Expert tips to tackle dog obesity

How To Take Control Of Dog Obesity

Did you know that more than half of all American dogs are overweight? According to the APOP (Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, founded in 2005), a whopping 52.7% of American dogs are fat! The main contributing factor to this epidemic is the so called “Fat Gap” ~ referring to the unbelievable 93% (!) of owners of obese dogs who believe their dog’s weight is normal ~ this was the surprising result of a study conducted by the APOP in 2013.Why Are So Many Dogs Obese?Many owners have been conditioned by their pooches to dish out food whenever they “bark for some”, and to substitute attention with an increased amount of food and/or treats.

Did you know that dog obesity is a thing, and that more than half of all American dogs are overweight?

According to the APOP (Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, founded in 2005), a whopping 59% of American dogs were classified as fat or obese in 2022?!

The main contributing factor to this epidemic is the so called “Fat Gap”.

This gap refers to the unbelievable 93% (!) of owners of obese dogs who believe their dog’s weight is normal ~ this was the surprising result of a study conducted by the APOP in 2013.

How To Take Control Of Dog Obesity

How to combat dog obesity

Disclaimer: This blog post was originally published in 2016 and has been updated in 2023. It contains affiliate links I may earn compensation through at no additional cost to you. 

Why Are So Many Dogs Obese?

Many owners have been conditioned by their pooches to dish out food whenever they “bark for some”, and to substitute attention with an increased amount of food and/or treats. 

Begging dogs are rewarded with table scraps due to their pleading, “sad” doggie eyes owners just can’t resist.

Additionally, these dogs don’t get regular exercise.

Breeds especially prone to weight gain due to genetic predisposition are:

  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Dachshunds
  • Beagles
  • Cairn Terriers
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Collies
  • Shetland Sheepdogs
  • Basset Hounds

Physical Signs Of An Obese Dog

1. You can’t feel their ribs when you run your hands down your dog’s sides

2. The dog doesn’t have a waistline

3. The dog’s stomach sags

Health Risks In Obese Dogs

Dogs who are overweight are much more prone to:

  • Respiratory difficulties
  • Joint problems
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney failure 
  • Diabetes

Their quality of life is compromised, and their life expectancy drops drastically due to their overall decreased immune function.

Vet Check Up For Obese Dogs

If you suspect that your pooch belongs to the overweight half of America’s doggie population, please consult your vet to rule out any diseases contributing to obesity.

For example:

  • Insulinoma (tumor occurring in the pancreas causing increased insulin production)
  • Diabetes mellitus (not depending on insulin)
  • Abnormalities in pituitary gland (controls metabolism & appetite)
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Hyperthyroidism

However, these diseases only occur in 5% of dogs.

Once your vet has diagnosed obesity in your dog, he’ll discuss a diet plan for your pup.

Depending on his size, he should loose an average of 1-5 lbs per month.

The weight loss program should last about 6-8 months.

Tackling Those Excess Pounds In Obese Dogs

If a dog is completely out of shape, start building up his stamina very slowly, and increase the amount of exercise on a daily basis.

Severe cases of underexercised dogs may only be able to walk down the driveway and back home for the first few days.

It’s likely they’ll still be panting as if they had just returned from a 5 hour hike.

Sadly enough, I’ve experienced this in my capacity as a professional dog walker.

Walking 3 of my former dog walking clients
With 3 of my former dog walking clients, one of whom was severely obese

But, I’ve also experienced the fairly quick turnaround of consistent daily exercise for a few weeks.

As with all things in life, consistency and discipline are key in weight control.

Types of Exercise To Help Tackle Dog Obesity

1. Daily, brisk walks for a minimum of 30 mins.

2. Playtime & trick training.

3. Swimming for those who like it, which is especially gentle on joints.

For more information on where to take your dog swimming, click here.

You’ll also learn about water safety tips, fun dog toys that float & more!

Wally swimming in the Adriatic Sea on a leather leash
Taking my pup Wally for a swim in the ocean

Diet Tips To Help Tackle Dog Obesity

1. Feed a high-quality diet –  you won’t find this kind of dog food at your grocery store!

You’ll have to purchase it at an online pet food store like Raw Paws Pet Food (save 15% with code K9Savings), or make it yourself.

For some input on the latter, please check out my homemade raw dog food section here on the blog.

How to prepare low cost raw dog food

2. Don’t feed any dog food that contains cheep fillers like corn, artificial food-coloring, and harmful chemical preservatives such as BHA, BHT, TBHQ, and Ethoxyquin.

Avoid Overfeeding Your Dog To Tackle Dog Obesity

1. Monitor the amount you feed by taking notes. That way, you don’t lose track.

2. Don’t free-feed, but measure out meals, ideally at set times.

If you feed kibble and use a free feeder, only place the equivalent of one meal inside the feeder.

3. Don’t give in to begging; even better: Don’t allow begging!

Just ignore those “sad” puppy eyes.

No Unhealthy Table Scraps

1. Don’t feed your dog unhealthy, greasy leftover human foods.

2. Make sure your entire family is on the same page.

3. Instruct guests not to share any of their leftovers either.

Minimize The Treat QUANTITY & Maximize The Treat QUALITY Instead

1. Limit dog treats to a maximum of 10% of your dog’s daily caloric intake.

If you use treats for training purposes, make sure to use low-calorie treats, and don’t forget to cut back on your pup’s daily food intake.

2. Only feed healthy limited- or single-ingredient treats.

Choose the kind that are rich in natural glucosamine and chondroitin.

For example, dehydrated duck feet, chicken feet, or green lipped mussels.

Both benefit your dog’s joints and help with arthritis. 

