How to Help A Dog Lose Weight: A Practical Guide

Have you ever seen a fat dog waddling while on a walk? The poor thing looks so uncomfortable he can barely move, panting with each step he tries to take. In addition to the difficulty he has getting around, there are lots of health issues that will likely develop as a result.

If you have a dog that needs to lose weight, the first step is to make an appointment with your vet. He will weigh your dog, discuss a new diet or adjustment to his current one, and recommend an exercise plan you will need to follow.

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Sobering statistics about dog obesity

♦ According to the U.S. Pet Obesity Prevention 2018 survey:

  • 55.8% of dogs are classed as overweight or obese, which is an estimated 50 million dogs
  • Pet owners and veterinary professionals were confused by conflicting pet nutritional advice and continue to struggle to help pets achieve safe and ideal weights.
  • 80% of vets said they had tried to help their pet lose weight
  • 68% of pet owners said they had tried to help their pet lose weight
  • 38% of pet owners said their vet made a recommendation about the best diet
  • 22% said they “had to ask” their vet about an appropriate diet
  • 40% replied they received no dietary advice from their vet

♦ According to the UK Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) 2019 pet obesity report:

  • 74% of vets believe pet obesity has increased over the last five years
  • 51% of dogs are obese
  • 100% of vets were concerned about the prevalence of obesity
  • 73% stated it was ‘one of the most prevalent conditions seen
  • 67% of “owners” are not concerned about obesity

I don't know how to help my dog lose weight

How can you tell if your dog is too fat?

According to hillspet.com “you should be able to feel all of your dog’s ribs without a thick layer of fat over them. Your dog’s chest should also be wider than his abdomen, with a noticeable tuck-up from chest to stomach. An overweight dog will generally have no waist and no distinction between chest and stomach.” .

Knowing your dog’s ideal weight makes it easier for you to maintain it. Whenever I take my dogs to the vet, no matter the reason, they are always weighed. The information creates a graph, making it easy for the vet to tell if their weight is where it should be. I’m also good at eyeballing it and am mindful about what I feed them.

Dog weight chart by breed

The American Kennel Club website has quite a lengthy list of breeds and their ideal weight. In the table below you will find a few for easy reference, and to view the entire list click here

BreedWeight for maleWeight for female
Border Collies30-55 pounds30-55 pounds
Chihuahuasno more than 6 poundsno more than 6 pounds
Dachshunds (standard)16-32 pounds16-32 pounds
German Shepherds65-90 pounds  50-70 pounds
Pugs14-18 pounds14-18 pounds
Retrievers (Labrador) 65-80 pounds55-70 pounds
Shih Tzu9-16 pounds9-16 pounds
West Highland Terriers (Westies)15-20 pounds15-20 pounds
Yorkshire Terriers (Yorkies)7 pounds7 pounds

 

This doesn’t take into account mixed breeds or “mutts” as we fondly call them. For example, one of my dogs was a Chihuahua/Min Pin so the guide for chihuahua would not be accurate. I also have a Maltese mix of some sort and if he was under 7lbs he would be underweight. Your vet will help you figure it out.

How do dogs become overweight?

Lack of exercise – many dogs don’t get nearly the amount of exercise they need to stay healthy so weight gain, boredom and behavior issues are the result.

Too lazy to move – I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people say their dogs are lazy, and that’s the reason they don’t go for walks and are fat. While it’s true not all dogs are high energy, not being walked from the time they were puppies can make some too lazy to want to move.

What some call lazy could actually be depression from being stuck in the house, or going no further than the backyard to pee and poop.

Pain – if a dog is in pain, whether it’s joint pain or some other condition, he will not feel up to walking.    

Too many treats – There’s nothing wrong with treats, it’s the amount and type that become an issue when it causes weight gain.  

I know your dog is adorable, but rather than constantly feeding him to show your love, a game of fetch or long walk in the park is a much better way to show you care.

Dogs of all ages will end up eating a lot of treats during their training, particularly puppies who have so much to learn. Reduce the amount of food you’re feeding him to compensate, or use some of his meals as treats.

