How to Help Fat Dogs Get Slim

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obesity in dogs

It is absolutely heart wrenching when I see fat dogs. The dog’s back looks like a table you could put dinner plates on, they can barely move and they’re panting so much they look like they’re gasping to breathe. Don’t their guardians see the state they’re in? I must admit I have had chats with some of them and I’m always shocked by how blase they are. I tell so heartbreaking to see fat dogsthem I had rescued an obese dog, the steps I took to help her lose weight, how easy it was and I even give them the name of my vet. Sorry to be negative but I doubt any of them followed up…but you never know.

Let’s be realistic. It’s harder for us to lose weight because we can get food anytime we want, that’s not the case for dogs. We are in charge of when they eat and what they eat, so you can already see how easy it is to end obesity in dogs. It’s all about a good quality diet in the right amount, less junk, more exercise!

Sobering statistics

In a 2016 survey by The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), results show that 54% of all dogs in the U.S. are overweight or obese. There are 41.9 million obese dogs in the U.S.

What’s even more disturbing is – 93% of dog owners (I prefer to call them guardians) thought their dog’s weight was normal.

The 2014 PDSA Animal Welfare Report states that 1 in 3 dogs in the U.K. is overweight, or obese.

Here are the results of a survey conducted by Petplan in the UK – Petplan statistics and facts

My experience with an obese dog

When my husband and I adopted our dog Red, she hadn’t been well cared for in her previous home. She was around 8 years old and so obese, her stomach literally touched the ground. A dog that shouldn’t way more than 10lbs weighed a whopping 18!! I wish I had a picture to show you, but they must be packed away in storage at the moment.

She couldn’t take more than a couple of steps without panting and having to sit. She’s a smobesity in senior dogsall dog, with skinny little legs, and all that extra weight had to have been so uncomfortable for her.

I took her to the vet for advice and together with our regular walks, which at the beginning were nothing more than a few steps, the weight dropped off quite quickly.  As the weight came off she was able to walk longer, and you could see how much better she was feeling. 

Causes of obesity 

Ruling out metabolic disorders, medications and other health conditions, the cause is too much food, the wrong food, too many treats, too little exercise, and people not knowing how much their dog should weigh. 

How much should a dog weigh?

It’s an important number to have as it will give you the goal you’re working towards. Your dog’s ideal weight will depend on what type of dog you have, which is made a bit more challenging nowadays with all the new mixtures out there. The old charts may not be as helpful but they can still give you a rough estimateIdeal weight for dogs

I don’t advise you guess but rather make an appointment to see your vet. He will tell you your dog’s ideal range and what to do to help him get there.  

The benefits of being at a healthy weight

  • Longer life expectancy
  • The possibility of less illness
  • Decrease the chances of getting arthritis
  • Able to exercise and play
  • A better quality of life because your dog will be feeling so much better

What are the dangers associated with being overweight?

  • Shorter life expectancy
  • Poor quality of life
  • Strain/damages joints and bones
  • Developing arthritis, and makes existing arthritis even worse
  • Harder to cope in the heat
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Respiratory disorders, and worsens existing ones
  • Poor condition of coat and skin
  • Greater risk during surgery
  • Diabetes
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Spinal disc problems
  • Liver, kidney and heart diseases

Added complications during surgery

Senior dogs are already at higher risk during surgery, and being overweight adds significantly to that risk. All the extra fat makes it harder to get at what the vet is operating on, meaning your dog will be in surgery longer than he should be. 

Also, most anesthetics are broken down by the liver, but a fatty liver will not be able to do that job as efficiently as a healthy one, so your dog will take longer to come out of the anesthesia.

Is it safe for dogs to lose weight?

A better question would be, is it safe for dogs to not lose weight? 

What can I do?

  • Help Your Obese Dog Lose WeightStop feeding him table scraps
  • No more unhealthy treats
  • Fewer treats
  • Better portion control
  • Exercise – the type and intensity will depend on the health and condition of your dog
  • See your vet who will likely enroll you in their weight loss clinic, which most practices have these days

The Plan

The first step is to have a consultation with your vet – it goes without saying, your dog needs to come along. Your dog will be weighed, then a goal weight will be set. After that, you will discuss a diet and exercise regime.

Please follow the recommended plan, and make sure everyone in your household, or involved in your dog’s care, understands that as well. You don’t want someone sneaking him extra food or treats, when you’re not looking. That isn’t doing him any favours.

Diet

Your vet may recommend switching over to a different brand/type of food, that will help your dog feel fuller without having to decrease the amount, or simply suggest reducing the amount of what he’s currently eating.

If you will be switching brands, please do so gradually. Add the new food in small amounts to his existing food at each meal. Gradually increase the ratio of new to old, until he’s switched over. It should take about a week until he’s only eating the new food.

Some vets may recommend a raw or whole foods diet.

Treats

Unfortunately many people misunderstand that a “treat” is just that – something to reward good behaviour, a little “something” after a walk or for a successful training session. It is not a meal!!

homemade dog treatsLet your vet know what treats you’re feeding him, and he will either recommend just reducing the amounts given, or switching to a lower calorie, better quality brand.

