As a dog owner, of course you want what's best for your best friend at all times. Unfortunately, if your dog is carrying around excess weight, your pup's health and quality life could be suffering.
Not sure where to begin when it comes to helping your dog achieve a healthy weight? Below, we break down a sensible, eight-step weight loss plan that's suitable for many dogs — and while you should still check with your dog's vet before you commit to anything, this can be a great starting point!
How To Tell if Your Dog Is Obese or Overweight
According to the American Kennel Club, up to 56% of dogs in the United States are classified as overweight or obese. Based on statistics alone, there's a good chance your dog could fall into this category. If you're not sure whether your dog's weight is healthy, your best bet is to ask your veterinarian. However, there are some red flags you can watch for as well.
Watch for Warning Signs of an Overweight Dog
Here are some common signs to watch for that could indicate your dog is overweight:
- Your dog's ribs are difficult to feel underneath the skin (due to excess fat).
- When viewing your dog's body from the side, its abdomen is level with (or hangs below) the chest.
- Your dog has fat deposits/pads around the tops of the hips.
- Your dog seems to become overexerted easily, such as during a brief walk.
- You've had to adjust the sizing on your dog's collar in order for it to fit.
Utilize the Body Condition Score Chart
Veterinarians use a tool known as a Body Conditioning Score (BCS) chart to determine whether a dog is overweight, underweight, or an ideal weight.
This chart includes scores in a range from 1 to 5, with 1 indicating a dog that is seriously underweight and 5 referring to a dog that is extremely overweight. Other factors aside from weight can come into play, too — but weight is the most notable.
Review one of these charts for yourself and determine which score most accurately reflects your own pup's body condition. From there, you may have a better idea as to whether or not your dog needs to lose weight.
Top Reasons Your Dog Could Be Overweight or Obese
If your dog is overweight, there are a few factors that could have contributed to this common health problem. By narrowing down which of these may apply to your pup, you can better create a game plan to help your pet achieve a healthy weight once again.
Your Dog Is Overfed
Overfeeding is a very common problem in domesticated pets. At the end of the day, it all boils down to simple math: If a dog consumes more calories than they expend through physical activity, weight gain is the result. Many dog owners don't know how many calories their dogs should be consuming on a daily basis, let alone how many calories are in a serving of typical dog food.
Likewise, many well-meaning dog owners provide their pups with treats and snacks throughout the day without thinking about how much this can hinder weight loss. The same concept applies to dogs who have grown used to eating table scraps and other human food.
Your Dog Isn't Getting Sufficient Exercise
A lack of physical activity can also contribute to weight gain in dogs. Often, this problem occurs in conjunction with overfeeding. When dogs live a sedentary lifestyle, they don't burn many calories. As a result, it's easy for the weight to pile on.
This is a double-edged sword, too: As pets gain more weight, physical activity can become more difficult for them as well. This can propel a dangerous cycle that is seriously detrimental to a dog's health and wellness.
Your Dog Has an Underlying Health Issue
Sometimes, weight gain in a dog can be attributed to factors other than overeating or a lack of physical activity. In fact, some underlying health problems can cause weight gain in dogs. Examples include:
- Cushing's disease
- intestinal parasites
If your dog seems to be gaining weight for no discernable reason, it's a good idea to consult with a vet — they may want to rule out some common underlying medical conditions.
Health Problems Associated With Obesity in Dogs
Unfortunately, if your dog is overweight or obese, there are many potential health issues to be worried about. From osteoarthritis to cancer, your pup may be more prone to a wide range of ailments if that number on the scale is too high.
One study by Banfield Pet Hospital reports that overweight dogs have a lifespan that is up to 2.5 years shorter than that of dogs with a healthy weight.
Carrying around extra weight can put a lot of stress on a dog's bones, putting them at a greater risk of developing a condition known as osteoarthritis. This is a degenerative joint disorder characterized by a gradual deterioration of the cartilage between the joints. As this cartilage wears away, dogs can suffer from chronic and ongoing pain.