Many store bought treats are nothing more than junk food, and cause weight gain while providing no nutritional value to your dog. Read labels, buy single or minimal ingredient products, use boiled chicken or dog safe vegetables instead. Check Pinterest for hundreds of easy to make healthy treats.

Feeding table scraps – There are several reasons why feeding table scraps is a bad idea.

  • Causes weight gain
  • High fat foods could lead to pancreatitis, a painful and sometimes deadly condition
  • Encourages bad behavior by rewarding your dog for barking. One day you may have been eating, your dog started barking, it drove you crazy, you wanted to eat in peace so you gave him food to keep him quiet. He quickly learned barking got him delicious food from the table.   

This article will help you deal with that begging behavior. 

Health conditions – Hypothyroidism and Cushing’s can explain weight gain, which is why a health check is important to determine whether or not an underlying condition is responsible.

Are fat dogs healthy?

Just like overweight people are more prone to serious health consequences, the same holds true for dogs. So no, fat dogs are not healthy.

Long term health effects for obese dogs

  • Added stress on bones and joints makes arthritis worse
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Panting and difficulty breathing in warmer weather
  • Cancer – National Canine Cancer Foundation mentions.
  • Diabetes
  • Pancreatitis as I mentioned above due to eating fatty foods
  • Shorter life span

To read more about dog obesity and cancer – “Researchers explore impact of obesity on dog’s health” 

So, how long will an overweight dog live?

It’s impossible to say how long any dog will live, let alone an overweight one. There are rough ideas about life expectancy for various breeds, but with all the mixes out there who can really say. Add to that the potential health complications that can arise due to extra weight and it’s anybody’s guess. It would be safe to assume an overweight dog’s lifespan will be shorter than a healthy dog at a healthy weight.

Based on your dog’s current health status your vet may be able to offer some insight, but that is in no way a prediction.

To help your dog live a long, healthy and happy life he needs:

  • A nutritious diet
  • To be at a healthy weight
  • Plenty of physical exercise and mental stimulation
  • A kind and loving home

Dog breeds prone to obesity

I did some research into whether specific breeds are more prone to it, and this is what I found.  

  • Basset Hounds
  • Beagles
  • Bernese Mountain Dogs
  • Bulldogs – no surprise
  • Cairn Terriers
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Dachshunds
  • Labs
  • Newfoundlands (Newfies)
  • Pugs – no surprise there, a large percentage of pugs I see are fat
  • Retrievers
  • Rottweilers
  • Saint Bernards
  • Scottish Terriers
  • Shetland Sheepdogs
  • West Highland Terriers (Westies)

My goodness, it seems like an awful lot of breeds are prone to getting fat! I’m not a vet, but I believe all dogs can become obese if they’re overfed and under exercised.

Where do mutts come in then? Whether your dog is on this list or not, a well balanced healthy diet, quality treats given sparingly and an active lifestyle (appropriate for his ability) should keep your dog at a healthy weight. Obviously it’s a different story if medical issues are present.

How to help a dog lose weight a practical guide

Do dogs put on weight as they get older?

Not every old dog will put on weight, in fact you’ll find many old dogs lose. As dogs age medical conditions such as arthritis, for example, can make walking more painful so walks aren’t as long as they used to be. Combine that with eating the same amount of food as when they were more active, and it’s no surprise if they put on some weight. Once the issue is managed, your dog may feel well enough to start exercising again but your vet will advise you on what’s appropriate. There are some ideas below that may help. 

How long does it take for a dog to lose weight?

According to VCA hospitals, a loss of 1-5 pounds a month is a healthy rate, and most dogs can be expected to reach their target weight in 6-8 months. Obviously if a dog only needs to lose a pound or two it won’t take that long. Some dogs will lose weight quicker than others, and commitment of the pet parent to the weight loss journey is key.

