Is My Dog Overweight? Tips for Managing Dog Obesity

Vet Verified


Chunky pug dog sittin happily in front of a bowl of food

As pet parents, we keep a close eye on our canine companions’ health––because we want them to stick around and enjoy life with us for years to come! 

That being said, a few extra pounds can make you question the future of your pet’s well-being. Pet obesity is becoming more commonplace. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention's 2022 State of U.S. Pet Obesity Report, “59% of dogs and 61% of cats are considered overweight or obese. That's greater than half of the U.S. pet population, and this upward trajectory is not a good trend for our canine and feline companions."

Dog obesity is a serious issue that can affect the overall health and longevity of our beloved pets. Staying on top of your dog's weight can help you stay ahead of diseases and conditions that can develop as a result of long-term obesity. That means your support can help safeguard their future well-being and happiness!

We’ll teach you how to determine if your dog is overweight, and explore the risk factors associated with obesity like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. But don't worry, it's not all doom and gloom! We'll wrap up with a game plan that can help your dog shed those extra pounds. 

Is my dog overweight?

Healthy weight for different dogs, breeds, and sizes

No one wants to hear their dog called a “fat dog” or hear comments about their pup’s weight. Our four-legged companions deserve respect! But it’s normal to want a healthy weight for your dog, if only to give them a longer, happier life.

Pet parents might not notice their dog’s weight gain right away. That’s why it’s important to make evaluating your pet’s weight part of your regular routine. A simple visual check will do, and we can show you how to do it at home! Your veterinarian will also help you keep them on track at regular checkups for their overall health.

Pet Fact

Sex hormones (or lack of them) can be a determining factor on whether or not your dog is at a higher risk of obesity. Generally, intact dogs are trimmer than those who have been spayed or neutered. 

How to visually assess your dog's body condition

You don't need a scale to determine if your dog is on the heavier side––a simple hands-on approach will do! Run your hands along their ribcage. Can you feel their ribs with a light touch, or do you need to press harder to locate them? The presence of a thin layer of fat is normal, but if it's excessive, it might be time to take action.

Determining ‘overweight’ status

Weight isn't the only factor in play—body composition matters too. Muscles, bones, and fat all contribute to a dog's weight. Vets have a keen understanding of how these elements interact and can help you determine whether your dog's weight is within a healthy range or if adjustments are needed.

Ask your veterinarian to determine your pet's Body Condition Score (BCS) so that you can have a goal in mind when promoting your pet's weight loss (or need for weight gain). The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) Global Nutrition Committee has a helpful BCS chart so pet parents can better understand their pet's body condition score.

Risk factors for diabetes in dogs

An obese dog is at a much higher risk of developing dog diabetes (diabetes mellitus). Excess weight can be a precursor to a host of health problems, and diabetes is a significant concern. 

Extra pounds can lead to insulin resistance, a condition where the body's cells don't respond as effectively to insulin. This can result in elevated blood sugar levels and, eventually, diabetes.

How does excess weight affect insulin sensitivity?

Imagine insulin as the key that unlocks the door for sugar to enter cells. However, excess weight can gum up the works, making those locks less responsive. The result? Sugar can't enter the cells effectively, leading to high blood sugar levels. Managing your dog's weight can help ensure those locks remain in tip-top shape.

Recognizing the signs of diabetes in dogs

With diabetes in dogs symptoms can include increased thirst, frequent urination, weight loss despite a hearty appetite, and lethargy. Additional symptoms are exercise intolerance and higher risk of opportunistic infections (e.g., urinary tract), dietary indiscretions (eating things they shouldn’t), and more. If you notice these signs, don’t wait––consult with a veterinarian for a thorough assessment.

Just like people, dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and there's no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to their ideal weight. Depending on factors like breed, age, and intact or spayed/neutered status, a healthy weight for one dog might look different for another. It's important to understand the range of healthy weights for your specific dog's breed and size to make informed judgments about their weight.

Black and white Border Collie dog at the vet getting blood pressure taken

Is my overweight dog at risk for high blood pressure?

