Your dog is your family, and you want him to be as healthy as possible. But sometimes, weight gain can creep up on any of us, even your dog. If you have an overweight dog, don't despair. You can help your dog lose weight by measuring and gradually cutting back on portion sizes, getting some exercise, and finding ways to help your dog feel fuller.
How to Tell If Your Dog Is Overweight
First, you might be wondering if your dog is overweight at all. Here are two ways to determine if your pup is at the correct weight.
1. Feel his ribs.
Run your hands along his sides toward the tail, feeling for his ribs. If you can find them beneath a thin layer of flesh, he is probably at the correct weight. If you can barely feel them under a layer of fat, he is likely overweight.1
2. Look at his body from the top and side.
A visual inspection of your dog's body is also important.2 Look at his body from above. Does he have an hourglass shape, with a slight narrowing behind the ribcage? Also, view the lines of his body from the side. Does his stomach tuck up behind the ribcage? If the answer to both questions is yes, he's most likely at the correct weight. If his body has no definition from above or from the side or if his stomach swings or sags, he is probably overweight.
Get to the Vet
If you think your dog is overweight, start with a visit to the vet. Your veterinarian may run a series of blood tests to check for low thyroid or hormone levels, which often cause weight gain. Once those are ruled out, the vet may suggest you switch to a low-calorie, high-fiber food.
Gradually Cut Portion Sizes
If you suddenly reduce your dog's rations dramatically, her metabolism might decrease to compensate, and she'll likely be a lot crankier. Cut back portion size gradually, over a few days.3 If your dog doesn't eat everything, remove the food after about 15 minutes. She might eat later out of boredom or just because the food's still there.
Measure Food Portions
Use a standard measuring tool (like a measuring cup) to measure the amount you feed your dog. If you use a mug or something else to dish up the food, there's a good chance you are feeding him more than you think you are.
You might also want to feed smaller meals more frequently during the day, rather than just one big meal. An automated feeder can help you make sure the measurements and timings are consistent.
Cut Back on Treats
Nutritious meals won't do any good if your dog is munching on junk food or treats all day long. Dogs love to beg, but fatty treats and table scraps contribute to obesity. Treats should make up no more than 10 percent of her calorie intake.4 Feed carrots, cooked sweet potatoes, or green beans as treats between meals. If you use kibble for training or treats, deduct that amount from your dog's mealtime.
Help Your Dog Feel Fuller
If your dog has eaten his daily calorie allotment and you think he's still hungry, you can add bulk without calories. Take a meal's worth of dry food, divide it in two, and soak one half in water for about thirty minutes, letting it absorb water and expand. Then mix the dry portion into the soaked portion and serve. The swollen kibble will take up more room in your dog's stomach, making him feel as if he has eaten more food.
You can also mix high-fiber, low-calorie food into your dog's regular food. Some foods that work well include unsalted green beans (uncooked fresh or frozen beans are fine; canned beans should be rinsed thoroughly to remove salt); lettuce or raw spinach; or canned pumpkin (not pie filling, just plain pumpkin).
Exercise Your Dog More
Just like people, diet and exercise help an obese dog lose weight. If your pup is not exercising every day, try going for extra walks and playing games like fetch together. Begin slowly if she's uncomfortable or gets tired easily, and work up to several sessions of activity every day.
If you go outside a lot, don't forget flea and tick protection. Protect your dog with an Adams Flea & Tick Collar or with Adams Plus Flea & Tick Prevention Spot On. If you often play in the yard, don't forget to treat the yard for fleas and ticks too. Adams Yard and Garden Spray can protect your yard from fleas for up to four weeks.
Just as it takes time for people to lose weight, it takes time for your dog to lose weight too. But a slow weight loss, utilizing lifelong habits, is the best method. Your dog will feel happier and more energetic once some of that extra weight is gone.
1. American Animal Hospital Association. "Body Condition Scoring Systems." AAHA.org, https://www.aaha.org/globalassets/02-guidelines/weight-management/weightmgmt_bodyconditionscoring.pdf.
2. World Small Animal Veterinarian Association. "Body Condition Score." WSAVA.org, https://wsava.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Body-Condition-Score-Dog.pdf.
3. Robinson, Kara Mayer. "How to Put Your Dog on a Diet." Pets WebMD, 9 March 2014, https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/features/dog-diet#1.
4. Burke, Anna. "How Many Treats Can Your Dog Really Have?" AKC, 11 January 2018, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/nutrition/how-many-treats-can-dog-have/.