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How to Tell if Your Dog is Overweight (and Help Them Lose It)
Keeping your dog at a proper weight is essential to their overall health. Unfortunately, although it’s been reported that only 5 to 7 percent of pet parents think their pet is overweight, a 2018 survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found that 55.8 percent of dogs were classified as overweight or obese.
“Obesity is one of the most commonly noted abnormalities on my physical exam notes,” says Dr. Rachel Maloney, DMV, of THRIVE Affordable Vet Care. “Obesity has links to increased chances of osteoarthritis in dogs, along with other diseases.” Pet parents who are on the lookout for signs that their dog may be overweight can catch the problem early and hopefully prevent some of the more serious complications from occurring in the first place. Here’s what you need to know:
Is my dog overweight?
Scheduling (and keeping) annual veterinary visits is one of the best ways to help your dog maintain a healthy weight. In general, the earlier a weight issue is noticed, the easier it will be to get it under control. Between visits, use the guidelines below to help assess your dog’s shape.
How to tell if your dog is overweight
When you’re assessing your pet’s weight at home, or with the help of a Petco partner in-store, there are a few areas to pay particular attention to.
- Ribs: Some breeds’ ribs are more visible than others. Feel for them by running your hands alongside your dog’s chest.
- Tail base: This is where your dog’s tail meets their back. Feel it with your hands.
- Abdominal tuck: For this assessment, view your dog from the side. The abdominal tuck is where the waist curves up toward the hind end.
- Waist: Observe your dog from above and see how their center curves in (or not!)
Your dog’s weight assessment
Obese: An obese dog has a thick fat covering that makes it difficult to feel any ribs at all. The base of their tail is also thick and hard to feel. When viewing an obese dog from the side, you will likely see fat hanging from their abdomen. From above, their waist will be very hard to see and they will have a significantly broadened back.
Overweight: The ribs of an overweight dog are harder to feel under moderate fat cover, and you’ll probably notice a thickening at the base of their tail. When viewed from the side, an overweight dog will likely show no abdominal tuck. Viewed from above, their back will appear broadened at the waist.
Ideal: A dog who is at their ideal weight will have a slight covering of fat over their ribs, making them easy to feel but not easily seen. A smooth contour with slight fat cover will also be at the base of their tail. An abdominal tuck should be noticeable from the side, while a well-proportioned waist should be visible from above.
Underweight: An underweight dog will likely have easily seen and felt ribs, while the bones at the base of their tail may be raised with a slight cover of fat. An abdominal tuck will be visible from the side and they’ll have a marked hourglass shape when viewed from above.
Very thin: A very thin dog’s ribs are easy to feel and see and the bones near the base of their tail are often raised. Very thin dogs show a severe abdominal tuck from the side and commonly have an accentuated hourglass shape when viewed from above.
It's not just the side views of your dog that will help you determine if they may be struggling with weight. To complete a more detailed analysis of your dog's size, use the following:
What can I do to help my overweight dog?
If you’re concerned about your dog’s weight based on the visual indicators listed above, consult your veterinarian about what you can do at home. “Most of the time we discuss diet and intake with owners, the pet getting too many treats, too much human food, too much food in general or the wrong type of food,” says Dr. Maloney. Consider the following:
Ask your veterinarian to help you choose a high-quality diet that includes all the nutrition your dog needs but without the added calories. Their recommended options might include veterinary formulas that require a prescription. If you like to feed your dog bits of food from your own plate, ask your veterinarian about the healthiest options, but resolve to quit the practice altogether. The potential side effects of this bad habit include not just unwanted weight gain but also indigestion and even unintentional poisoning.
Treats—including dental chews and joint supplements that might come in chew form—should never make up more than 10 percent of your dog’s overall diet. Low-calorie treats may be the best choice for a pet with a weight issue. You might also consider setting aside a portion of their daily kibble allotment for treating throughout the day so you can feel like you’re offering them a fun surprise while maintaining their daily calorie count.
Finding your dog’s ideal food won’t matter if you’re overfeeding them. Discuss with your veterinarian exactly how much food your dog should be getting at each meal based on personal factors like their size, breed and activity level.
For dogs who gulp down their meals and then expect more, slow feeders may help them savor their food for longer.
The proper diet is an essential element to getting weight under control, but so is movement. “Pet parents can easily place dry dog food in food puzzles or toys, which can help avoid boredom by keeping dogs busy, as well as combat weight gain by keeping them active,” says Vetco Total Care regional medical director Dr. Shelly Ferris, DMV. Taking your dog outside for physical activities like walking and hiking and trips to the dog park are quintessential ways to keep the weight off as well. As an added bonus, spending more time exercising with your dog outside is a great way to bond!
Next steps for managing your pet's weight
Our pets are our family, and as pet parents, we take their health very seriously. Staying on top of your dog’s weight is an important step in monitoring their overall wellness. Start with incorporating more exercise or trying a different type of feeding method if you are looking for some easy wins for your dog's weight:
If you are still struggling with keeping your dog's weight management on track, book an assessment with a Petco veterinarian today to get a tailored weight management plan that can help set them on a healthier road—or avoid weight issues in the future.