The effects of excess weight can affect a dog's entire body, and one of the consequences can be elevated blood pressure. Just like in humans, obesity can strain a dog's cardiovascular system (heart, blood vessels, and blood), leading to hypertension (high blood pressure). 

Underlying glandular health problems can also make your dog prone to weight gain and the development of diabetes. These include Cushing's Disease (hypoadrenocorticism), Hypothyroidism, and more.
  • Cushing's Disease is associated with overproduction of corticosteroids from the adrenal glands, which increases blood sugar levels and causes the pancreas to produce more insulin to maintain blood sugar levels. 

  • Hypothyroidism is caused by underfunctioning thyroid glands, leading to reduced blood thyroid hormone levels that help to maintain metabolism and a healthy body condition.

Impacts of high blood pressure on overall health

High blood pressure isn't just a number—it's a silent threat to overall health. It strains the heart, burdens blood vessels, and can lead to damage in various organs. Addressing your dog's weight can help alleviate this pressure and reduce the risk of related health issues.

Monitoring dog blood pressure with regular vet check-ups

Routine vet visits play a pivotal role in your dog's well-being. Regular check-ups include blood pressure measurements, which offer insights into their cardiovascular health. These visits allow early detection of any blood pressure abnormalities and help you take proactive steps towards their health.

Heart disease caused by dog obesity

 The heart is designed to work tirelessly, but can face major challenges due to excess weight. When a dog carries extra pounds, their heart has to work harder to pump blood, causing unnecessary strain and potential complications.

Heart conditions linked to obesity

Obesity doesn't just weigh on the body—it weighs on the heart. Conditions like congestive heart failure and atherosclerosis (thickening of the arteries) can be exacerbated by excess weight. By addressing weight issues, you're providing your dog's heart with the support it needs to function optimally.

A dog's heart is a steady beat, providing them with energy and vitality. Heart disease caused by obesity can reduce the heart's ability to function in transporting oxygen and nutrients around the body. It can also reduce clearance of metabolic wastes and toxins, leaving them fatigued and less active. 

Happy dog rolling in the grass getting exercise

5 ways to help your dog lose weight

After all this talk about the negative effects of dog obesity, you might be ready to get your dog's weight back on track. So where should you begin? Follow this weight loss cheat sheet to help you dog thrive.

  • Tailoring Nutrition

Your dog’s eating behaviors are the first thing you’ll need to address when helping them reach a healthy weight. 

  • Consult your veterinarian – Veterinarians can help steer you towards the right diet plan for your dog's unique needs. They'll consider factors like breed, age, intact or spayed/neutered status, activity level, dietary restrictions, and health concerns to craft a nourishing plan.

  • Portion control & feeding times – Portion control ensures your dog receives the right amount of food without overindulging. Measuring with a kitchen scale or metric measuring cup–and sticking to a consistent feeding schedule–establishes a routine that supports digestion and metabolism.
  • Weight management dog foods – Weight loss foods are designed to fit your dog's specific weight loss needs. These formulas provide essential nutrients while helping shed pounds. Discuss with your vet whether this option suits your pup's journey.

  • Regular exercise

Physical activity is great for your dog’s physical and mental health, and is one of the best strategies for maintaining an optimal weight.

  • Exercise based on breed & energy levels – Exercise is essential for your dog's body and mind. Different breeds and energy levels require varying amounts of activity. High-energy breeds thrive on vigorous play, while more sedentary dogs benefit from lower-impact activities, like walking or accompanying you while you’re out and about running errands.

  • Playtime & outdoor activities – Interactive play keeps your dog entertained and active. Activities like fetch, tug-of-war, and puzzle toys engage their minds and help burn calories. Outdoor adventures like hiking or swimming add a burst of excitement to their routine. Playing or spending time with other dogs can also promote higher levels of activity and mental stimulation.
  • Maintaining activity levels – Gradually increasing activity levels gives your dog's body time to acclimate and reduces potential for strain, exhaustion, and more severe health risks (including death). By creating and following a consistent routine–and starting slow before scaling up–you're ensuring your dog's journey to fitness is sustainable.

