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Is My Dog Overweight? 7 Signs to Watch For

Overweight Pug on floor at home
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Maintaining a healthy weight is so important for our canine companions. Obesity in dogs can lead to a wide range of problems, from joint issues and arthritis to diabetes and heart disease. Unfortunately, obesity in pets is on the rise. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, over half of dogs in the U.S. are overweight or obese. However, many pet parents may be missing the warning signs that their pet is gaining weight or may not realize their dog has a weight problem. 

Here are seven telltale signs of an overweight dog, and what to do if you see these signs. 

Overweight Dog: Risks to Know

Obesity isn’t just a cosmetic problem: if a dog is overweight, they are more likely to have painful, chronic disease and less likely to have a long, healthy life. That is because excess weight not only adds more wear and tear to the body, obesity is also an inflammatory and hormonal condition that predisposes dogs to all sorts of diseases. According to data from the American Animal Hospital, obesity predisposes dogs to developing:

  • Orthopedic disease, including osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease)
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Cancer
  • Kidney dysfunction
  • Respiratory disorders
  • Hypertension
  • Skin disorders
  • Metabolic and endocrine disorders, such as Type II diabetes
  • Reduced life expectancy and diminished quality of life

Is My Dog Overweight? 7 Signs to Watch For

Put on harness sitting down

Because dogs come in so many shapes and sizes, it can be challenging to determine if your dog is overweight. A healthy weight in a Labrador Retriever will look different than a French Bulldog. However, there are a few signs that are consistent across breeds that give you clues that your dog is carrying too much fat.

Increased Weight on the Scale

This one might seem obvious, but if you notice the pounds creeping up when you weigh your dog or when your dog is weighed at the veterinarian, excess body fat could be causing the increase. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes excess weight gain is due to other medical problems, such as retained body water or a heavy tumor.

Visual Changes in Your Dog’s Body

Visually inspect your dog from the side and above. A dog with a healthy weight should have a waist that tucks up slightly behind the end of the rib cage, at about the midpoint of the trunk. If there is no tuck, then it is likely that your dog is too heavy. 

While this is a good starting point for weight assessment, there are exceptions. For example, older dogs who have been spayed or neutered may have a droopy belly due to a lack of sex hormones, and dogs with heart disease or Cushing’s syndrome may have a bigger belly due to their medical condition.

In addition to looking for visual changes, you can gently feel your dog’s ribs behind their front legs. A dog at a healthy weight should have easily definable ribs that feel like the back of your hand or an antique washboard—even dogs with long or thick fur. A dog who is too heavy will have ribs that feel like your palm. 

Slowing Down on Walks

Dogs who are too heavy have a harder time exercising due to respiratory compromise and degenerative joint disease, both of which are exacerbated by excess body fat. If your dog is slowing down or lagging behind on walks, it could be a weight problem. However, it can also be heart disease or joint disease, so it is always best to talk to your veterinarian if you notice this in your dog. 

Undefined Tail Base

One place that body fat likes to accumulate is around the tail base. A dog with a healthy weight should have clearly defined hip and tail bones around the base of the tail. You should be able to easily feel them, even in dogs that have skin rolls around their tail base, like Frenchies or Pugs. If you can’t easily feel the bones of the base of the tail, your dog might be too heavy. 

Increased Panting

Dogs who are overweight tend to pant more and have less tolerance to heat than fit dogs. If you notice your dog is panting more than usual, in combination with the other signs above, it could be due to weight. Increased panting can also be due to pain, hormonal issues, anxiety, and cardiovascular issues, so be sure to have your dog checked by your veterinarian. 

Reluctant to Climb Stairs and Jump

Overweight dogs have a lot of extra weight to lug around, and if they are too heavy, then they may not want to climb stairs, jump, or play like they used to. Difficulty climbing stairs can be a sign of arthritis pain as well, which is also exacerbated by weight gain.

High Body Condition Score

Dog Weight Chart

A veterinarian uses a body condition score to keep track of a dog’s weight because it is an easily measurable and accurate visual tool. Body condition scores are either on a scale of 5 or 9, with 3/5 and 5/9 being healthy weights, and 5/5 and 9/9 equating to obesity.

How to Calculate Your Dog’s Body Condition Score at Home

Measuring your dog’s body condition score is simple to do at home. While it should never replace yearly assessments conducted by a trained veterinary pro, it’s an easy way to recognize worrisome weight changes before they become bigger issues.

