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How to Help Your Dog Lose Weight
By: Brianna Gunter | Updated July 12, 2023
Maybe your dog is looking a little rounder than normal. Perhaps someone else made a comment about how “large” your dog is getting. Regardless, you’ve found yourself among the millions of people around the world dealing with the question, “Is my dog overweight?”
Don’t worry—dog obesity does come with increased health risks, but it can be dealt with through proper diet and exercise. Always consult with your veterinarian before embarking on any dog weight loss journey, but having some prior understanding of canine obesity can help.
How can I tell if my dog is overweight?
Surveys conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention show the amount of dogs classified as overweight or obese by their veterinarian has steadily risen — from 43% in 2007 to over 56% as of 2020.
With the majority of pets carrying extra pounds, it can be difficult to tell when your dog is overweight. Healthy weight numbers varies greatly between different dog breeds, and even then it all comes down to the individual dog’s build. So, in order to determine how much your dog should weigh, it’s a good idea to seek the help of a professional.
“I would first reach out to the pet’s veterinarian for their assessment regarding the pet’s weight,” says Trupanion veterinarian Dr. Caroline Wilde. “If the pet is overweight, their veterinarian can make recommendations as to that pet’s ideal weight, and give an appropriate timeline for achieving that goal weight.”
Health conditions and excess weight in canines
Similar to humans, excess weight in dogs is associated with a number of health issues, including diabetes and degenerative diseases like canine arthritis. Additionally, a veterinary study of 50,787 dogs across 12 different dog breeds showed that overweight dogs had shorter lifespans than their healthy weight counterparts, regardless of breed.
But while overweight dogs may be at greater health risks in general, Wilde points out that injuries and illnesses may also lead to weight gain.
“Arthritic dogs are less active, and are therefore at risk for weight gain,” she says. “Similarly, an injury can contribute to weight gain, just like in people. Cruciate rupture would be a good example. Endocrine diseases such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease can also cause weight gain or increased appetite.”
Before changing your dog’s lifestyle, it’s therefore a good idea to have them evaluated by a veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical causes for canine weight gain. They can do a physical exam to rule out orthopedic issues and run bloodwork to make sure there isn’t an underlying medical condition contributing to “over-conditioning.”
Trupanion dog obesity claims data
According to Trupanion data analyst Malia Prescott, pet owners with dogs that are overweight or obese prior to pet medical insurance enrollment are more likely to file claims for certain health conditions than those with non-overweight dogs. These conditions include:
- Hypothyroidism — over 6x as likely to claim
- Arthritis — over 5x as likely
- Cruciate rupture (ACL, CCL) — over 4x as likely
- Back pain — over 2x as likely
- Heart murmur — nearly 2x as likely
- Pain — nearly 2x as likely
- Lameness/limping — nearly 2x as likely
- Seizure — 1.7x as likely
“It’s important to note that being overweight/obese doesn’t necessarily cause these issues,” Prescott clarifies. “In some cases, changes in weight are caused by the conditions, such as with hormonal changes due to hypothyroidism or reduced activity due to arthritis. But there is a strong [correlation] between them, be it cause or effect.”
Tips to help your dog lose weight
As many people are well aware, the weight loss journey can be a frustrating one. This can also be the case for your dog, but there are multiple tips you can follow to achieve long-lasting pet weight loss success.
Stick to the basic formula
Just as with humans, permanent canine weight loss won’t happen with quick diets or bursts of exercise. While different health and hereditary conditions can make it more challenging for some dogs to lose extra pounds, weight loss is still best achieved by simply increasing activity while decreasing calories. For dogs who are unable to get regular exercise, weight loss is still achievable by making dietary changes.
“Increasing activity may not be an option for older or arthritic dogs. Even younger dogs can have orthopedic issues that limit activity, such as hip or elbow dysplasia,” Wilde explains. “In those cases, the focus should be on reducing caloric intake. Swimming or other low impact activities can also be an option for dogs who are restricted by orthopedic issues.”
Ask your veterinarian about dog food
When trying to help dogs lose weight, many pet owners are tempted to jump straight to diet/reduced calorie dog foods. While these can help in the short term, they may not have the nutrition your dog needs to sustain her for longer periods. And like a human jumping off of a fad diet, your dog’s weight is then likely to yo-yo right back once you switch back to regular dog food.
It’s therefore crucial to talk with your veterinarian before making any switches to your dog’s diet. They’ll be able to make safe brand recommendations that could be a more permanent switch. In many cases, your veterinarian may suggest just sticking with your dog’s current food and keeping portions more restrained. If you are opting for new foods, always take a close look at the nutrition facts.
“Some of these ‘light’ foods may actually have more calories than the food you’ve been feeding,” Wilde adds. “So, it is also important to look at the label for calorie content.”
Measure out calories
It can be tough to know how many calories you need to reduce in your dog’s diet if you aren’t sure how much he eats every day.
“For reducing calorie intake, the first step is figuring out exactly how much you have been feeding, including treats, and cut back from there,” Wilde says. “Use a measuring cup to measure exactly how much the dog has been fed.”
Don’t forget about dog treats
We all like to spoil our dogs with treats, but these too can lead to unwanted weight gain. And as Wilde points out, dog treats aren’t necessarily part of a healthy diet.
“Remember that every treat for a dog is like a cookie or candy bar for us,” she says. “They can quickly add up.”
While this doesn’t mean you have stop rewarding your four-legged friend with a treat here and there, it is a good idea to be more conscious of how many you’re throwing his way. Check calorie counts, and be sure to include dog treats in your pal’s daily total.
Healthier treats are also an option, as per Wilde: “Consider lower calorie treats, such as carrots or green beans.”
Get creative with dog exercise for weight loss
For dogs who can healthily increase their activity levels, it’s important to find the kind of exercise that suits them. In many cases, this will mean increasing playtime in addition to upping the length and frequency of dog walks.
“Dog parks are an excellent option for social dogs, as that provides mental as well as physical stimulation,” Wilde explains. “For dogs who aren’t as social, play time may consist of fetch, or even puzzle feeders.”
Be patient and persistent
Weight loss in both humans and pets can come with periods of stagnation or “plateaus.” This can lead many people to give up too early, feeling that their efforts are not leading to results. But persistence is key.
Track your dog’s progress by weighing him every one to two weeks rather than daily, since small fluctuations are common day-to-day. If your pal’s weight simply isn’t budging after a few months, reevaluate your exercise and caloric intake plan. You may also want to schedule another veterinary visit just to make sure you’re on the right track.
“We [veterinarians] always aim for gradual weight loss,” notes Wilde.
Want to learn more about helping your furry pal live a healthy, happy life? Keep reading more Pet Parenting Health & Safety topics!