You could use part of your dog’s meal, or buy good quality treats and give them sparingly.

Vegetables like raw carrot to munch on, cooked sweet potatoes, squash or raw apple can also be used as treats. Ask your vet if there are any fruits or vegetables not suitable for your dog.

There are thousands of recipes online to make your own dog treats. You’ll know exactly what ingredients go in them, giving you better control over what your dog is eating. 

Exercise

We know exercise is another piece to the whole weight loss plan, but depending on the condition of your dog, the type, length, and frequency of exercise will differ. Your vet will advise which form is safest.

Perhaps your dog would benefit from short walks, 2-3 times a day. If you live in a particularly hot climate, or when walking during the summer months, stick to earlier and later in the day.

Swimming is great exercise since it is low impact and won’t stress joints. Take him to the beach or a lake, and when the weather is older find out if there is a doggie pool in your area. 

How to help fat dogs get slim – conclusion

I hope you can see how important it is for all dogs to be at a healthy weight. If you’re wondering if your dog is overweight, take him to your vet and find out. If he does need to lose a bit of weight, the earlier you start the better he will feel. It is the human who causes obesity in dogs, and it’s up to the human to reverse it. 

 

I would like to invite you to join Senior Dog Care Club, a new Facebook group for senior dog parents. There you will find lots of helpful tips and advice, a place to ask questions and share experiences. I look forward to welcoming you.

 

 

How to Help Fat Dogs Get Slim
Hindy Pearson
Helping people care for their senior dogs
I am a certified dog trainer and pet care consultant, specialising in working with rescue dogs and first time pet parents. I foster and adopt senior and special needs dogs, and advocate for shelter adoption of all animals, particularly older dogs and cats. I am currently working on a spay/neuter program in Spain.

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48 thoughts on “How to Help Fat Dogs Get Slim

  1. I love that you care so much for elder dogs. I have a dog who is only 4 but he is a weenie, so he is getting old fast.

    I am going to incorporate these tips so that he doesn’t end up at the vet as he enters his final years. Thanks for the great info!

    1. Hi Karissa, Glad you found the information helpful. Your dog is still really young!! It does make sense to do what you can when they’re younger, I wish I had the chance to do that with Red.

  2. Hi there Hindy, I must say that you know your way around dogs and sharing such an informative post is simply one of the best things you could have ever done. Thanks a lot for this!

  3. Hi Hindy,
    This is such a thoughtful article! It shows that you truly care for animals. Since I don’t have dogs, I haven’t really questioned the obesity in dogs – but this is definitely some interesting facts you’ve provided here.
    Given that there is a lot of dog owners out there, your article will help them to realize about the certain health threats to the dogs that exist. So keep up the good work!
    Best of luck 🙂

    -Zarina

    1. Hi Zarina, Thank you for your comment. It’s incredible how many fat dogs you see out and about. I often wonder if their owners don’t realise their dogs are fat, and how much it impacts on their health. Just like with children – too much junk food, too little exercise. Hopefully articles like this one will wake them up.

  4. I am guilty of giving my door, left overs at dinner and thought nothing on it, i am so glad i came across your article as don’t want my dog get obese

    1. Hi Gino, thanks for your comment. Don’t worry, you’re not alone in that, but many people allow scraps to make up the bulk of their dog’s diet, and that isn’t healthy. I hope people will re-think their feeding habits after reading this!

  5. This is really great info here, and it’s definitely something that dog guardians should be aware of. The breed guide is also helpful.

  6. Great post! I keep a close eye on my dogs their weight. It’s so important because it affects their health in a million ways! Amy has HD, so it’s important to keep her weight on point for her own benefit!

  7. This is a topic I know all to well about. I find the topic of pet obesity extremely interesting. As a pet parent of a “former” obese dog, I know the struggles associated with it, but more so, I know the benefits to a dog or any pet, of being the proper weight.

    1. I do as well Kelly. I am also the pet parent of a formerly obese dog. When I adopted Red she weighed 18lbs, and her stomach literally touched the ground. She wasn’t able to walk more than a few steps, and you wonder how her previous guardians allowed that to happen. When I put her on a proper diet, and the weight started coming off she was like a different dog. Imagine how she must have felt, barely able to move.

  8. The vet at the clinic I worked for would always say to pet families that you should be able to easily feel the dog’s ribs and they should narrow at the waist. You shouldn’t have to press or rub to feel them. That was the simplest way that I’ve heard to tell owners to watch their dog’s weight. I’d always be in the background trying to feel my ribs to break the tension in the room. It seems like no matter how nicely the vet went about telling families that their dogs were too fat, many of them got upset or insulted. Diet and nutrition should go right along with politics and religion as far as things that are considered rude to talk about! lol Great article! Very important topic!

    1. Thanks Amber. I’m so happy to hear you talk about the vet calling attention to their fat dogs. Someone has to tell them! I do often wonder if all vets bother to comment. Seems to me they have a moral obligation to say something, because the poor dogs can’t speak for themselves.

  9. I have never dealt with an obese dog. The vet always says Simba is just right. These are great tips for dogs that struggle with obesity. A lot of great tips!

