits of their weight gain.

Starting your dog’s diet.

Since there isn’t a Fitbit or Apple watch for your dog, a lot of diet and exercise is by trial.

At the beginning of your dog’s diet, it’s essential to weigh your dog weekly and make minor adjustments to their food until they reach a healthy level of consistent weight loss. Keeping to a regular exercise regimen will assist you in obtaining an accurate food measurement.

Slowly ease your dog into the new diet. Transitioning foods the proper way will prevent an upset stomach leading to diarrhea or throwing up.

Always wane your dog off their old food by mixing it with the new food over seven to nine days.

  • 75% old food, 25% new food for three days
  • 50% old food, 50% new food for three days
  • 25% old food, 75% new food for three days
  • 100% new food

Finding healthy snack replacements.

Sometimes, snacks are unavoidable. Like when you need to hide medication or your dog is accustomed to rewards after treatments — like ear cleaning or teeth brushing.

Plus, the disappointing face of saying NO to your dog when they want a treat is heartbreaking.

Thankfully, some of the best foods for dog weight loss are easily available, inexpensive, and might be in your refrigerator right now.

What are some low-calorie replacement treats for your dog?

  • Kibble (from their food)
  • Carrot sticks
  • Cucumber
  • Zucchini
  • Pumpkin
  • Apple slices
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cranberries
  • Watermelon

NEVER feed your dog any of the following.

  • Grapes
  • Raisins
  • Chocolate
  • Onions
  • Avocado
  • Macadamia Nuts

When considering giving your dog people food, remember that one ounce of cheddar cheese for a 20lb dog is equal to one and a half hamburgers for a person.

Feeding tips:

  • Slow down your dog’s eating by serving in two portions, or use a slow feeder dog bowl to help them feel full and better digest their food.
  • In multi-dog households, feed your dogs separately.
  • Split meals into small portions and feed with more frequency.
  • Use a measuring cup for every meal.
  • Make sure your dog has fresh water at all times.

Do not:

  • Give your dog scraps of human food.
  • Use a self-feeder.

The goal is for your dog to lose 1% to 1.5% of its body weight weekly.

If there were an easy way to lose weight, we would all do it. Since there isn’t, your dog will need a diet and exercise plan to begin their weight loss journey.

A target weight loss goal for a medium-sized 35-pound dog is 1.4-2.8lbs a month — or half a pound a week on average. Gradual weight loss helps avoid health problems and allows your dog time to adjust to a new routine.

Is my dog fat? A lab holds its leash asking to go for a walk

Exercise plans to help your dog shed pounds

Daily exercise is vital for all dogs. Maintaining an exercise plan will be crucial for your dog’s weight loss journey.

Just like your dog’s new diet, your overweight dog should be slowly introduced to more vigorous exercise over time — helping to avoid exhaustion or injuries.

Dogs should regularly receive thirty minutes to two hours of activity every day. Finding fun and unique games with your dog can help to increase that time throughout the day.

Keep to the basics when starting — like tug-of-war, fetch, and walking — and make it regular.

Taking regular walks

If your dog is anything like mine, a regular walk means smelling every third plant, bush, tree, and dog. When focused on fitness, I only allow sniffing on the walk back.

A regular pace of walking is 20 to 25 minutes per mile. When you add frequent stops, this type of casual stroll isn’t helping to burn the calories your dog needs. Focus on walking quickly and limiting stops to elevate your dog’s heart rate.

If walks are infrequent, start slowly and work up in pace. If you already walk regularly, increase your pace for a more brisk walk or jog to burn more calories.

Playtime twice a day for 10-15 minutes

Your dog is bored any time they’re lying around. Grab your dog’s favorite ball, pull toy, or squeaky and have fun.

Playing fetch gives your dog a chance to raise their heart rate with high interval sprints. At the same time, tug-of-war lets them use all their pulling strength to burn calories.

You don’t have to keep playtime inside. Enjoy the sunset after work by playing in the backyard and wrestling around or throwing the frisbee.

If your dog isn’t one to fetch or play tug-of-war, here are some exercises and game ideas to play:

  • Go swimming.
  • Hide a strong-smelling, low-calorie treat so they can work a scent trail.
  • Purchase a treat dispenser toy.
  • Play tag or chase.
  • Set up an obstacle course with furniture.
  • Play hide-and-seek.

Exercise can become part of your day by setting up a playtime routine. For example, throwing a ball with your morning coffee and some pre-dinner shenanigans.

Is my dog fat? maintaining your dogs weight. A jack russell terrier running across the grass with a carrot in its mouth.

How do you maintain your dog’s weight?

