How to Recognize, Prevent, and Manage Obesity in Dogs

Written by: Lindsay Giguiere



Time to read 4 min

Obesity in dogs is a growing concern in the pet community. It's not just about a dog carrying a few extra pounds; obesity can lead to serious health complications, affecting the dog's quality of life and longevity. Understanding the causes, recognizing the signs, and knowing how to prevent and manage obesity are crucial for every dog owner.

The issue of obesity in dogs is both significant and widespread, with recent statistics highlighting the extent of this health crisis. According to the 2022 Pet Obesity Prevalence Survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 59% of dogs in the United States were classified as overweight or obese. This figure marks an increase from 56% in the years 2017 and 2018. The survey also revealed that a considerable number of dog owners do not recognize when their pets are overweight or obese. Nearly one-third (32%) of owners with overweight or obese pets (classified as BCS 6-9) considered their pet's body condition to be "normal," "ideal," or "thin." This lack of awareness among pet owners is a major concern in addressing the issue of pet obesity.

Furthermore, the American Kennel Club (AKC) mentions that the majority of dogs in the U.S.—56%—are overweight or obese. Obesity in dogs is linked to a multitude of health problems including arthritis, chronic kidney disease, bladder/urinary tract disease, liver disease, low thyroid hormone production, diabetes, heart failure, high blood pressure, and cancer. 

Understanding Canine Obesity - What is Obesity in Dogs?

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Obesity in dogs is defined as the accumulation of excessive body fat. A dog is considered obese when its weight is 20% or more above its ideal body weight. This condition is not just an aesthetic issue; it's a significant health concern.

Causes of Obesity in Dogs

  • Overfeeding: This is the most common cause. It includes not only the quantity of food but also the type. High-calorie diets, frequent treats, and human food can contribute to weight gain.
  • Lack of Exercise: Dogs that do not get enough physical activity are more likely to gain weight.Age: Older dogs are less active, have slower metabolism, and are more prone to weight gain.
  • Breed Predisposition: Some breeds are more inclined to obesity than others.
  • Medical Conditions: Certain health issues like hypothyroidism or hormonal imbalances can lead to weight gain.
  • Neutering/Spaying: These procedures can slow a dog's metabolism, making them prone to weight gain.

Health Risks Associated with Obesity in Dogs

Obese dogs are at risk for numerous health issues, including diabetes, joint problems, osteoarthritis, respiratory and heart diseases, decreased immune function, and a higher risk of cancer.

Recognizing Obesity in Dogs

Recognizing obesity early can help prevent the onset of related health issues.

Signs of Obesity in Dogs include excess body fat, lack of visible waist, no palpable ribs under the fat, difficulty in walking or shortness of breath, and increased fatigue or lethargy,

How to Tell if Your Dog is Obese

  • Body Condition Scoring (BCS): Veterinarians often use this method. The scale typically runs from 1 (emaciated) to 9 (obese).
  • Regular Weigh-Ins: Regularly weighing your dog can help track any weight changes.
  • Veterinary Examination: Regular check-ups can help identify obesity and its associated risks.

Prevention is always better than cure, especially in the case of obesity in dogs.

  • Balanced Diet: Feed your dog a balanced diet suitable for their age, size, and activity level.
  • Control Portions: Avoid overfeeding by measuring food portions.
  • Limit Treats: Treats should only make up a small percentage of your dog’s daily calorie intake.

Common mistakes leading to dog overfeeding include misjudging portion sizes, giving too many treats, misunderstanding the dog's nutritional needs, and not adjusting food intake for less active or older dogs. Owners often rely on inaccurate feeding guides or overlook their pet's dietary requirements. Regularly feeding table scraps and a lack of awareness about the calorie content in dog food and treats can also contribute to overfeeding. 

Determining the right amount of food for your dog involves considering several factors such as the type of food, your dog's body weight, metabolic rate, and amount of exercise. Generally, most adult dogs should eat two meals a day. The feeding guide on your dog food’s label is a good starting point, but you'll need to adjust the recommended amount based on your dog's specific needs. For instance, an inactive dog might need less food than the guide suggests, while a very active dog might need more. 


Regular Exercise: Daily walks, playtime, and other activities are essential. Adjust the type and amount of activity based on your dog's breed, age, and health.

Regular Check-UpsRegular veterinary visits are crucial for monitoring your dog’s weight and overall health.

Managing Obesity in Dogs

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If your dog is already obese, it's important to take steps to manage and reduce their weight safely.

  • Developing a Weight Loss Plan: Consult a veterinarian to develop a weight loss plan tailored to your dog's specific needs.
  • Prescription Weight Loss Diets: These are specially formulated to be low in calories but nutritionally complete.
  • Feeding Schedule: Implement a regular feeding schedule with controlled portions.Increasing 
  • Physical Activity: Start with low-impact activities and gradually increase intensity. Regular exercise is key in managing obesity.
  • Regular Weigh-Ins: Keep track of your dog's weight loss progress.

Remember, certain dog breeds are more prone to obesity due to factors like genetics, metabolism, and lifestyle. Breeds such as Beagles, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Dachshunds, Cocker Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, Bulldogs, Yorkshire Terriers, Boxers, and Golden Retrievers are known to be more susceptible to weight gain. These breeds may have a natural tendency towards a slower metabolism, a propensity to overeat, or may be less active, contributing to their risk of becoming overweight. Owners of these breeds need to be vigilant about their pets' diet and exercise to prevent obesity and related health issues. For more detailed information on each breed's specific risks and needs, you can refer to our Breed section: HERE.

In Conclusion

Obesity in dogs is a preventable and manageable condition. Through proper diet, regular exercise, and veterinary care, you can ensure your dog maintains a healthy weight. Remember, the goal is a happy, healthy, and active life for your beloved pet.