Is It Really a Problem if My Dog Is Overweight?

We'll cut to the chase: Yes.

Chunky pug rests head on sofa
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We’ll cut to the chase: Yes, it is a problem if your dog is overweight. For canines, extra weight can quickly lead to more serious health issues like cancer, diabetes and joint problems, just to name a few. It goes the other way too! VCA Animal Hospitals says obesity can be a symptom of underlying illnesses like hypothyroidism. A 2018 study conducted by the University of Liverpool and Mars Petcare's Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition found that overweight dogs lived, on average, shorter lives than dogs at healthy weights by about 2.5 years. This is bad news for our pets! The good news is we have the ability to help them out before it becomes a chronic problem.

Meet the Expert:

  • Taylor Wilkinson is the Operations Coordinator for The Vets, a site that allows pet parents to book an at-home visit from a licensed vet.

A canine’s genetics and breed determine how big they get. Great Danes are large, lean dogs. Bernese Mountain Dogs are large, thick dogs. Any dog can become overweight, but it will look different and happen differently for each individual pup.

“Some breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and Cocker Spaniels, are more prone to becoming overweight or obese due to their genetics,” Taylor Wilkinson, Operations Coordinator for The Vets, says. “But any breed can become overweight if they are not fed a proper diet or do not get enough exercise.”

When dogs become overweight, several things can happen. It could cause inflammation, which puts pressure on joints and other body systems. It may increase the likelihood your dog develops bladder stones, cancerous tumors, diabetes, high blood pressure, liver disease and more.

Plus, it may simply become too uncomfortable for them to participate in their favorite activities, like playing fetch with you.

How Can I Tell if My Dog Is Overweight?

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention reported that 59 percent of dogs in the U.S. were considered overweight in 2022. So, if your dog falls into this category, you’re not alone.

VCA Animal Hospitals says dogs who weigh an extra 10 to 20 percent more than their ideal body weight are overweight. So, if your dog’s ideal weight is 40 pounds, once she hits 48 pounds, she’s in overweight territory. Anything more than 20 percent is considered obese (50 pounds for a dog who should be about 40 pounds).

To know if your dog is overweight, you’ll need to chat with your vet about how heavy your dog should be. It’s not an exact science, but a vet should be able to offer insight into this based on breed, age and overall health.

Pro Tip: This is where doggy DNA kits come in very handy. Understanding the breeds that make up your pup can help you better identify how heavy they should be and if they are predisposed to health issues.

Wilkinson says pet parents can also try the following:

  • Take a good look at your dog. Stand over your dog for a bird’s-eye view. Step to the side for a profile angle. “In an ideal weight, you should be able to see a visible waistline behind the rib cage,” Wilkinson says. “The abdomen should tuck up slightly. If there's no distinct waist or if the abdomen sags, it may indicate excess weight.”
  • Feel your dog’s rib cage. There shouldn’t be too much excess on top of your dog’s ribs. Some breeds, like Pulis, may have difficult ribs to reach. Others, like Salukis, are meant to have very defined rib cages.
  • Watch your dog as they move and play. “If your dog appears to tire easily during exercise or shows reluctance to engage in physical activities they previously enjoyed, it might be a sign of excess weight affecting their mobility,” Wilkinson says.
  • Keep those annual vet appointments. Over time, you should be aware of how your dog grows, moves and looks. Sudden weight gain (or loss) can indicate a more serious issue. Visiting a vet every year for a check-up helps you track all of this info so any dramatic changes are caught early.
  • Research breed standards. Like we said, get to know your dog’s breed! The American Kennel Club website is a perfect resource, once you know what your pup’s DNA is made of.

How Can I Prevent My Dog from Becoming Overweight?

“If you suspect your dog is overweight, it is important to consult with a veterinarian,” Wilkinson says. “They can provide a professional assessment, determine the ideal weight for your dog's breed and size, and guide you on an appropriate diet and exercise plan to help your dog achieve a healthy weight.”

Chances are, if your dog is overweight, your vet will advise a change in diet and daily exercise. Wilkinson tells us that a good nutrition plan for an overweight or obese pet shouldn’t be too restrictive. Yes, you want to lower their caloric intake. But they still need nutrients! Diets with more fiber and protein can help your dog feel fuller on fewer calories.

“It’s important to follow the recommended portion sizes on the food packaging or from your veterinarian,” she says. “Overfeeding can hinder weight loss efforts.” (Don’t cut out treats completely, but definitely monitor how often you toss one to your dog. And no table scraps!)

Next, boost daily exercise! Depending on your dog’s limitations, add in new activities or extend favorite playtime routines. Wilkinson advises starting with low-impact activities like short walks before building up to longer walks, hikes or other forms of exercise as your dog becomes more comfortable and fit.

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Freelance Writer

Sarah Ashley is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She has covered pets for PureWow for six years and tackles everything from dog training tips to the best litter boxes. Her...