You successfully trimmed the fat off your pup by cleaning up their diet, taking daily walks, and playing twice a day. She’s now trim, fit, and more active than ever. Now, it’s time to maintain.

Keeping your dog active and at a healthy weight is an essential part of their overall wellness. Some dog breeds are prone to obesity, making their weight even more challenging to maintain.

By following these tips, you can help your dog stay fit and healthy for years to come.

Increase your dog’s food to the maintenance weight.

Your dog’s diet food should have a serving size for weight loss and maintenance. Many foods have a 30% increase for the maintenance period.

No different than you and I at a buffet, a sharp increase in food intake can cause an upset stomach and digestive problems. Make sure to increase your dog’s food slowly to reach the maintenance period.

You should be able to increase the food over a three to five-day period while closely monitoring your dog after eating to watch for vomiting.

Continue your exercise routine.

It takes 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit and an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.

Hopefully, daily walks will become a new healthy habit.

Continue with your exercise routine — including daily walks and playtime twice a day — to maintain a healthy and active pup.

What can seem like a chore to us is the highlight of our dog’s day.

Tips for maintaining a healthy weight for your dog:

  • Maintain a healthy high protein diet.
  • Always measure and give the exact amount of food.
  • Never give your dog human food.
  • Maintain a regular exercise program.
  • Weigh your dog monthly and adjust their food, and exercise accordingly.

Final thoughts.

How do you know if your dog is overweight or obese?

Begin by visually inspecting your dog’s waist. Their waists should not hang below their chest. When examining from above, it should have a noticeable taper. Next, feel for your dog’s ribs. You can follow from their waist and feel for the rib cage and individual ribs. Your dog’s ribs should be clearly defined.

Additional signs of weight gain can be the inability to jump on the sofa anymore, having difficulty getting up, or pausing when running upstairs.

After the visual inspection, weigh your dog and compare their weight to the breed standard. Since we see our dogs daily, weight gain isn’t always noticeable. For this reason, you should always keep a close watch on their energy and endurance levels.

What are the first steps to take when your dog is overweight?

  1. Visit your veterinarian to conduct a physical and blood work.
  2. Count the number of calories your dog consumes daily.
  3. Decrease the amount of food, or begin a dietary food to lower their caloric intake.
  4. Build a regular exercise routine with 30 minutes to 2 hours of active time daily.
  5. Weigh your dog frequently and adjust their calorie intake to ensure a healthy amount of 3% to 5% monthly decrease in body weight.

You found this article because you’re a great dog parent worried about their weight and health. Asking ‘is my dog fat?’ is a great first step. Right now is the best time to call your veterinarian and schedule an appointment for a check-up.

By helping our dogs maintain an active, healthy lifestyle, we can extend the precious time we have with them. Your dog will be happier, have less pain, and be thankful for the hard work you dedicate to their health.

Did you discover that your dog is overweight? If you found this article helpful, please share it so you can help others.

Continue to Part 2 of the Dog Weight Loss Guide:
Why Is My Dog Getting Fat?

Diet, age, genetics, or an underlying medical condition can cause weight gain in dogs. Learn how to identify each cause, and have a plan of action moving forward.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How do I know if my dog is overweight or obese?

Begin by visually inspecting your dog’s waist. Their waists should not hang below their chest. When examined from above, the waist should have a noticeable taper. Next, feel for your dog’s ribs. You can follow from their waist and feel for the rib cage and individual ribs. Your dog’s ribs should be clearly defined.

What steps should I take when my dog is overweight?

1. Visit your veterinarian to conduct a physical and blood work.
2. Count the number of calories your dog consumes daily.
3. Decrease the amount of food, or begin a dietary food to lower their caloric intake.
4. Build a regular exercise routine with 30 minutes to 2 hours of active time daily.
5. Weigh your dog frequently and adjust their calorie intake to ensure a healthy amount of 3% to 5% monthly decrease in body weight.

How long should my dog’s weight loss journey take?

It depends on how overweight your dog is. A healthy weight loss plan for dogs is 3-5% of their body weight each month. If your 50lb dog is 10lbs overweight, your fitness plan should last four to six months.

I’m not seeing results. What should I do differently?

If you are several weeks into your dog’s weight loss plan and aren’t seeing results, you need to increase exercise and decrease calorie intake. Begin by counting your dog’s daily caloric intake and set a stopwatch to track your active play and exercise time. Your dog should be active daily for at least 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Should I still exercise regularly with my senior dog?

All dogs need exercise. Even your senior dog still appreciates you taking them on a low-impact walk. You do need to be more cautious when exercising senior dogs. Keep a slower pace, avoid walking in extreme heat or cold, walk on softer ground like grass or sand, and look for stiffness, pain, or difficulties getting up after walks.

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