To evaluate your dog’s body condition, you can use this 9-point scale from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) or the 5-point body condition scale shown in the dog weight chart above. 

Whichever scale you use, figuring out your dog’s score involves simply observing and feeling their body, then comparing your observations to established standards.

Start by looking down at your dog from above to detect the shape of their silhouette. Then, gently run your fingers from the front of your dog’s ribcage to the back and along their spine. Finally, gently press on their abdomen.

Underweight dogs tend to have distinct hourglass shapes, with a noticeable narrowing at the waist. You may even be able to feel their spine and ribs beneath their coat. In some cases, their pelvic bones may jut out sharply. Not only will their bones be easy to feel under the skin, but they may even be highly visible from a distance.

Dogs with a healthy weight will have a well-proportioned hourglass silhouette with subtle indentations at the waist. When you run your hands down their body, you should still be able to detect their ribs and spine, but they should be slightly cushioned by a thin layer of body fat. The abdomen should feel taut, but not squishy.

In overweight dogs, you may not be able to observe a waistline at all, when viewing them from above. It may also be difficult to feel your dog’s ribs beneath the fat that covers them. Their abdomen may hang down so much, it appears equal with the ribcage.

And in obese dogs, their waist bulges out instead of in. It’s unlikely you will be able to feel the ribs or spine at all. Their abdomen will sag and may even sway noticeably.

What to Do if Your Dog Is Overweight

Woman measures portion of dry dog food

If your dog is overweight, then it is time to start a weight loss program for your dog! Here are some tips to help a dog lose weight:

Increase caloric burn. To get a dog to lose weight, they need to burn more calories than they take in. While embarking on an exercise plan with your dog may sound daunting, in reality, many of the activities your dog already enjoys can count as exercise.

Helping your dog lose weight can start with something as simple as adding an extra loop around the block to your daily walk or scheduling some time for play. Want to learn more? Find out the top 10 exercises veterinarians recommend to help your dog lose weight. Then choose a few that you and your pup enjoy. That way, it’s more likely that you’ll do them consistently.

Reduce caloric intake. Restrict the amount of calories (especially empty calories from treats) that you feed your dog. If you are unsure of how much to feed, ask your vet—they can give you the exact amount of calories that your dog should be eating daily. Pro tip: ask your vet how much to feed in grams, get a gram scale, and weigh your dog’s food.

For best results, ask your veterinarian whether you should switch your dog to a weight management dog food diet. Regular dog food isn’t designed to be calorie restricted, and doing so could lead to micronutrient imbalances. Weight management dog food diets are specially formulated and clinically proven to help obese and overweight dogs lose weight safely.

Depending on how many pounds your pup needs to shed, your vet may suggest a therapeutic diet, such as Hill’s Prescription Diet Dog Metabolic Weight Management dog food or Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets OM Overweight Management​ dog food, which require approval from a veterinary professional to purchase.

Or, an over-the-counter weight management diet, such as Hill’s Science Diet Perfect Weight dog food or Purina Pro Plan Weight Management dog food, might be a better fit to help your dog slim down to a healthy weight.

To discover more dog food diets that can help your dog achieve or maintain a healthy weight, don’t miss our helpful guide on Weight Management Dog Food: 7 Vet-Recommended Options.

Regular weigh-ins. Just like WeightWatchers, regular weigh-ins can track your dog’s progress and allow you to make tweaks if necessary. Weigh your dog monthly, either at home or at the vet clinic, and be patient: most dogs will reach their weight loss goals in 3-6 months. 

Get a check-up. Sometimes dogs can have health challenges, like Cushing’s or hypothyroidism, that make it difficult or impossible to lose weight. In addition, dogs can often have joint disease that makes it too painful to exercise regularly. So schedule a check-up with your veterinarian to rule out any health concerns before embarking on your dog’s weight loss journey.

It’s a good idea to prepare a list of questions for your vet ahead of time to make sure you cover all aspects of dog weight loss. Here are some key questions to include. 

List of questions to ask your vet ab out dog obesity

Remember, exercise and caloric restriction have a purpose: you are helping your dog live longer and have a better quality of life. All of your efforts will pay off with more years to love your pet, deepen the bond that you share, and do both of you a world of good.