For many dogs in America, weight is often an issue. In fact, recent data from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention shows that almost 60% of dogs in the U.S. are overweight or obese. There are many reasons for this, including overeating and lack of exercise.
But before starting to implement changes in your dog's diet, lifestyle, or routine, it’s important to know what weight is healthiest for your dog. This can vary greatly by breed and sex, and dogs that are overweight or obese can develop a myriad of health problems, like joint issues, heart failure, and diabetes.
In this article, we’re going to cover how to determine how heavy your pup should be and provide some strategies to implement for overweight dogs.
Understanding the Breed Weight Chart for Dogs
To determine your dog’s ideal body weight, you’ll want to utilize a dog weight chart like this one from the American Kennel Club. These charts account for various dog breeds:
- American Water Spaniel: 25 - 45 pounds
- Basset Hound: 40 - 65 pounds
- Bull Terrier: 50 - 70 pounds
- Corgi: Up to 30 pounds
- Dachshunds (standard): 16 - 32 pounds
- French Bulldog: Under 28 pounds
- Greyhound: 60 - 70 pounds
- Labrador Retriever: 55 - 80 pounds
- Mastiff: 120 - 230 pounds
Generally, male dogs of a certain breed are almost always larger, taller, and heavier than their female counterparts. However, the exact size difference between male and female dogs varies between breeds. For example, male Yorkshire Terriers may only be a pound or so heavier than female Yorkshire Terriers, whereas male Great Danes can be 30 to 70 pounds heavier.
Once you have a good idea of what the ideal weight range is for your dog based on their breed and sex (you can also double check this with your veterinarian next time you are in), then you can move on to determining your dog’s weight to see if it aligns with the breed weight chart.
The 2 Key Methods of Determining a Dog’s Weight
There are two key methods dog owners can use when determining their dog’s weight. The first is by utilizing the Body Condition System (BCS), and the second is weighing your dog monthly.
Method 1: Evaluate Your Dog's Weight According to the Body Condition System
You may have heard of Body Mass Index (BMI) for assessing human weight. Luckily, there is a similar measurement for dogs: the Body Condition Score (or system). The BCS is a quantitative — yet subjective — method for evaluating body fat. It's a bit more complicated than BMI in humans due to dogs' varying body shapes and sizes.
You can use two types of scales when evaluating BCS in your dog. One scale ranges from 1 to 5, while the other ranges from 1 to 9. Some vets prefer the 1 to 9 scale because it allows for more subtle increments in body weight. The 1 to 5 scale includes a range from very thin (1) to obese (5), while the 1 to 9 scale ranges from emaciated (1) to severely obese (9).
To utilize the BCS, you must determine which score aligns best with your pup. This will require looking at and feeling your dog. First, look at them from above and determine if they have a waistline that curves in behind the rib cage giving the dog an hourglass figure from above. Next, look at your dog from the side while they are standing. You’ll want to look to see if they have a tummy tuck, if their abdomen slats up between the ribcage and back legs, or if they have a belly that hangs down.
After visually assessing your dog, you’ll want to check your dog’s body condition based on feel. If your pet is a healthy weight, you should be able to easily feel their ribs. You can test this by placing your thumbs on your dog’s backbone and spreading your fingers across their rib cage. Ideally, you should be able to feel a thin layer of fat and the dog’s ribs right underneath.
According to the VCA, you can assign a numerical score to what you see and feel. Below you can see how the VCA describes each ranking on the BCS scales.
On the low end of the spectrum (1/5 or 1/9), a dog's appearance is described as "ribs, backbone, pelvic bones sticking out. Loss of muscle mass present. Severe tummy tuck and dramatic waistline on both cats and dogs." On the high end (5/5 or 9/9), a dog’s appearance is described as "ribs and backbone not palpable under a thick fat layer. Abdominal distention projects downward (opposite of tummy tuck) and outward (protruding waistline). Fat deposits on legs, face and over tail head covering pelvis."
By using the BCS along with your dog’s actual weight, you’ll be able to determine if they are overweight and need to make changes to their diet and lifestyle. For reference, a BCS score of 4/5 or 7/9 correlates to 30% body fat. This amount of body fat is considered overweight in humans. When in doubt, discuss your BCS findings with your veterinarian to determine if weight loss is necessary for your pup.
Method 2: Weigh Your Dog Monthly
The second part of determining your dog’s weight is to keep track of how much they weigh on a regular basis. Your pup’s weight will fluctuate depending on the season, their stress levels, and activity level (hint: most dogs need a lot of it), so having months of data will help you determine their average.
