Is my dog overweight?

A large bull dog with its face squished to the ground

If you’re wondering whether your pooch is packing on the pounds, the most accurate answer will come from your vet. Overweight and obese dogs may display the following symptoms:

  • Little to no waistline/abdominal tuck
  • Visible body fat
  • Excessive panting
  • Lack of grooming
  • Limited mobility, especially going up stairs or jumping up
  • Low energy or lethargy

In 2018, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimated that approximately 55.8 percent of dogs were overweight or obese. Another survey found that pet owners and veterinary professionals alike were confused by the conflicting information on pet nutritional advice, especially since the standard advice–“feed your pet less and exercise more”--didn’t reflect the overwhelming amount of options now available on the market.

If you’re wondering what to feed your dog, Gentle Beast offers a Health and Nutrition course. Certified behavior consultant Alex Sessa and Dr. Jessica Lowe provide trainer and veterinarian perspectives on picking the right food and using it as a training aid and enrichment tool to boost your pup’s overall wellness.

The Body Condition Score

Dogs come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. A bulldog can hardly be held to the same standard as a Yorkie–and neither can be compared to a Great Dane.

Veterinarians use a 9-point body condition score (BCS) scale to provide both subjective and quantitative judgment of your pet’s weight. Your pet should be both visually and physically examined to determine where they fall along the scale.

  • Look from above: Does your pet have a defined waist or hourglass shape?
  • Look from the side: Does your pet have a tummy tuck? Does their abdomen slope upwards between the ribcage and hind legs, or does it sag?
  • Feel the ribs: Can you feel their ribs with a thin layer of fat over the top? The ribs should ideally feel similar to your knuckles when you lay your hand flat on a surface.
  • Feel the back and rump: Can you feel their backbone or pelvic bones when rubbing them neck to tail? If not, how much pressure do you have to apply to feel the bones?

Underweight

  • The dog’s bones are visible with no layer of fat over them, along with loss of muscle 
  • The dog’s bones are visible with almost no body fat and only minimal muscle. 
  • The dog’s ribs are easily felt and may be visible, with the lumbar vertebrae and pelvic bones beginning to become prominent.

Ideal Weight

  • The ribs can be felt easily with minimal fat covering them. The waist is visible from above and an abdominal tuck can be seen from the side.
  • The ribs can be felt with some fat covering. The waist can be seen behind the ribcage when viewed from above and the abdomen slants upward when viewed from the side

Overweight

  • The ribs can be felt and have some fat covering them. The waist can be seen from above but is not easily discernible. An abdominal tuck can be seen from the side.
  • The ribs can be felt with some difficulty, beneath a heavy layer of fat. The lumbar area and base of the tail have fat deposits. There is no visible waist when seen from above, but the abdominal tuck may be seen from the side.
  • The ribs cannot be felt at all beneath a heavy layer of fat. There are fat deposits along the lumbar area and base of tail, no visible waist from above or abdominal tuck from the side, and the stomach may distend outwards.
  • Large fat deposits are evident over the thorax (the region between the neck and the abdomen), spine, neck, limbs, and base of the tail. There is no waist or abdominal tuck visible. The abdomen is distended outwards.

Other Indicators That Your Dog is Overweight

Overweight or obese dogs tend to be lower energy than average. While some breeds and individual dogs embrace the couch potato lifestyle no matter their weight, if your dog is wheezing when they breathe, pants constantly or excessively, and seems generally disinterested in play, they may need to lose weight.

If you’re not sure about your dog’s BCS, observe their behavior. Do they have any trouble moving around? This includes sitting or standing up, jumping onto or off of furniture, and climbing up a flight of stairs. Do they seem winded after easy and minimal movement, such as a short walk?

Health Consequences of Being Overweight

Unfortunately, dogs can suffer from a variety of obesity-related health issues. Overweight dogs are more likely to develop:

  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Skin conditions
  • Certain cancers
  • Mobility issues
  • High blood pressure

Banfield Pet Hospital reports that overweight dogs live on average 2.5 years less than their fit counterparts.

How to Help Your Dog Lose Weight

If you’re concerned about your dog’s weight, your vet can help you set a goal number to reach. Keep in mind that a goal of 2 to 3 pounds may not seem like much, but your dog is much smaller than you–a toy breed may “only” be a few pounds overweight, but the equivalent may be closer to 30 pounds on a human.

Although certain breeds and neutered dogs are more prone to weight gain than others, the effects can be offset through diet and exercise. Consult your vet on how much to reduce portion size by, or switch to a weight management food. Dog food prints their calorie count on the container, so use a measuring cup or scale to make sure your dog is getting the appropriate amount. The feeding guidelines included by each brand are often very broad and err on the higher side for safety.

Meals can be bulked with fresh or steamed vegetables and fruits. Carrots, green beans, blueberries, and cucumber are popular low-calorie options.

Make sure your dog is getting adequate levels of protein. Increased protein intake on a reduced calorie diet can help preserve lean body mass.

Try to exercise your dog approximately four hours per week. Your dog’s exercise needs can vary greatly based on energy and fitness level, of course. If your dog is sedentary, start slowly and let them get accustomed to exercising. Don’t rely on yard access and your dog exercising themselves–one study found that households that primarily exercised their dogs in yards were more likely to have overweight animals than households that reported consistent walks.

And, finally, small meals spread throughout the day can be more satiating than one or two large meals. Delivering meals through training or puzzles–making your dog work for their food–can also satisfy your dog more than simply eating out of a bowl.

About the Author

A picture of Melody smiling towards the camera
Melody Lee
Contributing Writer

Melody Lee is a contributing writer for Gentle Beast, and is a CPDT-KA dog trainer. She lives in Manhattan with two feral cats, Littlepip and Alphonse, that tolerate her clicker training attempts. One day, her cats might let her adopt a dog of her own.

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