  10. Keira, my senior dog used to be about 12 lbs overweight. I switched her food to Hill/Science Diet weight loss formula and she lost all the weight within 8 months and has kept it off. She used to have difficulty jumping in the car and running in the yard, not any more! I’m so happy and proud of her progress!

  11. yeah I can see how one might be tempted to be less active once the dog is older. But having just watched my tiny dude loose half a pound on our recent trip to Europe and seeing him more agile for it I realize it’s not an option. At 3.5 pounds a .5 pound more is WAY to much. He’s not fat but … we need to monitor. Luckily for us he seems to self fast from time to time. Choosing to skip his breakfast. We let him. It use to freak me out but my vet said not to.

    1. You’re so right Sonja. Half a pound on a small dog is a lot! When I’m out walking my dogs, I often wonder where all the old ones are. Probably lying on the bed instead of getting some fresh air. Too many people think exercise doesn’t matter when their dogs are older, yet it matters more than ever.

  12. Same thing can be applied to catsQ! Easy on the treats, plenty of interactive play.

    I like Amber’s comment abut feeling a dog’s ribs, it is a great and easy to use rule of tumb to check your pup is getting tubby.

  13. Exercise should be a life-long endeavor for owner and dog alike. An acquaintance of mine has a 12-year old collie mix that is still doing agility! “age ain’t nuttin’ but a number”

    1. Too right Paul. Age is just a number, it’s all about attitude and how you feel. I must admit if it wasn’t for us finally having a young dog, I wouldn’t get any exercise. Sad I know.

  14. The statement that most people do not realize their dogs are overweight is so true! Our Lyla was starting to get a little too chubby. She has leg issues, and arthritis, so running and long walks are difficult on her. Losing weight still was not difficult! We tried a lot of healthy snacks and found she LOVES frozen carrots! While carrots do have a lot of sugars for a veggie, they were still far better than her regular treats. Lyla is down to a healthy weight and much more comfortable.
    Some people also think that food is love, and by giving more treats their dog feels more loved. My aunt was this way. It was a hard talk but I made her realize that it was not love to cause her pet to be obese. Anyway great article! Thank you for sharing the good info!

    1. Hi Joely, I’m so happy to hear Lyla is doing well – it’s amazing how much better they feel, and the change is beautiful to see. You’re right about equating food with love. I used to take care of a dog whose guardian was at work, and he was alone for hours. To compensate she would leave him so much food it was sickening. She was a lovely girl, she just had no clue. I started keeping him with me during the day so he wasn’t alone, he went on more walks, I didn’t give him the crap she left and the difference in him was remarkable. I tried to explain this to her before but she didn’t get it. She did get it when she saw the results!!

  15. This is a on going struggle with our 11 year old cattle dog mix, she has been battling weight grain for almost 80% of her life. She was a whopping 68 pounds and thankfully we have got her weight down to 46 pounds. She is much happier but is still so lazy so we are always getting her walks in and making sure her food is properly measured daily.

  16. Poor dogs. As a rescue volunteer, I am blown away by the HUGE dogs that come into our care. We often think of dogs that have been starved to death, but we can also feed them to death. Great post.

  17. Great information in this post, Hindy! Being overweight is unhealthy for any dog, but older dogs’ health will suffer even more. To many pet parents think a pudgy dog is “cute”, but there’s nothing cute about a dog whose healthy is at risk because he’s carrying extra weight!
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

    1. Thanks Cathy! I can’t understand how people think pudgy is cute, but if they don’t recognise their own and their childrens’ unhealthy weight, how can we expect them to recognise theirs pets’.

  18. It’s interesting that as the obesity rate in America has risen, the same can be said for dogs. What’s sad is that when we are lazy, it effects our dogs. I cringe when I hear people say that fat dogs are cute. It’s not cute and it’s not healthy. When I let Wynston gain 1 lb (which is a lot because he’s small) I felt like a horrible mom. It was my fault. It’s up to us to be our dog’s protectors. We owe it to them to keep them healthy.

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more Amanda. There has to be a connection – if some are eating themselves to obesity and a host of health problems, they’re doing it to their children and of course their pets as well. It’s sad to see this epidemic, and the medical issues that stem as a result. I truly hope when these people take their dogs to the vet, the staff give them a talking to.

  19. My Puggle mix was obese when we adopted him, although his stomach didn’t touch the ground. He has lost about 12 pounds.Even though he will always look a little heavy because he has a big chest and short legs, the vet says he’s at his ideal weight. It was clear when we brought him home that he had enjoyed table scraps with his previous family. I measure his food and try not to go overboard with treats.

    1. I know what you mean about looking a little heavy. Red is a small dog and is at a perfect weight, yet in certain positions she looks like a Budha! I think table scraps, and any food was a problem in her previous home as well. Because she’s limited in what she can eat, I give her squash as a treat, a bit of raw carrot, and bake her canned food until it’s firm, and use that.

  20. Thank you for spreading awareness about this issue what most pet parents don’t realize is that obesity is often a big cause of problems in their dogs

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