How to help a dog lose weight

It’s a family matter

Everyone who lives in your household must be on board and follow the rules of the plan. You cannot have one person sneaking him treats or giving him extra food because they think he’s hungry. It’s important they understand the seriousness of your dog’s condition, and what diseases he is at risk of developing.

Diet

  • Your vet will need to know your dog’s current diet:
  • What type of food he’s eating
  • How many meals a day
  • How much in total or per meal (exact amount would be helpful)
  • What type of treats
  • How many
  • How often
  • Are you feeding table scraps
  • How often
  • What type

Depending on your vet, he or she may:

  • Prescribe a diet dog food
  • Suggest a better quality brand than what you’re feeding at the moment
  • Adjust the amount your dog is currently eating
  • Recommend a home cooked diet
  • As far as treats go, your vet may recommend:
  • Reducing the amount of treats you give your dog
  • Switching to a brand with less fat
  • Suggest you make your own healthy version
  • Use vegetables

Ask your vet or weight loss clinic nurse for a list of human foods you can add to his diet in case he’s not happy with it. Also ask what they think of dividing the daily allowance into 3 meals instead of 2, if you think your dog is always looking for food.

Exercise

Your vet or weight loss clinic staff should provide you with an exercise plan that will not only be safe but effective. There are lots of ways to get your overweight dog moving, and they are listed below.

NOTE: Before trying any form of exercise that is not included in your plan, please consult with your vet practice. They will advise you on how often it’s safe and for how long.

Go for a walk – This is the most basic form of exercise every dog needs, yet many sadly don’t get. At the beginning of your dog’s weight loss journey he probably won’t be able to walk far or for long, but as his weight starts to drop walks will become more enjoyable. Don’t underestimate how much better he’ll feel even after losing a few ounces.

If your dog has been uninterested in walking, perhaps a change of scenery will help. Take him to a park he’s never been to, or walk down a different street. New sights and sounds may be all the motivation he needs.

Swimming – low impact and easy on the joints, swimming is a great form of exercise. Use your own backyard pool, pay a visit to a lake that allows dogs, find a dog friendly pool or dog hydrotherapy facility in your area.

Doga – enthusiasts of doga, also known as yoga with your dog believe it offers many benefits.

  • Creates a deeper bond between person and pup
  • Helps relax dogs
  • Lose fat
  • Build muscle
  • Helps with blood circulation
  • Presents an opportunity for both of you to socialize

Fetch – a fabulous way for dogs to burn off energy, especially those who have an abundance of it and a simple walk isn’t enough. In your dog’s case, you’ll need a calmer and less energetic version to start with.

Agility training – an organized class will probably be too much for your dog at this stage, but what about setting up your own agility course? It’s super easy to do at home or in the yard, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot either. Make sure the height of various equipment and the length of time he spends going through the course are approved by whoever is overseeing his weight loss program.

Create a Dog Agility Obstacle Course at Home” 

Monitor your dog’s activity level

One way to keep track of your dog’s activity level is to simply write down what exercise you did and how long your dog did it for. If you want more detailed information, two devices you may be interested in are the FitBark2 and pitpat.  

To purchase FitBark2 on Amazon or Chewy.

To purchase Pitpat on Amazon or Amazon UK.

What is the best dog food for weight loss?

I always say the world of dog nutrition is like a minefield, tough to navigate. While many vets, nutritionists and dog parents are sure that A is the absolute best diet, an equal number believe it’s B and others have no doubt it’s C.

When it comes to weight loss, one common theme I’ve heard is the importance of a high fiber diet because it will make your dog feel full while eating less. So why have I also read the complete opposite? 

The best food is what will help your dog reach a normal, healthy weight, but there is no one size fits all weight loss strategy.  

When I adopted my heart dog Red she was around eight years old, blind and obese. She was a Chihuahua/Min Pin and her stomach almost touched the ground. It was so sad, she couldn’t take more than one or two steps without sitting down and panting. We headed straight to the vet for help with weight loss. Hills brand r/d dry was recommended, and when she lost some weight she was switched over to w/d. It worked beautifully and she was a much happier and healthier dog.

