Fat Dogs — How to Prevent and Treat Obesity in Dogs

Fat dogs. They might seem happy and look cute with their rolly poly bodies, but that’s as far as “benefits” of extra weight go. Fat dogs live shorter lives, and they are more likely to get other diseases:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Joint problems and arthritis
  • Liver problems
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Digestive disorders
  • Cancer

Approximately 25% to 30% of dogs in North America are obese, according to VCA Hospitals. Other experts estimate the dog obesity rate is even higher. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimates that 56% of dogs (and 60% of cats) in the United States are overweight or obese. 

And, the older our pets get, the more likely they are to be overweight and obese. 

Overweight vs Obesity in Dogs — What is the Difference?

What is the difference between a dog that is overweight versus a dog that is obese? Overweight dogs carry 10% to 20% more than their ideal body weight. An obese dog weighs 20% or more than their ideal body weight.

If you aren’t sure what your dog’s ideal body weight is, the American Kennel Club has a chart that lists dog breeds and ideal weight ranges. However, if you have a crossbreed or a mixed breed, the chart might not be as helpful. Also, ideal weight depends on the height, length and overall body structure of your dog; it’s best to consult your veterinarian to understand your specific dog’s ideal body weight.

Is Your Dog Overweight? How to Tell

Aside from asking your veterinarian and using a dog weight chart, you can tell if your dog is overweight or obese by sight and feel. 

A healthy dog has evenly distributed weight, over its entire body. If your dog seems to have a rounder, apple-like shape, they might be overweight. If your dog has a sagging or swinging belly, he or she might be overweight (a sagging belly is also a sign from a mama dog who’s delivered a litter of puppies, so don’t judge her on this alone). 

You should also be able to feel their ribs and spine (if you can see them, then the dog may be underweight). Their gate should be normal, for them and for their breed. Look for signs of waddling or limping, which could indicate joint problems in older dogs that have carried too much weight for too long. 

There are some dog breeds that are prone to obesity because of their lower energy levels and their body structures, so let’s dig into that next. 

Factors That Contribute to Dog Obesity

The biggest factor that contributes to dog obesity is … you. You feed them too much, and you don’t help them get enough exercise. You’re not 100% responsible, however. These factors contribute to a dog’s obesity:

  • Breed
  • Sex — females tend to be more overweight than male dogs
  • Neutered or spayed dogs are more likely to be overweight
  • Lack of exercise or inadequate levels of activity
  • Age 

Older dogs tend to be less active and, therefore, prone to weight gain. Also, like humans, as dogs age they develop other health issues, like hormonal disorders and slowing metabolism. 

Fat Dog Breeds

We don’t want to fat shame any breed over another, but there are some breeds that tend to be more prone to obesity than others. For dogs that are highly motivated by food rewards (which, to be honest, is pretty much every dog), excessive weight can be a problem.

These are breeds that are prone to obesity:* 

Dog breeds that were bred to be worker dogs — retrievers, herders, terriers, for example — have an innate need to eat because they have an innate drive to work. If you have a dog whose lineage is from a worker dog, they may be more likely to put on weight if they live sedentary lives.   

*Sources: AKC.org, PetHelfpul.com

How to Help Your Dog Lose Weight

Like humans, weight loss should happen slowly over time. Rapid weight loss can be harmful to your dog. We recommend a healthy balance of decreasing food intake with increasing physical activity — slowly and gradually.

The best and safest way to begin a weight-loss program with your dog is with a visit to your veterinarian. Get a baseline weight and talk to him or her about the best foods. Ask for brand and ingredients recommendations, as well as measurements and frequency. 

If your dog is older and has been less active for a while, start him or her out slowly with exercise. Begin with short walks and gradually add time, distance and speed (follow your vet’s recommendations). Watch your dog for signs of discomfort and fatigue. You might also try a dog park, where your dog can explore on their own at their own speed.  

Don’t do too much too soon and remember, food rewards need to come from healthy sources! Likewise, praise, belly rubs and massages can be nearly as rewarding to your chubby pet!When you are training your dog, use healthy dog training treats as rewards. We designed BarxBuddy’s peanut butter flavored dog treats so you can train your dog without worrying about excess weight gain. Each one has only 5Kcal, and the treats are grain-free and made from whole ingredients. Always choose training treats that are not intended to replace meals, and choose ingredients that (a) your vet is OK with and (b) are low in fat-producing ingredients.

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