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Overweight & Obese Dogs: Signs, Related Health Conditions & Tips For Weight Loss

Dog obesity is a common issue among dogs and can lead to many different health issues, some of which can be deadly. Veterinarian Dr. Rebecca MacMillan shares what qualifies a dog as overweight and how to help them maintain an ideal size. A healthy pet allows for a happier and longer life together.


Last Updated: August 2, 2023 | 6 min read

Overweight big dog

This article was written by a veterinarian, but it should not serve as a substitute for a visit with a local vet.

We all know that maintaining our healthy body weight is essential in helping prevent certain diseases and maintain fitness. The same logic applies to our pets.

Obesity can lead to many painful and sometimes fatal health conditions, but it is preventable. Your pet’s well-being is within your control, as long as you know the right measures to take.

Let’s explore the growing obesity epidemic in our pet population and some practical ways to keep your dog lean and fit. Maintaining your dog’s weight and activity level will help you live a longer and more fulfilling life together.

U.S. Canine Obesity Statistics

One scientific paper proposes that obesity is the most common nutritional disorder in Western countries and that around a third (33%) of dogs that visit veterinary clinics are obese. Sadly, that statistic is probably even higher now, with our pets’ waistlines growing alongside human ones in this obesity epidemic.

Sadly, being overweight is not just a cosmetic issue. Carrying an excessive amount of fat (adipose tissue) can contribute to several health conditions, including diabetes, cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and skin complaints. Overweight or obese animals also run a greater risk of anesthetic and surgical complications, which means that even routine operations can be riskier for these animals.

How Do I Know If My Dog Is Overweight?

Dog on scale
The best way to assess whether your dog is overweight is to measure their body condition score.

Using a chart helps you grade your dog’s shape between 1 (very thin, emaciated) and 9 (morbidly obese).

Dog Body Condition Score Chart
Fat small dog sitting
Dogs put on weight for the same reason as humans.

You should be able to feel your dog’s ribs relatively easily, with only a thin layer of covering. They should also nip in at the waist when viewed from above and have a visible abdominal tuck when viewed from the side. This would give them an ideal body condition score of 4 or 5 out of 9.

If you cannot feel their ribs easily or if your dog is looking very straight up and down (with no visible waist), this would be a sign that their body condition score is too high, indicating that they are overweight. In addition to this, obese animals often have distended abdomens and fat deposits around the neck and limbs. Other signs of obesity would include decreasing energy levels and difficulty keeping up with other dogs on walks.

Body condition scoring gives us a better way of monitoring our pet’s physique than weighing them alone. If you still aren’t sure how to assess this by yourself, then speak to your veterinarian.

What Are Common Reasons Dogs Put On Weight?

If your dog is consuming more energy (food) than he needs for his level of activity and exercise, then he puts on weight.


Feeding too much is usually the main reason why your pet is overweight. Read the portion details on the packaging guidelines for their age and ideal body weight and weigh out their rations daily. Using measuring cups can be helpful too but be aware these can be inaccurate compared to weighing the food out properly on electric scales.

Never feed your dog by eye or by using your hands as a measure. Many pet parents say, “my dog only gets a handful of biscuits a day,” but this amount depends on how generous your handful is and the size of the person’s hands (the husband may give more than the wife).

Excess calorie intake can also occur from treats or tidbits. Pet parents often forget that dogs are much smaller than we are, so even seemingly tiny snacks can quickly add up. Cutting back on treats and table scraps can make a real difference when keeping your dog in shape. Ensure the whole family is on board, so no one is undoing his diet behind your back.


If your dog is not getting enough exercise, then he might gain weight. Going out for regular active walks ensures he maintains good muscle mass and helps to keep his metabolism up.

The exact amount of exercise your dog needs depends on the breed. For example, a working breed like a border collie needs much more exercise than a more sedentary breed like a pug.

Look at the walking you are doing too. If your dog is always on the lead and walking by your side at a relaxed pace, then he won’t be raising his heart rate. Give them the opportunity for off-lead exercise and running, with games and ball chasing. If you struggle to get your dog out enough generally, then consider hiring a dog walker or getting friends and family to help.

