Weight Loss and the Overweight Dog


"An overweight dog is subject to the same problems as overweight people - heart trouble, diabetes, arthritis, and a host of other health problems. And obesity is common in pets. A recent study found that as many as 40% of all American pets are over weight. Unfortunately canine obesity is the #1 nutrition related dog health problem with half of all dogs in the United States being overweight, which means that their body weight is more than 15% higher than optimal. More than 25% of dogs are considered obese, which means that the adult body weight is greater than 30% or greater than the ideal weight for their breed, size and age.

A large study of dogs in the United Kingdom and the United States reinforces that avoiding obesity and proper nutrition is important for canine health. The study found that dos with very rapid weight gain tended to be overweight or even obese by 3 years of age. These dogs were at higher risk of orthopedic problems associated with weight such as osteochrondritis dessicans, hip dysplasia, and elbow dysplasia. Almost all dogs were on a balanced diet, indicating that the weight gain was due to over nutrition (being given too much food.)

Obesity is the 4th leading cause of death among dogs in the United States (AVMA). Signs of obesity include reluctance to exercise such as less play and physical signs such as no longer being able to feel your dog's ribs and the accumulation of fat at the tail and abdomen.  Related health problems are osteoarthritis and hip dysplasia. Owners that tend to indulge their dogs at home, such as allowing them to lie on their bed, tend to overfeed their dogs.

Simply put, your dog gains weight when he eats more calories than he burns. If he is over weight, he needs to eat less and exercise more.  Here are some tips for helping your dog make the transformation to good health. "

Overweight Dog - Symptoms
Signs of an Overweight Dog include An Extended Abdomen


Obesity is a leading health problem in dogs. It can trigger and worsen several medical conditions such as osteoarthritis, diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Risk factors for obesity include:


  • Large

    -- Golden retrievers
    -- Rottweiler
    Labrador Retriever (typically weigh 65 to 80 pounds)
Overweight Lab weighing 97 pounds, about 30% over the normal 65 to 80 Pounds for this breed
Labrador Retriever 30% Overweight
The Lab was eating 1800 a day and was reduced to 900 calories a day divided into two meals in a Veterinarian supervised plan. The patient also had an increase in exercise including an obstacle course to keep the dog interested. The Lab experienced an increase in energy and quickly reached 1% to 2% of weight loss per week.

  • Giant

    Burmese Mountain Dog
    -- Newfoundland
    -- Saint Bernard
  • Medium

    -- Cocker Spaniel
    -- Basset Hound
  • Small

    Cairn Terrier
    -- Dachshund
    -- Cavalier King Charles
    -- Scottish Terrier
Overweight Dogs - Breeds at Higher Risk
Certain small, medium, large and giant breeds are at higher risk of Dog Obesity

Causes of Weight Gain in Dogs

There are multiple causes of dog weight gain including:

  • Thyroid deficiency
  • Endocrine disease: which slows the rate at which food is metabolized
  • Diet: eating more calories than a dog burns in a day
  • Genetics
  • Age
  • Puppies: between age 9 and 12 months
  • Adults: 40% of all dogs (lower on the younger end of the spectrum)
  • Sex: more females than males
  • Neutering: Obesity is 2x as frequent in neutered females, and higher in all neutered dogs (32% of dogs)
  • Contraceptive Treatments: dogs treated with medroxyprogesterone acetate had significant weight gain
  • Lack of exercise
  • Poor food selection
  • Social Aspects of Eating: the relationship between dog and human plays a role. Owners of obese dogs talk to their dog more and allow the dog to lie on their bed.  These dogs are given more meals or treats than dogs that have normal body weights.

Size of the dog plays a role in the obesity guidelines. A Chihuahua is overweight when 1 to 2 pounds over normal. A large Irish wolf-hound is obese when it is 60 pounds overweight.  Keeping  your dog at normal weight can extend his or her life and improve your dog's quality of life.

A dog's lifestyle can also contribute to obesity with many small indoor dogs not going outside enough.

Obesity Symptoms

Beyond the weight gain itself, one of the signs of dog obesity are changes in behavior. If your dog is not as active as in the past, such as reluctance to play or go on a hike, then the problem might be obesity. Other signs are reluctance to climb stairs or to leap out or into your car.

Dog Weight Guideline (How to Tell If Your Dog Is Overweight)

Your dog's physique will also change. As a guideline if you can feel your dogs ribs with the flat of your hand, but can't see them, then your dog is probably near its optimal weight. If you have to push through a thin layer of fat with the flat of your hand to feel your dog's ribs, then your pet is probably overweight. This is true in adult dogs and puppies.

Overweight Dog Symptoms - Fat Over Spine
One Sign of an Overweight Dog is Fat Over the Spine

The dog should also have an hour glass shape when the hips, waist and chest are viewed from above.  Other physical signs include:

  • Fat at the tail base
  • Fat over the hips
  • Waddling gait
  • A growing pot belly which appears as if the normal "tuck" of the abdomen is no longer visible

A veterinarian will measure weight and body condition on a 5 point scale where 3 or more is considered to be obese.