  • Mindful treat giving

There’s nothing better than rewarding our pup when they do something good, but giving treats can be a slippery slope for a dog struggling to lose weight.

  • Low calorie treats – Treats are tasty and can serve as a reward, but they can tip the scales if overdone. Opt for low-calorie treats that still provide the joy of rewards without contributing to weight gain.

    Talk to your veterinarian about whole food options, like lean meats, fruits, and vegetables. These foods can provide beneficial protein, fiber, moisture, and nutrients for your dog. They’re also lower in calories and have fewer bad ingredients (processed sugar, fillers, chemical preservatives, etc.) compared to commercially-available pet treats.

  • Alternate forms of praise – Limit the frequency of treat-giving to special occasions. Praise and engaging play can be equally satisfying rewards! It's about finding a balance that keeps your dog motivated without affecting their waistline.
  • Treat frequency – A balanced treat schedule can help your dog connect rewards with overall goals. Designate specific times for treats, ensuring they remain a delightful supplement rather than a primary food source.

  • Hydration & Supplements

Water intake helps your dog digest their food, stay regular, and keep up with physical activity.

  • Water & weight management – Adequate hydration supports metabolism and overall bodily functions. Keep a fresh water supply available for your dog, especially during and after physical activity.

  • Supplements for weight loss & joint health – Some supplements aid fat burning, while others support joint health for comfortable movement during exercise (arthritis can also be an issue for overweight pets). Consult your vet to determine which supplements align with your dog's needs.
  • Ask your vet about supplements – Consult your veterinarian before introducing daily supplements for healthy activity. Their guidance ensures the supplements are safe, effective, and appropriate for your dog's health journey.  

When giving a new supplement to your pet, start small. Try one supplement at a time, or follow the dosage guidance on the label based on your dog’s weight. This can reduce potential negative side effects like digestive tract upset––including irregular bowel movements, reduced appetite, and vomiting.

  • Lifestyle changes & monitoring

These weight management strategies add up to better overall health and well-being for your pet, but lifestyle changes can be tough to implement (and follow). Learn to set you and your pet up for success!

  • Involve the entire family

    Support from the entire family can be the wind beneath your dog's wings! Involve the entire family in their weight loss journey, and make sure everyone is onboard with feeding and exercise routines.

  • Record progress

    Support from the entire family can be the wind beneath your dog's wings! Involve the entire family in their weight loss journey, and make sure everyone is onboard with feeding and exercise routines.

  • Celebrate small milestones

    Celebrate your dog's weight loss milestones with joy and rewards. Positive reinforcement keeps everyone motivated and engaged.

Tackling dog obesity isn’t just about getting the numbers right—it's about enhancing your pet’s quality of life, and making sure they have the energy to join us on every adventure. By understanding the signs of obesity, the risks it poses, and implementing a few practical tips, you're empowering yourself to be the best pet parent possible. Don’t forget to loop your veterinarian into your pup’s weight loss journey for personalized advice to support their long term health!

This blog exists to provide general information and education about veterinary health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this blog, website, or in any linked materials is not intended as and should not be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We cannot diagnose conditions, provide second opinions, or make specific treatment recommendations through this blog or website.

If you suspect that your pet has a medical concern, you should consult with your veterinary health care provider or seek other professional medical treatment immediately. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something that you have read on this blog, website, or in any linked materials.

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Written By a Vetnique Vet

Dr. Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ

Dr. Patrick Mahaney works as a concierge-style veterinarian and has a number of celebrity clients through his house-call practice, California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness. He loves building personal, long-term relationships with his clients to best suit their pets’ needs within the comfortable confines of their homes.

To spread his message of holistic veterinary medicine on a large-scale basis, Dr. Mahaney attained a Certified Veterinary Journalist certificate and enjoys contributing to pet-related media projects. He is also a certified veterinary acupuncturist.

Holistic, House-Call Veterinarian

Los Angeles, CA

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