Did you know that nearly half of dogs in North America and Europe are overweight and at least 1 in 4 dogs are obese? Obesity causes many of the same health problems in dogs as people, and one study showed that being even moderately overweight can shorten a dog’s lifespan by nearly 2 years! Dogs already live shorter lives than humans, so 2 years is a big deal.
With those statistics in mind, it’s natural to wonder: “Is my dog overweight?” Let’s talk about the risks of dog obesity, how you can tell if your dog is overweight, and what you can do about it if they are.
Can Dogs Be Overweight?
Yes. Just like people, dogs can store fat and become overweight if they are overfed or fed a diet that is too high in fat or simple carbohydrates.
What Can Happen if My Dog Is Overweight?
Obese dogs are at increased risk for a variety of health issues, including:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Heart disease
- Arthritis and faster pain progression
- Bladder stones
- Reduced heat tolerance
- Higher risks during anesthesia
- Shortened lifespan
On the other hand, obesity can also be a symptom of some diseases, like Cushing’s disease (overactive adrenal glands) or hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland), so it’s important to take your dog to the vet if you notice they’re overweight, especially if they’ve had recent unexplained weight gain.
How Do You Tell if Your Dog Is Overweight?
Vets use a body condition scoring chart ranking a dog’s weight from either 1 to 5 or 1 to 9, with 3 or 5 being the middle score. A dog that is a normal weight should have a tucked-in waistline when viewed from above and the side. You should be able to feel - but not see - your dog’s ribs.
If there is too much fat on your dog’s ribs for you to feel them, or if they have more of a round shape rather than an hourglass shape when viewed from above, they are likely overweight.
Even stocky dogs like Bulldogs should have a tucked in waist and you should be able to feel their ribs. Other signs that a Bulldog is overweight include difficulty grooming themselves and having trouble breathing.
How Do I Help My Dog Lose Weight in a Healthy Manner?
If your dog is overweight, the first thing you should do is take them to the vet to rule out diseases that may be causing their obesity. While you’re there, your vet can recommend a weight loss plan specific to your dog. With that being said, here are some general guidelines to help your dog lose weight:
- Make all changes slowly. Your dog is less likely to get cranky or hungry if you reduce how much you feed them gradually rather than all at once.
- Switch your dog gradually to a weight-loss food over the course of a week to avoid stomach upset, and feed slightly less each meal until you reach your dog’s recommended meal amount.
- Feed the amount recommended for your dog’s IDEAL weight rather than their current weight.
- Use measuring cups to give your dog precisely the right amount of food.
- If your dog doesn’t like the taste of the weight-loss diet, you can add small amounts of low-fat beef or chicken broth, salmon juice, or an omega-3 fatty acid supplement.
- Feed your dog in a puzzle feeder or treat ball to help them feel more full and burn a few more calories while eating.
- Reduce the size, frequency, and calories of treats. Dog-safe fruits and vegetables are a great alternative to high-fat dog treats.
- Avoid giving your dog any table scraps.
- Gradually increase the length and intensity of your daily walks. Once your dog has had a chance to “do their business,” don’t let them stop and sniff. Walk briskly and work your way up to at least one 30-minute walk per day. You should break into a slight sweat within a few minutes.
- Play with your dog for at least 10-15 minutes twice a day. It could be fetch, tug, chase, or anything else that keeps your dog active.
- Your dog should lose about 3-5% of their body weight each month. Most dogs achieve their ideal body weight within 6-8 months.
Putting your dog on a diet and exercise program may not be fun, but it should help your pup live a longer, healthier life. Don’t we all want as much quality time as possible with our pets? Getting your dog to a healthy weight can help with that.