Is my dog overweight? A Guide For Fat Dogs

Is my dog overweight? A small white and grey dog is sitting on a scale holding a yellow tape measure in his mouth.

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 overweight?

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.

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 caused by the excess fat your dog is carrying increases their risk of several serious diseases and health factors, including:

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

This Dog Health and Wellness 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 are the dangers of obesity in dogs?
  3. How much food should your overweight dog eat?
  4. How much exercise does your overweight dog need?
  5. Is your dieting dog getting enough protein and fat?
  6. How do you maintain your dog’s weight?
  7. Are supplements right for your dog?

Is my dog overweight? How to determine if your dog is fat.

“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.

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 of an overweight dog?

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, you can use the American Kennel Club breed weight chart to reference 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.

For long-haired dog breeds, a bath makes it easier to examine their waists.

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.

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 in your dog, they may be carrying around extra weight:

  • 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.

What are the dangers of obesity in dogs? A senior retriever lays on a vets table with sad eyes while being examined.

What are the dangers of obesity in dogs, and how can it lead to health problems?

Now that you know how to diagnose the signs your dog is overweight, it’s essential to understand the dangers of obesity in dogs.

Dogs who are overweight are at a greater risk for developing health problems such as:

  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Cancer

These conditions can not only lead to a decrease in your dog’s quality of life but also shorten their lifespan.

If you think your dog is overweight, you must take action and help them get back to a healthy weight.

Your dog’s weight and lifestyle will determine the proper diet.

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.

The goal is for your dog to lose 3% to 5% of their body weight each month.

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.

How much food should your overweight dog eat? A small brown and white dog has its head inside a food bowl.

How much food should your overweight dog eat?

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.

When transitioning your dog’s food, you must always wane your dog off their 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.

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.
Is my dog overweight? A labrador outside of its front door holding a blue leash in its mouth.

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.

Take 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 currently 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.

Have 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 your dieting dog eating enough protein and fat?

With the increase in exercise, protein and fat will be necessary for building and maintaining muscle strength and repair.

A 30lb dog should consume at least 25 grams of protein and 14 grams of fat per day. If the food you provide your dog doesn’t include enough protein or fat, you can supplement with healthy treats like chicken or salmon jerky.

How do you read nutrition labels on dog food and treats?

Dog food labels are more complex than human food labels. Figuring out the exact amount of food you should serve your dog may require some math.

The label on dog food quotes nutrients — like protein, fat, and fiber — as a percent of their daily diet. Calories are called kilocalories with serving sizes in kcal/kg or kcal/cup.

Metabolizable Energy or ME is the total calorie content in your dog’s food.

A kilocalorie for pet food is interchangeable with calories in human foods, meaning 1 calorie of human food = 1 kilocalorie for dogs. 

Thankfully, the FDA requires dog food manufacturers to express the calories in standard household units, like kcal/8 oz cup.

If the food does not have a familiar household unit, you can use the following conversions.

  • Convert kcal/kg to kcal/100 grams by dividing it by 10.
  • Convert kcal/kg to kcal/lb by dividing by 2.2.
  • Convert kcal/kg to kcal/oz by diving by 93.

Look for food with high protein, fat, and fiber.

When examining a dog food label, nutrients like protein, fat, and fiber will be listed as a percent of the total food.

A list of dog food ingredients for American Journey Large Breed Adult Chicken & Sweet Potato Recipe Grain-Free Dry Dog Food.
American Journey Large Breed Adult Chicken & Sweet Potato Recipe Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

When examining the above label, 30% of the food by weight is protein. Furthermore, when reading the actual ingredient list, the first ingredient listed will be the top ingredient included.

For this example, chicken is the predominant ingredient, followed by chicken and turkey meal.

How to maintain your dog's weight. A Jack Russell Terrier runs through the grass with a full 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.
Are supplements right for your dog? A small tan labrador retriever is sitting patiently for a small supplement treat.

Should you supplement, and what vitamins does your dog need?

Commercial dog food should include a well-balanced diet of essential nutrients and vitamins. If your dog has dietary restrictions and is fed a home-prepared meal, always research the ingredients to verify they’ve received the nutrients they need.

Before considering supplements, change your dog’s diet to a food with these naturally occurring vitamins:

  • Vitamin A
  • B-complex vitamins (vitamin B-6, B-12, thiamine, niacin, folate, biotin, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid)
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K
  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus
  • Vitamin C (dogs naturally produce vitamin C through their livers, but some may need to supplement)

As mentioned at the beginning of the guide, you need to consult your vet before beginning a diet program. The blood work will show any deficiencies, and your vet can provide a list of vitamins and supplements to add to your dog’s diet.

Are supplements right for your dog?

Supplementing vitamins can be potentially dangerous to your dog. When dogs consume high amounts of liver, vitamin A poisoning is common. 

Taking supplements like cod liver oil presents a high risk of vitamin A poisoning for your dog.

Vitamin A poisoning can cause excess bone formation in the neck and chest, dehydration, vomiting, constipation, poor hair coat, weight loss, and joint pain.

You shouldn’t only be cautious of Vitamin A. High levels of vitamin D can also cause Vitamin D toxicity in dogs. 

Since Vitamin D is fat-soluble, any excess is stored in fat tissues and the liver instead of excreting in their urine. Over time, a surplus of vitamin D can cause kidney failure and even death.

What are the most popular types of supplements?

You should consider supplements for your dog based on their needs. As your dog ages, certain supplements can be beneficial to combat issues like dry skin and joint pain.

Ask your vet about these popular supplements if your dog has any of the supporting issues:

  • Wild Alaskan salmon oil. A tasty food topper, fish oil provides Omega-3 Fatty Acids to help promote healthy skin for your dog.
  • Joint health supplements. Glucosamine and chondroitin are structural components of cartilage. Naturally derived from shellfish, cows, or pigs, these elements promote the body to build more cartilage, the protective tissue that softens joints.
  • Probiotics. Probiotics promote a healthy gut and robust immune system. Many are now looking into probiotics for their pets since it has become an increasingly popular human supplement.
Is my dog overweight? A golden cocker spaniel jumps through a wheat field on a stormy day.

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 didn’t end up here because you don’t think your dog is fat. It’s time to do something about it.

Taking the first step is often the hardest. Start by calling your vet today to schedule an appointment for a general 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.

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.