How to Help Fat Dogs Get Slim

How to help fat dogs get slim

How to help fat dogs get slim

It is absolutely heart wrenching when I see really fat dogs. Their backs look 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? There were times I couldn’t help myself and stopped to chat, casually working their dog’s weight into the conversation. Diplomacy is something I have to really work on but I think I did a pretty good job!! 

What continues to shock me is how blase they are. I casually recount my tale of rescuing an obese dog, my sweet girl Red, the steps I took to help her lose weight and how easy it was. I even give them the name of my vet. I’d bet money on none of them even remembering our conversation after they walked away, but I hope I’m wrong. 

How to help fat dogs get slim


 Sobering statistics

In a 2017 survey by The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), results show that 56% of all dogs in the U.S. and 60% of cats are overweight or obese. That means there are 50.2 million dogs above a healthy weight in the U.S. How scary is it that these numbers increase every year!!

The PDSA (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals) in the UK has come out with its 2018 Animal Welfare Report and it’s worth a read that’s for sure. Here are a few of the stats that are very unsettling –  

Of the 1.4 million dogs in the UK, 16% are walked less than once a day and 89,000 are never walked at all

Vets and vet nurses estimated that 46% of the dogs they see in their practice each week are overweight or obese

55% of “owners” have no idea their dogs are overweight or obese

32% of veterinary professionals only discuss weight if their patient is overweight or obese, yet 98% feel there should be more emphasis on obesity prevention


I lived with a fat dog…but not for long!!

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

The poor thing couldn’t take more than a couple of steps without panting and having to sit. Being so small (she was a Chihuahua/Min Pin) with skinny little legs, 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. She started off eating Hills Prescription Diet r/d then switched to w/d for maintenance. She didn’t stay on it long term it was just to help her get to her ideal weight. 

Why dogs are fat 

Most of the time dogs are fat because they eat too much and exercise too little, and it’s as simple as that!  Okay it’s true that other issues could be responsible for weight gain such as hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and Cushing’s but that isn’t often the reason.

How to tell if your dog needs to lose a few pounds 

Not that long ago knowing a dog’s ideal weight was pretty easy to figure out. We knew roughly the weight of dogs such as Labradors, Chihuahuas and Shi Tzus for example. Nowadays with the poodle doodles as my husband calls them, the Shipoos and the rest of the combos, the old charts aren’t as helpful as they once were.

The best advice I can give you is to make an appointment with your vet and let him or her tell you the magic number. 

my dog needs to lose weight 

Why your dog should be at a healthy weight

Keeping your dog at a healthy weight decreases the chances of him suffering from arthritis and other health challenges, he’s able to exercise and play and have an overall better quality of life.

Are you killing your dog with kindness? 

You may not realise how dangerous little or no exercise and too much food can be, but it’s a serious problem. I know no one is doing anything to hurt their dog intentionally, and I also know the extra food is a way of showing love and even assuaging guilt. I had a couple of dog walking clients who were fat, and their parents were such wonderfully kind people they really did love their pups. They felt bad leaving them alone for so many hours so left food to compensate. 

You could see –  

  • Shorter life expectancy
  • Poor quality of life
  • Strain/damage to joints and bones
  • Arthritis and worsening of existing arthritis 
  • Difficulty coping in the heat
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Trouble breathing and making respiratory disorders worse
  • Poor condition of coat and skin
  • Greater risk during surgery
  • Diabetes or insulin resistance
  • 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 can add 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 a fatty liver cannot break down anesthetic as efficiently as a healthy one, so your dog will take longer to come out of the anesthesia.

fat dogs

Is it safe for old dogs to lose weight?

A better question would be, is it safe for them not to! 

My dog needs to lose weight…what’s the first step? 

The first step is booking an appointment with your vet, and while you wait for that day here are a few things you can start doing right now. 

No more feeding table scraps

No more unhealthy treats

If you do need/want to give him a treat, try something healthier like a piece of raw carrot or raw apple (no seeds). Check out one ingredient dehydrated treats or make your own, there are tons of recipes on Pinterest  

Exercise – the type and intensity will depend on the health and condition of your dog

If you have other pets don’t let him near their food, and separate him at meal time if you must. If you leave food out all day for the others you may need to start feeding on a schedule. Can the dog get to your cat’s food? If yes put it out of reach.

The Plan

At the vet your dog will be weighed, then a goal weight will be set. After that, you will discuss a diet and exercise regime. I believe most practices offer a free weight loss clinic where you meet regularly with a nurse to discuss progress. 

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


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, gradually increase the ratio of new to old until he’s switched over. It should take about a week or so until he’s only eating the new food.

Some vets may recommend a raw or home cooked diet.



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!!

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 healthy dog treats. You’ll know exactly what ingredients go in them, giving you better control over what your dog is eating. 


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.

Your dog may not be able to take an hour long walk in one go, but he probably could do 3 or 4 15 minute walks throughout the 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 colder find out if there is a doggie pool in your area. 

How to help fat dogs get slim – conclusion

I hope you have found this article helpful, and you see how easy it is to get your dog to a healthy weight.

What was the cause of your dog being overweight? Did you adopt him like that? Was it due to medication or illness or does he know who to wrap around his paw to get what he wants!! What steps did you take, or are you currently taking to get him down to his ideal weight? Sharing helps others so please leave your comments below. 


I would like to invite you to join Senior Dog Care Club, a 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

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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 🙂


    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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