Health Conditions

Certain health conditions can cause a dog to gain weight. Hypothyroidism is one such condition whereby the dog’s hormone levels controlling his metabolism are too low. Blood tests are needed to help confirm this, and affected animals usually require medication.

Some dogs are more prone to weight issues than others, including brachycephalic breeds. These animals can struggle to exercise freely due to their restricted airways.

Other complaints include injuries or joint diseases like osteoarthritis. If your dog is too uncomfortable to exercise, he may become sedentary and gain weight. This can become a vicious cycle, with weight gain applying more pressure to already sore joints.

Can Puppies Be Overweight?

Fat puppy on scale
Puppies can become obese too.

Yes, it is possible, but less commonly seen because they put energy into growth and development. If your puppy is on the right food for his age and breed and is feeding according to the packet guidelines, you won’t be going too far wrong.

Can Dogs Get Diabetes From Being Overweight?

Yes, an increased amount of fat tissue causes insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes mellitus developing in overweight animals. These animals usually require strict dietary management as well as supplementation with insulin via injections.

Overweight dogs suffer from a reduced health-related quality of life and are more likely to suffer from joint disease, high blood pressure, cardiac issues, and cancer.

What Is The Best Diet For My Overweight Dog?

The first thing you should do is check whether you are feeding your dog the appropriate amount of his normal food as recommended for his ideal body weight. Weigh the food out accurately and check.

If you have already tried this for a month or two, then you may want to consider low-calorie food. These diets have fewer calories but are high in fiber, so keep your dog feeling full and satisfied while reducing energy intake.

Many veterinary hospitals run weight clinics to help pet parents manage their overweight pets and give more detailed advice on diets and weight goals.

Can My Overweight Dog Still Have Treats?

Stick to your dog’s daily rations when possible, and try not to give snacks or treats. If you need to give them something, perhaps in training, it is best to take away some kibble from their weighed-out daily diet and use them as treats.

Low-calorie treats are an option, but remember, low-calorie doesn’t mean NO calories. Too many of these snacks on top of your dog’s daily meals add up. Vegetables and fruit make a good alternative, and some dogs enjoy munching on things like carrots, broccoli, and melon. The key is moderation, though – too many of these can still add unwanted calories to your dog’s diet as well as potentially cause tummy upsets.

What Exercise Program Is Best?

Bigger dog carried by person
If your dog is overweight, it is wise to increase exercise gradually.

Speak to your veterinarian about a specific exercise plan for your dog, as it depends on his current activity level and body condition. The general principle is to start building up the amount of walking they do over several weeks. Try and incorporate short bursts of high-energy activity, too, such as ball chasing.

Keep a close eye on how well your dog tolerates things, and try not to overdo it. Overweight dogs do not tolerate heat well, so try and exercise during the cooler parts of the day and always carry water.

Other ways to get your dog moving include taking kibble from his daily rations to put in a treat ball and making him work for his dinner. Remember to play with him in the garden as well as out on walks. Hydrotherapy can be a great low-impact exercise for some dogs, particularly those suffering from joint disease.

Frequently Asked Questions

Dog looking up at bowl on counter
Although tempting, don’t let your dog snack on human food.

What are the signs and symptoms of obesity in dogs?

Obese dogs have a high body condition score, meaning it is hard to feel their ribs easily, and they have no discernible waistline. They may also have a distended abdomen and fat around their neck and legs. These dogs may be lacking in energy and suffer from other health complaints too.

How can I slim down my obese dog?

A careful diet and appropriate exercise are the best ways to slim your dog down. You should make any changes gradually. Cutting out treats and table scraps is also a surefire way to stop them from consuming too many calories.

What is the fastest way for a dog to lose weight?

There are no quick fixes when it comes to weight loss. Speak to your veterinarian if you need help with a diet or exercise plan for your pet. Ensuring all your friends and family are on board with your dog’s new diet should help, too, so you can be sure no one is sneaking him treats while you’re not looking.

Final Thoughts

If your dog is overweight or obese, then his health is at risk. Hopefully, this article has given you a few tips about what you can do to help your pet achieve a healthy weight. You should always speak to your veterinary surgeon before implementing any diet or exercise changes, especially if they have underlying health issues. Above all, don’t be embarrassed to seek help – your dog will thank you in the long run.

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