Health Problems Related to Obesity in Dogs

Being overweight can aggravate several dog health problems. These include:

  • Osteoarthritis: when the cartilage wears away and the bone comes in contact with other bone.  The result is pain and inflammation in the joint.  Heavier dogs put more strain on the joints, making them unstable.
  • Hip Dysplasia: Inherited condition which results in malformation of the hip socket. It prevents a proper fit between the ball at the top of the thigh bone and the bone itself. Being proper weight reduces pressure on the joint.
  • Diabetes: When a dog takes in to many carbohydrates, the body over stimulate insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The excessive insulin can result in the body being less sensitive to insulin and burnout of the insulin-producing cells.
Overweight Dog Risks - Diabetes Mellitus
Dog with Diabetes Mellitus and Related Obesity Problem
  • Heart Health: Overweight dogs put strain on a heart that has to pump blood through excess vessels and tissue.
  • Reduced Longevity
  • Reduced Immunity
  • Mammary Tumors


Talk to your vet to find out the ideal weight for your dog and whether your dog is over weight. Before beginning a weight loss program, your vet should do blood work to make sure your dog does not have any medical issues that result in weight gain - such as a thyroid problem that might be causing the weight problem. If your pet’s thyroid gland is functioning properly and your pet is otherwise healthy, then it is time to begin over weight dog treatment.

Overweight Dog - Comparison to Normal Weight
Comparison Between Normal Weight and Overweight Dogs

Overweight Dog: Food, Diet and Weight Loss Tips

Over weight canine treatment is relatively simple. Feed your dog a high quality dog food with a level of caloric intake that matches the energy expenditure of your dog.

Many vets recommend against “diet” or low calorie dog foods because these are high in carbohydrates, which can actually cause your dog to gain weight. Other recommend a meat-based diet. Your veterinarian can best determine if a "low calorie" dog diet is appropriate.

In addition to dietary change, veterinarians have access to medications and even fasting in the office to encourage weight loss.

Portion Size

In general, veterinarians do not recommend that portion size be reduced. Preference is for improving the diet by reducing fat content and by increasing dietary fiber. Reducing portions may result in deficiencies in nutrients and changes in behavior from a dog that is reacting to having less food (food theft, nervousness, unpleasant behavior). Yes food selection can be complicated, which is why purchasing a quality food is essential that is done in consultation with your veterinarian.

To start your overweight dog treatment, weigh your dog. Then, change or reduce the amount of food you give your dog by about 20% (if you decide to go this route). Greater levels of reduction may be needed in dogs that are gaining weight (make it 30%). Make sure to include treats or snacks you give your dog in the total amount of food given. Make sure your dog has access to fresh water at all times.

After two weeks, weigh your dog again. If your dog has lost even a little weight, you are on the right track. Stick with this schedule. If there has been no weight loss, reduce your dog’s food intake by one-third again.

You can also help your dog lose weight by providing opportunities for exercise. Taking your dog for a walk or a run will be good for both of you.

Dog Food Myths

Research shows that dividing the diet into several daily meals does not contribute to an increase in obesity. There is also not an influence of wet or dry dog food in the frequency of obesity. 

Home-prepared Diets

The research is not clear that home prepared or commercial diets are better for an obese dog. If you do feed a homemade diet for obesity, select a lean meat, high-fiber source of starch, vegetables and dietary fiber supplements that are in a purified form (soy fiber, bran).

Surgical techniques (like used in humans) are not available for dogs.

Rate of Weight Loss

Weight loss should be gradual and not exceed 1% of the dog's beginning body weight per week (1 pound a week for a dog that is 100 pounds in weight). 

Weigh your dog again in two weeks. You should be seeing results by this time, but if not, continue this procedure until you do. If you are not seeing results, it may be that someone in the house is feeling sorry for the dieting dog and sneaking him some snacks. Make sure you have everyone’s cooperation in helping your dog achieve a healthy weight.

It can take 6 to 9 months to achieve the normal weight.

Supplements and Weight Loss

Some owners add an herbal supplement to the diet that contains ingredients such as Milk Thistle and Dandelion  to help dogs digest food more efficiently and boost their metabolism such as the product  SlenderPet Formula. While there are many positive user reviews of these products, the science is not as clear. See the manufacturers website for studies and information.

One product that is approved for canine weight-loss by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is Slentrol. It is provided by mouth and works via two mechanisms in the small intestine. It is the first approved medication to keep fat from being absorbed and to decrease dog appetites. It should only be used under the care of a veterinarian.

Research shows that dogs fed a low-calorie diet can benefit from ingredients that contain L-carnitine, an ingredient that helps prevent a weight rebound effect. This ingredient stimulates muscle mass and increases weight loss (Sunvold et al., 1998).

Free Brochures on Weight Loss in Dogs (PDF)

Published by: APOP
Date published: 01/01/2015
Available in Ebook

Published by: AAHA
Date published: 12/01/2014
Available in Ebook

Ask Our Vet A Question or Share Your Story

Have A Question about Dog Weight Loss or Obesity?

Do you have a question or comment? Share it!

Our editors will pick 1 question to answer each week. Please include your dog's age, breed, current diet, medical history and medications and if possible, a picture of your dog.

We will do our best to get back to you quickly (it depends on how many questions we receive each day). If you do require an immediate response we suggest using this online dog veterinary service that is available now.

[ ? ]

Upload 1-4 Pictures or Graphics (optional)[ ? ]


Click here to upload more images (optional)

Author Information (optional)

To receive credit as the author, enter your information below.

(first or full name)

(e.g., City, State, Country)

Submit Your Contribution

  •  submission guidelines.

(You can preview and edit on the next page)


Obesity: Epidemiology, Pathophysiology and Management of the Obese Dog
M. Diez and P. Nguyen
Department of Animal Productions
FAculty of Veterinary Medicine
University of Liege

Project Slim Down

American Animal Hospital Association