Overweight dogs are also more likely to have trouble breathing, especially during periods of physical exertion (such as while out on a walk). This often occurs when the fat in a dog's abdomen pushes against the diaphragm and against the lungs.
Climate Intolerance, Especially in Heat
Heavier dogs may also have a harder time regulating their body temperatures. This, in turn, puts them at a greater risk of heat stroke when exposed to high temperatures for any amount of time.
Obese dogs are also more likely to develop skin problems, especially in between folds of skin due to excess fat. This is especially true among dogs that are overweight to the point of being unable to properly groom themselves.
Many studies have suggested that overweight and obese dogs are also more prone to developing certain types of cancer, such as urinary and mammary cancer.
Decreased Activity Levels
Dogs who are overweight may also have a harder time getting around, which can result in decreased activity levels and lethargy. Unfortunately, a lack of physical activity can contribute to more weight gain, creating a dangerous cycle.
Lower Quality of Life
Overweight and obese dogs may even have a lower quality of life compared to dogs of a healthy weight. Not only are they more likely to suffer from a number of health conditions, but they're less likely to get the physical exercise they need to maintain happy lives.
Overweight Dog Weight Loss Plan: 8 Steps for a Healthier Dog
Now that you have a better understanding of the causes of obesity in dogs and the potential health consequences, it's time to consider your own dog's weight. If you suspect that your dog is overweight, there are some practical steps you can take to help your canine companion get back on track.
1) Consult Your Vet and Identify Your Dog's Ideal Weight
Just as humans are encouraged to consult their physicians before starting a diet or weight loss plan, the same concept applies to dogs. Schedule an appointment with your dog's veterinarian to discuss weight concerns and confirm that your pet needs to lose weight (if you haven't done so already). From there, your vet will also be able to tell you what your dog's ideal weight is, so that you can have a goal to work towards.
Depending on your dog's specific breed, health, and other factors, a veterinarian can also provide some personalized weight loss tips and strategies for your pup.
2) Calculate Your Dog's Current Daily Calorie Intake (Including Treats)
Once you've worked with your vet to determine your dog's ideal weight, you'll need to determine how many calories your pet is currently consuming on a daily basis. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), dog food manufacturers are required to provide calorie content information on all pet food products and labels. Oftentimes, this is expressed as a number of calories per cup of food — but you'll need to check the label on your dog's specific food to be sure.
From there, you can calculate the number of calories your dog consumes based on the amount of food they eat each day. When calculating daily calorie intake, don't forget to include calories from dog treats or other snacks you may offer on a typical day, as these can add up rather quickly.
3) Determine the Appropriate Amount of Food To Feed Your Dog
Next, it's time to figure out how much food your dog should be consuming on a daily basis in order to reach a healthy body weight. This is another step that your veterinarian can assist with, as there are so many factors that go into determining how much to feed your dog. For example, a dog with a sedentary lifestyle will need fewer calories than a dog that is very active on a regular basis.
Caloric intake recommendations can also vary based on breed and other factors, so be sure to consult with your vet before you adjust your pet's kibble intake as part of a weight loss plan.
Still, to give you a better idea of the appropriate amount of food for your dog, you can use a free online calculator. This one provides an estimate based on your dog's ideal weight, activity level, and the amount of calories in a serving of your pet's current food. It's important to get this number right, as restricting your dog's caloric intake too much can result in rapid weight loss that can be dangerous to their health.
Keep in mind that once you have a daily caloric intake recommendation for your pet, you'll need to divide that number by the number of feedings you provide. If your dog needs 700 calories per day and you offer two feedings per day, then each serving should be approximately 350 calories. It may be helpful to scoop your pet’s food with a measuring cup before serving to be sure you’re feeding the right amount.