Your vet can weigh your dog each time you see them, but you most likely aren’t seeing your vet monthly. Luckily, there is a simple method to weigh your dog in the comfort of your own home. All you need is a bathroom scale. First, step onto the scale yourself and record your own weight. Then, pick up your dog and step onto the scale and record that weight. To find your dog’s weight, subtract your weight from the weight of you and your dog combined. If you have a large breed of dog you cannot pick up yourself, we recommend buying a dog scale like this one.
If neither of these methods for weighing your dog are possible, check in with your vet and see if they allow drop-in visits for the sole purpose of weighing your pup. Keeping track of your dog's weight will inform you if you need to consider dietary changes and alert you of weight gain you may not notice immediately.
4 Feeding Tips for Overweight or Obese Dogs
If you determine that your dog is overweight, you may consider changing how you feed them to help them lose weight. Below are four helpful tips for feeding overweight dogs — however, remember to discuss any dietary changes with your veterinarian first.
1) Only Feed Your Dog the Suggested Food Amount
Dogs should eat at least two meals a day, about 12 hours apart. However, you can feed them in accordance with breakfast, lunch, and dinner as long as the total amount of food is the same for the day. Like human food, dog food has a suggested serving size, which is based on kcals and the dog’s size.
Large dog breeds need more food than small breeds, and younger dogs need more food than older dogs. Larger dogs and younger dogs typically burn more energy than small dogs and adult dogs, thus needing more food. Just like humans, if dogs eat more calories than they burn off, they will start gaining weight.
If you aren’t sure how much food to feed your dog on a daily basis, we recommend checking in with your vet.
2) Limit High-Calorie Treats and Snacks for Your Dog
High-calorie dog treats are similar to high-calorie treats we eat as humans. At best, they are just empty calories without many essential nutrients — at worst, they are full of fillers that can be harmful. For example, rawhide has been labeled as one of the most dangerous dog treats. Not only is it an intestinal hazard, but it's often treated with harmful chemicals and is also very high in calories, which can lead to excessive weight gain.
So, if you want to feed your dog treats or snacks throughout the day, look for low-calorie options and adjust their other meals accordingly. Ultimately, you want your dog's total caloric intake to be consistent daily to maintain a healthy adult weight — including snacks and treats.
3) Provide Healthy Food Options With High-Quality, Natural Ingredients
While limiting high-calorie treats is important, it’s also critical to make sure their regular food aligns with a healthier lifestyle as well. If you’re looking for ready-made healthy dog food, opt for those without artificial fillers and preservatives. Instead, look for options with high-quality protein, like chicken, lamb, or beef.
Protein content is important, be sure to also consider the source. Quality protein comes from muscle and organ meats — not highly processed meat byproducts like chicken or beef meal, which contain bits of bone, teeth, feathers, etc.
The Honest Kitchen carries a wide range of high-quality human grade dog food that can please even the pickiest eaters — which can be helpful when you’re trying to help your dog lose weight. Check out these incredible testimonials from real customers who helped their pets achieve a healthy weight with The Honest Kitchen’s dog food.
Our dog foods and toppers contain thoughtfully sourced natural ingredients that are minimally processed and human grade through every step of the manufacturing process — from farm, to store, to bowl!
4) Incorporate More Exercise into Your Dog’s Day
Even though diet is key to helping your dog maintain a healthy weight, activity level also plays a huge role. You can do this by upping the frequency or duration of your daily walks or start taking them with you on jogs or hiking adventures. If you aren’t able to take them for long walks as much as you’d like, there are indoor activities that can take the shape of indoor fetch, hide and seek and more than can keep your dog moving. Physical exercise can also come in the form of playing. This could include setting up an obstacle course in your home or backyard or going to a dog park.
Beyond physical exercise, mental exercise is also important. Think about incorporating scent games or brain games into your dog's life. This will help keep their brain sharp, which helps support their physical health, too.
And if you are trying all of the above tactics to no avail, schedule an appointment with your vet — sometimes there may be a thyroid or other health issue making it harder for your dog to lose weight.
Keep Your Dog at a Healthy Weight With The Honest Kitchen
Through a combination of healthy food and exercise, your dog can maintain optimal weight throughout their lifespan.
But as mentioned above, the type of food you’re feeding them is key. This is why The Honest Kitchen has numerous food and treat options — from dry food to toppers and wet food — that are all human grade, minimally processed, and made with high-quality meat, whole grains, and veggies.
*Health Disclaimer: This post is educational in nature and doesn’t constitute health advice. Please consult your pet's veterinarian or other healthcare professional for specific guidance on this topic.