Canine Obesity: What You Need to Know

Canine Obesity

  • Obesity (the storage of excess fat) is usually caused by excessive food          intake and insufficient exercise.
  • Estimates show that 40% to 50% of dogs are overweight and 25% of dogs are obese.
  • Dogs can develop many obesity related health problems.
  • By examining your dog, veterinarians determine whether he or she is overweight or obese and help you create a weight loss program.
  • The most effective weight loss plans involve increasing activity and feeding fewer calories.

What You Need to Know

There are many obesity related health problems, and some medical conditions can lead to obesity, making it important to take your dog in for annual checkups. Remember, you can’t judge if your dog is overweight merely by putting him or her on a scale. By examining your dog, veterinarians can use weight, overall body condition, and other indicators to tell you whether he or she is overweight or obese, what the probable cause is, and determine the best weight loss regimen. Obesity is typically caused by excessive food intake and insufficient exercise. According to estimates, 40% to 50% of dogs are overweight and 25% are obese. Obesity is more common in older, less active pets. Dogs that are fed homemade meals, table scraps and snacks are more likely to be overweight than dogs eating only a high quality commercial pet food.

Don’t feel bad if you are told your dog is too heavy. Everyone knows that dieting can be challenging, but losing weight can help your dog live longer, avoid disease, and feel better.  It is well worth the effort!

What to Do

Get veterinary advice before changing your dog’s eating and exercise habits. Veterinarians are trained to recommend an appropriate diet and exercise program for safe weight loss.

When helping your dog lose weight, slower is safer. “Crash” diets or intense workouts aren’t appropriate for inactive dogs. If your dog gained the weight slowly, he or she can lose it slowly.

The most effective weight loss plans involve increasing activity and feeding fewer calories. The more convenient you make it, the better the chance of sticking with it.

When on a weight loss program your dog should lose 2% or less of its initial body weight per week. For example, a 100-pound dog should lose no more than 2 pounds every week. A successful weight loss program may take a year or longer.



Feed your dog smaller meals more often. This helps your dog burn more calories and should help minimize begging for food. However, don’t feed more food per day. Instead, divide your dog’s daily ration into three or more feedings. There are several dietary strategies for helping your dog lose weight. One or more of the following may be recommended by your veterinary hospital. For all of these methods, it’s important to use an actual measuring cup (not an old coffee mug or drinking cup) to keep track of how much you’re feeding your dog.

  • Feed your dog less of its regular food per day. This strategy is most effective with increased activity.  Please check with your veterinarian first to ensure that your dog will receive the right amount of nutrients.
  • Instead of feeding your dog less, gradually switch him or her to a lower calorie food recommended by your veterinarian. The change should be gradual; a sudden switch in diet could upset your dog’s stomach. Combine the new food with your dog’s usual food in larger and larger proportions over several weeks until you are only providing the new food.
  • Different foods can have very different caloric contents. If you are switching to a new food your veterinarian can help calculate an appropriate amount to feed for either weight loss or maintenance
  • Give treats only on special occasions, such as birthdays, holidays, or good visits to the veterinarian. Offer low calorie treats (see box) and limit or eliminate fattening ones.


You can help your dog become more active and lose weight by scheduling regular playtimes and walks. Consult your veterinarian before beginning an exercise program for your dog. Not all games/exercises are appropriate for all breeds or medical conditions. For walks, start out slowly to give your dog a chance to adapt to an exercise routine. Work up to a brisk 10 to 20 minute walk or jog once or twice a day. On hot or cold days, go easy or rest. If you don’t have time to walk your dog, hire a dog walker. Doggy day care centers can also help ensure that your dog gets plenty of exercise throughout the day.

Here are some calorie burning activities for your dog:

  • Fetch
  • Keep away
  • Playing with other pets
  • Walking or jogging
  • Running off leash in a confined area
  • Swimming (great for arthritic dogs)
  • Tricks for low calorie treats
  • Tug of war

By Kirk McKay

PenBay Veterinary Associates is a proud member of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). For more information please visit or call 594-8300.


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