Over 50 percent of dogs in the United States are overweight. A scary and dangerous statistic. Excess weight in dogs increases the risk of deadly diseases, like diabetes, while shortening a dog’s life by up to 2 years, making exercise and diet vital for all dogs.
So, how can you tell if your German Shepherd is overweight?
The typical weight for the German Shepherd is approximately 75 to 95 pounds, with females weighing less than males. Since every German Shepherd is unique, you can only partially rely on the scale, leaving the rest to visual inspection.
This article walks you through the steps to determine if your German Shepherd is overweight and details their exercise and diet needs. By the end, you’ll better understand your dog’s breed and have a clear action plan to maintain a healthy weight.
Is your German Shepherd overweight?
How well do you really know your dog? Of course, you know your best friend’s personality, the things they love, and the foods they detest. But what about the ancestry of the German Shepherd?
Dogs have always been bred for a specific purpose, separating them into their respective job groups. And by deeply understanding the breed, you can better determine their particular exercise needs, providing a healthy lifestyle and preventing weight gain. These groups include:
- Herding Group: A rancher’s best friend, the herding group is designed to herd livestock over long days with stamina and speed.
- Terrier and Sporting Groups: Bred to hunt and retrieve animals like birds or rabbits, these dogs require quick bursts of energy to help them chase down their prey.
- Hound Group: Bred to track down animals by scent, hound dogs need to be able to run for long periods and are high-energy dogs.
- Working Group: Bred for large jobs like pulling carts, guarding property, or emergency rescue, large working dog breeds require extra exercise to stay healthy and happy.
- Toy and non-sporting group: Often bred with no designated job, these breeds can get by better with a calm, less active lifestyle.
The German Shepherd is part of the Herding group, making them an incredibly active breed that requires ample amounts of exercise and activity. Without an outlet for energy, obesity and destructive behaviors can form.
An inactive dog is prone to weight gain, and obesity is the most preventable disease plaguing dogs today.
How to determine if your German Shepherd is overweight
Noticing subtle weight changes is a challenge when we see our dogs daily. Plus, we love our pups which often creates a biased view; call it blinded by adorableness.
Luckily, from chihuahuas to huskies, similarities in the canine’s body help you determine if they are maintaining a healthy body fat percentage.
These are the four primary methods for determining if your dog is overweight:
- Weigh your dog
- Examine their waist
- Feel for your dog’s ribs
- Track their energy and endurance levels
Although each method can work independently, using all four methods is the best way to safeguard against dangerous obesity.
Weighing your German Shepherd at home
If you can physically pick up your dog, you can weigh them regularly at home.
First, set the scale on a flat surface to weigh yourself. Write down or remember your exact weight, then pick your dog up and weigh the two of you combined.
You know your dog’s weight by subtracting your weight from your combined weight. Now, track the weight in a notebook to catch any fluctuations.
Monthly weigh-ins will suffice for dogs of a healthy weight, while weekly weigh-ins are best when dieting.
Examining the waist
Our waists and abdominals tend to be the first to show the extra pounds we added over the winter. That’s no different than your dogs.
When examining your German Shepherd’s waist, first look at their side profile.
A dog’s waistline should have a pronounced taper on the bottom, and its stomach should not sag lower than its chest or ribs. You should also see a noticeable taper at the waist when examining from above.
Spotting signs of weight gain in fluffy dogs is often more challenging, so take advantage of bath time for examinations.
Feel for your dog’s ribs
A healthy German Shepherd should have easily discernible ribs without excess fat covering. You should be able to touch and feel each of their ribs without pressing too deep.
To examine, start by standing over your dog with them 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 energy and endurance levels
Dogs, like people, can gain weight easier as they age and become less active. Staying aware of declining energy levels, strain, and difficulty exercising is vital, especially in senior dogs.
If you notice your dog has difficulty keeping up with you on walks or is short of breath, these could be signs of obesity.
A healthy dog is ready to play, so watch if your German Shepherd is less eager to fetch their favorite ball or naps more often than usual.
Additional signs of an overweight or obese German Shepherd
In addition to the physical signs of obesity, your dog’s behavior can indicate weight gain.
Look for the following signs in your dog to help determine if excess weight is a problem:
- 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
When you identify signs of weight gain in your dog, it’s time to analyze why. Starting with diet is always best.
Is your German Shepherd overeating?
Counting calories isn’t just for people. When your dog consumes more calories than they burn through being active, those calories convert to fat.
Start by tracking your dog’s daily calorie intake. Work through your regular daily routine with no changes, including any human foods, dog snacks, or supplements they regularly receive.
You can reference the chart below for estimated daily calorie requirements. Note the significant calorie difference between a body index score of 5 and 7. A score of 5 on the body index chart is at the ideal weight, whereas seven is 20 percent overweight.
For an estimate based on your dog’s exact weight, here’s a calorie calculator from the Pet Nutrition Alliance.
If you discover your dog is exceeding their daily suggested calories, you now have a clear path to weight reduction; more exercise or fewer calories.
The next step is to start your dog on a path to weight loss, which includes:
- Weekly weigh-ins to track progress.
- Stopping or switching all snacks to healthy fruits and vegetables.
- Reducing the serving size of their regular meals.
- Making gradual adjustments until they reach a healthy 1% to 1.5% decline in body weight each week.
If you determine calories and exercise are not the cause, it’s time to explore more potential influences with your veterinarian.
