It is not necessarily that simple to tell in all cases if your dog is overweight and could benefit from losing a few pounds. The number of the scale is not generally a good indicator. Comparing your dog’s weight to the recommended weight for the breed may not be that accurate. Every dog is different and you have to take in a number of factors. This would include things like:
- Body type. Dogs come in all shapes and sizes. A dog with a stocky build may appear to be overweight yet have a low body fat percentage. This is true for different breeds also. A Grey Hound is tall and slim while a Labrador naturally has a rounder shape.
- Muscle Mass. A well-muscled dog will look bigger than a dog with less muscle. The number on the scale is often not a good indication as muscle weighs more than fat.
- Breed average. Dogs of the same breed may have a different ideal weight due to height, muscle mass, etc. Looking at a breed chart and comparing your dog to the recommended weight for that breed is a good starting point but may not tell the whole story.
- Long or heavy coat. A dog with a long or thick coat may appear to be fat yet under all that fur they are not.
Is my dog overweight quiz
The easiest way to see if your needs to lose weight is to do a simple hands-on test.
Step 1: Run your hands along the side of your dog’s body. You should be able to easily feel the individual contour of your dog’s ribs. There should be a light layer of fat but the rib cage should still be able to be felt. If there is no fat covering the ribs at all your dog is mot probably underweight.
Step 2: Look at your dog’s body from above. there should be a visually discernable waistline and you should be able to see an hourglass shape.
Step 3: View your dog from the size. the tummy should be tucked in so that the rib cage is lower than the belly
This video will show you how to do these three simple tests.
Why do dogs become overweight
Generally, there are four reasons why a dog is overweight. They eat too much, they don’t get enough exercise, a medical condition or they may be genetically disposed to obesity.
Eat too much.
If a dog is consuming more calories than they are burning they will store the unused fuel as fat. Many dogs simply don’t know when to stop. This may be because they are a scavenger by nature and will eat when food is available. This is partly why they become domesticated in the first place. They learned that humans were a good source of food.
This is why free feeding is generally not a good idea and you need to ensure they are given a portion size that is appropriate for their needs. If you are not home at the time your dog needs feeding, don’t just leave their food out for them. I would recommend using an automatic dog feeder with a timer so your dog gets the right amount of food at the right time.
Avoid the type of automatic feeder that is gravity feed and refills when they have eaten some. These are like a candy machine that never runs out. Hardly conducive to losing weight.
See automatic dog feeders on Amazon
Not enough exercise
With our busy lifestyles, our dogs are often home alone a lot and are only getting shorts walks if at all. Your dog will not exercise themselves just being in the backyard when home alone. Also, just a walk around the block will not provide the amount or type of exercise your dog needs to maintain their condition. They need to be able to raise their heart rate to get any real benefit from exercise. To learn more about how much exercise your particular dog needs see here.
There are many medical and health reasons your dog may be overweight. Pregnancy can obviously make a dog fatter. You may think that it is pretty obvious that your dog is pregnant but there are many cases in which the owner is not aware until the dog has given birth.
It is also important to ensure your dogs worming treatment are up to date. Internal parasites can cause fluid to build up giving a potbelly appearance to your dog. Fluid retention, in general, will also give your dog the appearance of looking fat. It is important to check with your vet if your dog is retaining fluid as sometimes the cause may be serious such as a heart or other internal organ-related disorder or even a tumor. If your dog is gaining weight but is not consuming more food it is best to check with your vet also in case of any potential medical issues.
Other potential medical issues can include thyroid glands, Cushing’s disease or bloat. Often prescription drugs can cause your dog to gain weight and look bloated.
Genetically disposed to weight gain and overeating
There are some dogs and particular breeds that have a genetic mutation that has been linked to obesity. Labrador Retrievers are one breed in particular where this is the case. Research has shown that 23% of Labradors have this mutation. Watch this video to learn more about this.
Exercise ideas for dogs to lose weight
If your dog does need to lose some weight they will need to increase their activity and exercise. It is important to gradually increase the exercise and not just go from doing a little exercise to doing hard out workouts. An overweight or obese dog will also have added stress on their joints due to the extra weight so choosing activities that are low impact is best.
Remember to make exercise enjoyable for them otherwise, they will be reluctant to do it. The goal is to encourage your dog to be more active.
Here are some recommended exercises to do with your dog that is overweight.
Swimming is probably one of the best exercises for dogs in general, but especially for an overweight or obese dog. This is a no-impact activity which will help to avoid injury to their joints and tendons. Swimming is also a great strength and muscle building exercise which will help to burn fat and provide more muscle to support the joints. It is a reasonably strenuous activity so don’t overdo it at first.
Chances are that if your dog is overweight they are probably not that fit. Ten to fifteen minutes of continuous swimming is equivalent to 45 to 60 minutes of walking. Start with a quick swim of under a minute and then allow them out of the water to recover. Then repeat this as many times as your dog needs to get a good workout at their current fitness level.
Even if your dog is a strong swimmer, it is a good idea to put a lifejacket on them anyway. This will provide more buoyancy allowing them to work out for longer. There are many canine hydrotherapy centers in most cities so if you don’t have a swimming pool or a handy lake they are a good option also.
For more on swimming exercise for dogs see here.
Add some resistance to their walks. This can be achieved by putting a weight vest or a backpack on them with added weight. It is recommended to not add more than 10% on their body weight to avoid putting to much stress on their joints. Other ways to provide resistance are to walk on a surface that requires more effort such as sand or long grass or to walk up a hill.
Fetch is a favorite game of most dogs. It is also a great way to get the heart rate up quickly and burn energy.
When walking your dog on a leash it is unlikely that they will generate the elevated heart rates needed for sustained aerobic activity and weight loss. Allowing them to explore off leash will give them the opportunity to cover more ground and they are likely to run about more doing this.
Play with toys
Encourage your dog to play more with toys either with you or by themselves. There are many toys that are self playing for dogs which will encourage activity even when you are not with them. Check Self Playing dog toys for some ideas.
Another category fo toys that will encourage your dog to move more are the type of toy that moves on its own. Dogs love these as they relate directly to their natural prey instinct. See Dog toys that move on their own for examples of this type of toy.
Walking your dog on a treadmill in addition to their other daily exercise is a good way to help them get just a little more activity. Treadmills are also great as they don’t rely on the weather to be good and you can easily keep track of how far they have walked.
Strength and muscle building exercise
Doing any exercise that helps to build strength and muscle is good for weight loss too. Firstly, they will help strengthen the muscle that supports their joints and tendons. Secondly, exercises that work the muscles, particularly the larger muscle groups is great for burning fat. This type of exercise tends to continue burning fat even while resting afterward. See strengthening and muscle building exercise for dogs for ideas.
Providing more exercise for your overweight dog will be beneficial in aiding them to lose weight. However, without controlling the number of calories being consumed it will all be in vain. It takes a fair bit of exercise to burn relatively few calories. An hour-long walk for your dog is probably only burning 50 or 60 calories. It is estimated that a dog on a weight loss program will lose around 70% of the weight from diet restriction and 30% or less of the weight from exercise.
This is why it is important to measure your dog’s food and be aware of how many calories are in the food. Check the package and don’t assume just because a food is a weight reduction formula that the calories are that low. I have seen some diet formulas that have more calories than a normal adult formula. Also, be very aware of how many calories are in any treats that you give your dog. Some dog treats can be very high in calories and fat.
To calculate how many calories to feed your dog see this calorie calculator. This can be a little complicated so it may be easier to check with your vet.