If you will be switching food your vet will advise you to allow about one week to make the transition. This is done by gradually adding the new food into his existing diet until he is only eating new food. This reduces the chance of stomach upset. 

If you aren’t wild about the brand that was recommended, have a chat with your vet and voice your concerns. Since your dog’s weight needs to be addressed immediately, you can’t afford to wait too long before starting him on this journey. 

What happens if your dog keeps begging for food?

  • Take him for a walk
  • Play fetch, set up a training session or take him to visit a doggy friend. It’s a distraction and a chance to get some more exercise in a fun way
  • If his begging has gotten really bad, phone your vet’s office and let them know. The brand may not be satisfying so they could increase the amount, suggest you add human food or change to a different brand.  

How to feed a fat dog in a multi dog household

The only way to manage this is to feed the dogs separately, and not leave food out where your chubby one can get to it.

 

For information about my virtual training and dog care consultancy service, and to book an appointment, please visit my services page.

 

 

 

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16 Responses

  1. Hindy great post and thank goodness I do not have that problem with Layla but then I monitor her treats and I do free feed her, leaving the food out for her to eat when she wants. It has worked for her and easier for me as I work odd hours. As for walking, she goes out at least 3 to 4 times a day depending on the weather.

    1. You take too good care of Layla for her to ever have a weight problem! If free feeding works, that’s great. I used to free feed when I first had cats, but when I adopted one who was neglected and practically starved she would eat everything in sight. That’s when I had to start feeding set meals, than new cats I adopted had issues so I ended up with 5 food bowls, each with their name on it because everyone had something different!

  2. Keeping our pets at a healthy weight is SO important! I think it can be hard these days especially because a lot of people don’t even know what a healthy weight for a pet looks like. We get so used to seeing overweight pets it’s become the new norm. I work hard to keep my boys fit.

  3. Having that “your pet is overweight” conversation is one of the hardest to start in grooming or pet retail. But potentially one of the most important for the pet’s health and well-being.

    1. Sounds like you’re in the perfect position to start a conversation, but I know how lightly you have to tread. It’s surprising how many people don’t even realise their dogs are fat. I’m sure you’ve had to become quite the diplomat!!

  4. When we adopted Theo he is quite overweight! His previous family used to feed him table scraps after dinner. We used some of the same tips you shared to help him get to a healthy weight.

    One thing that caught me by surprise was as he lost weight, he was able to jump up and grab things off the counter. I think that is an important thing for people to be aware of as they help their pets become more healthy.

  5. Great and valuable post and some excellent advice. Nothing too complicated involving running around like a headless chicken and worrying.

    I like the two meals and walks idea. Sort of a “Two and Two a Day” will get a dog owner on track with low stress. Food is often constrained by budgets but some good food twice a day of ANY kind will be fine – right?

    1. That’s one of the main reasons I like the question and answer posts – so easy to follow and implement. You’re right, budget can definitely be a factor but there are lots of ways to improve the quality of a lower budget food.

  6. Let’s not forget that there are health conditions that also cause or contribute to weight gain. So it’s best to confirm or rule out those first.

  7. Great post! I’m lucky that my cats don’t overeat, so I’m able to “free feed” throughout the day. I even split one small can between the two of them and they don’t eat all of it.

  8. Talking about and paying attention to a pet’s weight is so important and it’s wonderful to have this conversation open up. Your advice is great to her, staring right with having her dog seen by a vet to rule out any underlying causes. It amazes me that folks still don’t understand that an overweight dog can be detrimental to their health! I feel bad when people are rude, there is no need for that…but I am glad she sought you out for advice. I know my Gibson gained 20 pounds when he went on his epilepsy meds, and it concerned me so…it took two years and constant attention to his meals and and lots of walks all led me to getting him back to his fit 98 pounds!

    1. I imagine it must have been tough for Gibson, and you when weight gain was a result of medication. It amazes me as well, just like the risks to humans who are overweight, the same can happen to our animals.

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