There are additional factors potentially influencing your dog’s weight, including:
Weight-loss diet for German Shepherds
You can only discover your dog’s ideal daily calorie needs through a consistent diet and exercise routine, coupled with weekly weigh-ins.
A dog’s dietary needs are similar to ours. A well-rounded, balanced diet of protein, carbs, and calories should sustain their daily energy output. But, with no Fitbit or Apple Watch to help, you have to turn to trial and error.
After following the guideline, weigh your German Shepherd every week. A healthy weekly weight loss goal is 1 to 1.5 percent of body weight.
So long as their diet and exercise routine remains unchanged, you can make minor adjustments of less or more calories or exercise.
Once you reach the ideal loss goal, keep going with the diet until you’re close to a healthy weight. You can gradually increase the serving size to slow your dog’s rate of weight loss and find their maintenance level.
At this point, weigh-ins can slow to bi-weekly and eventually monthly.
- 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.
Healthy snack replacements
Sometimes, snacks are unavoidable. For instance, when hiding medication or providing rewards for treatments and training. Plus, the disappointing face of saying NO to your dog when they earn a treat is heartbreaking.
Thankfully, many natural healthy snacks for people are also great for dogs. The sweet blueberry is only one calorie each and is rich in antioxidants. Carrots are high in fiber, making the treat both healthy and filling.
To reduce your dog’s daily calorie intake, replace high-calorie dog treats with these healthy snack alternatives:
- Carrot sticks
- Apple slices
Remember, only some fruits and vegetables are safe for dogs. Here’s a list by the ASPCA of people foods to avoid feeding your dog.
While on the topic of people food, remember that one ounce of cheddar cheese for a 20lb dog is equal to one and a half hamburgers for a person.
How much exercise do German Shepherds need?
Regardless of age and size, dogs need a minimum of 30-minutes of exercise each day, with more active dog breeds requiring an hour or more. As a general rule,
- Puppies need 5 minutes of exercise twice daily for each month of age. Playtime and short, structured walks should be part of the daily routine.
- Adult dogs need a minimum of one hour of exercise each day. It would be best if you exercised at least twice a day. More playtime in between will make your pup even happier.
- Senior dogs still need 30 minutes of exercise each day—unless instructed otherwise by a veterinarian.
Aside from diabetes and other dangerous conditions, weight gain in dogs can cause joint issues, overheating, and breathing difficulties.
The German Shepherd requires more than an hour per day of exercise.
Maintaining a healthy diet is essential to keep your German Shepherd happy and healthy. When paired with daily exercise, you can better ensure a long, healthy life while avoiding obesity-caused diseases.
If you aren’t, start walking your German Shepherd daily. A daily walk with morning and evening playtimes promotes better sleep, a healthy heart, and keeps the fat away.
During bad weather, or if fetch and tug-of-war aren’t for your dog, here’s a list of fun outdoor and indoor activities:
- Hiding a strong-smelling, low-calorie treat to work a scent trail
- A treat dispenser toy
- Tag or chase
- Set up an obstacle course with furniture
Measuring food, avoiding high-calorie human snacks, and regular exercise is the best defense against weight gain.
If your weather is nice, go for a walk today. Your pup will thank you.
Did you determine if your German Shepherd is overweight? Share this article with friends and family to help them learn more about their dog’s weight.
Frequently Asked Questions
What causes rapid weight gain in German Shepherds?
Rapid weight gain can happen in dogs with Cushing’s disease and hypothyroidism. Both conditions impact a dog’s metabolism since they directly influence hormones. If your dog is experiencing rapid weight gain, it’s likely a sign of a severe health condition.
How can I help my German Shepherd lose weight?
You can reduce fat in dogs through diet and exercise. A dog’s healthy weight loss goal is 1% to 1.5% of body weight weekly.
Begin by gradually decreasing their calorie intake and reducing snacks to none or healthy options, like fruits and vegetables.
Start with daily walks and playtime twice a day. If your dog has been primarily inactive, start slowly and increase the walking pace or distance as their conditioning improves.
Weekly weigh-ins are essential to keep track of your success.
Do German Shepherds get fatter with age?
Senior dogs are more prone to weight gain. Usually, between the age of 6 to 10, a dog’s metabolism and energy levels begin to decrease. Even as your German Shepherd ages, keeping a regular exercise routine is essential. Just be sensitive to their aging joints with less strenuous exercises.
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.
Why is my German Shepherd gaining weight but not eating more?
Once you’ve determined overeating and lack of exercise are not influencing your dog’s weight gain, you must consider age, genetics, and medical conditions.
As dogs reach their senior years, weight gain becomes more common. Dogs struggle to maintain a healthy weight when they reach 6 to 10 years of age.
With a slowing metabolism, our greying senior dogs become more content with lounging. But, senior dogs still require a minimum of 30-minutes of exercise daily, including walks and playtime.
Why does my German Shepherd have a sudden increase in appetite?
A sudden increase in appetite is one of the symptoms of Cushing’s disease, a rare but severe disease in dogs that produces excessive cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal gland when stressed.
When noticing an increased appetite, look for the following symptoms common in dogs with Cushing’s disease:
- Excessive water consumption and urination
- Hair loss
- Excessive panting
- Thinning of the skin
- Abdominal enlargement
- Calcified skin lumps (Calcinosis cutis)
Thankfully, only 3% of dogs suffer from hypothyroidism, and less than 1% have Cushing’s disease. But some breeds are more prone to this dangerous disease.