4) Create an Eating Schedule
If your dog is used to being free fed (always having food in the dish), making the switch to a rigid eating schedule will probably be a bit of an adjustment. However, creating an eating schedule and sticking to it is vital to the success of your dog's weight loss plan. Not only are smaller and more frequent meals better for your dog's health, but they'll help you more closely stick to your pet's recommended caloric intake.
Not sure what type of eating schedule is best for your dog? Again, it’s always best to consult with your veterinarian. Some dogs will benefit more from eating two meals per day, whereas others may do better with three mealtimes. If you wish to continue offering healthy, low-calorie treats as part of your dog's weight loss plan, make sure to account for these in your feeding schedule as well.
5) Start the Plan and Check Progress After Two Weeks
Once you have your dog's weight loss plan in place, all that's left to do is to implement it! Depending on how many calories you plan to cut from your dog's daily intake, it may be best to start the weight loss plan gradually. This may mean slowly reducing the size of your pet's feedings over the course of several days. Doing so can help your dog more easily adjust to the new diet.
After your dog has been on the diet for two weeks, this is a good time to check your progress. This means weighing your dog (either at the vet's office or at home) to see how much weight, if any, your dog has lost. If your dog is stubborn about getting on a home scale, you can always try weighing yourself and then weighing yourself again while holding your dog. Subtracting the difference between the two numbers will give you a pretty accurate reflection of your dog's current weight.
Regular weigh-ins will help you get a better feel for the progress your dog is making and keep your pup's weight loss program on track.
6) Adjust Their Calorie Intake if Needed
After a couple of weeks, consider where your dog's current weight is compared to their goal weight and any milestones or goals you and your vet may have established. If your dog is losing weight too rapidly, you will need to adjust the plan to protect your pet's health.
On the other hand, if your dog doesn't seem to be making much progress at all, then it may be necessary to further reduce caloric intake. Just be sure to do so in small increments, remembering that achieving a healthy weight for your dog is often (and should be) a long process.
7) Slowly Add More Exercise and Play Time
Once you've established a feeding schedule that works for your dog, you may also want to consider gradually adding in more activity. More activity means more calories burned, which can aid in weight loss. Meanwhile, more exercise and play time can be great for your dog's cardiovascular health.
Not sure where to begin when it comes to adding exercise and play time to your dog's routine? Walking is often a great place to start. Not only do dogs tend to love going on walks, but this is a relatively low-impact exercise that you can adjust to suit your pet's needs. Keep in mind that the amount of walking you should do with your dog will depend on many factors, including size and breed. For example, a half-mile walk will require much more physical exertion from small dog breeds than large dog breeds.
Some other exercise ideas to try with your dog include:
- Swimming (this is a great low-impact exercise for dogs of all sizes)
- Playing at a dog park
If possible, work your way up to getting your dog at least 20-30 minutes of exercise each day.
8) Stick to the Plan
Ultimately, it's important to remember that getting your dog to a healthy weight can take months — or even years — depending on how overweight your dog is to begin with. Even once you achieve your dog's ideal body weight, you'll need to develop and adhere to a weight management plan for the rest of your dog's life to keep the weight from coming back.
With all this in mind, your dog's weight loss plan is a marathon, not a sprint. Even if you're seeing minimal progress, it's important to stick with the plan and avoid falling back into old habits (such as overfeeding or allowing your dog to snack on your table scraps).
At the end of the day, you're doing this for your dog's long-term health and wellness. The efforts and care that you put in to help your pet achieve a healthy weight will pay off many times over — and your dog is relying on you to stick with it!
Help Your Dog Lose Weight—Without Losing the Nutrients They Need
By recognizing the signs that your dog is overweight and consulting with a veterinarian to create a sustainable weight loss plan, you can help your canine companion lose weight and live a better life overall. And if you're looking for a dog food formula you can trust with your dog's nutritional needs, The Honest Kitchen has you covered. Shop our extensive range of quality dog food and treats today to see the difference for yourself.