Check out my healthy doggie popsicle recipes here – spoiler alert: some of them feature duck feet.

Our frosty paws turned out nicely

3. Have your pup work for treats, don’t just hand them out whenever he “asks” for one!

Have him perform a trick (e.g. “rollover“), or at least a basic command such as “sit” or “down” before giving him a goodie.

A little discipline regarding doggie mealtime & exercise will go a long way!

Let’s all take the pledge to be responsible dog owners, and providing a long and healthy life for our canine companions.

After all, they’re our best friends ~ don’t they also deserve the best treatment?

How do you ensure your pup stays in the healthy half of American dogs? As always, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below!

Related Reading:

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Barbara launched her blog K9sOverCoffee in 2014 and has been feeding her dogs raw dog food since 2015. As a former professional dog walker, she’s passionate about balancing species-appropriate exercise with healthy dog nutrition. Barbara is raw dog food nutrition certified from “Dogs Naturally Magazine” and the author of several e-books about minimally processed, balanced raw dog food.


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20 responses to “How To Take Control Of Dog Obesity”

  1. MilitaryWifeandPugLife Avatar

    Maddie gets overweight in the winter (like 4-5 lbs). It’s hard sometimes to get her out walking with her legs so bad. But normally she stays at a stable weight.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Aw, poor Maddie with her little legs. Have you tried cutting back on some of her food to make up for the decrease in exercise? That should help some 🙂

  2. Crystal Avatar
    Crystal

    I’m sorry, but you are wrong when you say ribs should never be visible. For many dogs having the last few ribs visible is absolutely a sign of healthy weight. I know many people with healthy weight dogs who get attacked when in public and accused of abuse or starving their dogs, and comments like yours above about if ribs are visible your dog is underweight just make it worse. SOME dogs whose ribs are visible are underweight. Not most, and certainly not all.

    1. Crystal Avatar
      Crystal

      I’ll add, if you want me to send you photos of dogs at healthy weight, I can get together a huge collection of healthy competitive sports dogs of a variety of breeds and mixes to send you. You’ll see a lot of ribs, and I promise, our dogs are healthy and not starving.

      1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

        I would absolutely love for you to share some pictures of healthy working dogs with us – it pains me seeing so many (severely) overweight dogs all the time that it would be a wonderful change to see their fit counterparts! You are welcome to share them right here on Disqus 🙂

    2. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Hi Cyrstal, thanks so much for stopping by! I am very excited about the fact that you keep your pups at a healthy weight. I suppose I should have clarified that I meant emaciated dogs whose entire rib cage is showing. I myself know several dogs whose last few ribs are slightly showing – they aren’t working dogs, but just have a high metabolism.

      P.S. I need to add that I would never attack people in public, that’s not my style & not my place.

  3. 2 brown dawgs blog Avatar

    If Labs hunted as they were bred to do, they would not be overweight. 🙂 I think a big contributor to obesity is the idea of using treats for every little bit of training. And I will agree that on a working dog, ribs may be visible. Also senior dogs should be kept lighter than when they were younger. Less wear and tear on joints. Due to loss of muscle mass, ribs may be visible on them.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      I absolutely agree – as I just mentioned below in the reply to Crystal’s comment, I meant emaciated dogs whose rib cages are showing. I should have clarified that.
      Yes, too many high calorie training treats and not balancing them out with less food at mealtimes will pack on a nice cushion real quick.

  4. Julie Smith Avatar
    Julie Smith

    I have never had to think about this with Daisy or with Cocoa. I think it is because we are so active and run and play and hopefully make sure their physical as well as mental health is good. I also am lucky because both of them have full access to food and only eat what they want and then walk away. I could learn from them, lol!!

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      I love that you’re so active with Miss Cocoa, Julie!! – every now & then I need a little reminder about that lesson as well… 😉

  5. Elaine Avatar

    Wonderful post and advice, Barbara! One thing I realized with Haley is when giving treats, she doesn’t notice the difference between a small treat and a larger one. In our human minds we do notice so we sometimes might think our dogs will notice too and feel slighted if we only give them a small bite, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference to them. Haley’s just happy to get something.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Thank you, Elaine! You’re making a very good point – Missy & Buzz are just as happy as Haley to get something, regardless of its size 😉

  6. Emma Avatar
    Emma

    We see the problem all the time and read about it as well, but last fall at our vet check when our vet said she loves to see us and examine us because it is so rare to find really fit dogs let alone a family with three. She almost always has to have weight conversations with pet parents. It is very sad. Love is more than food. Eat to live, not live to eat.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Is is super sad – your vet sounds exactly like ours. She always tells us how frustrating it is to spend the vast majority of her days having weight-related conversations with her patients’ humans.

      I couldn’t agree more with your “eat to live, not live to eat” statement.

  7. Kate Obrien Avatar
    Kate Obrien

    You know we LOVE this post – great tips and advice for folks – now if we can only convince those millions of people with fat dogs!

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      LOL, I do 😉 This is right up your alley! Thanks so much for all the wonderful posts and ideas on how to keep our K9 friends fit! ***Let’s tackle the people with fat dogs, one by one!***

  8. Cathy C Bennett Avatar
    Cathy C Bennett

    We don’t eat raw (dehydrated human grade) but we try to eat healthy. I am big on portion control. I measure everything. This is an excellent post. Thanks so much for writing – have a great weekend!

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Thanks so much, Cathy! I’m excited to read that you feed dehydrated human grade food, that’s a very healthy alternative to raw. I feed dehydrated or freeze-dried food every now & then as well (usually when we’re in-between raw shipments or if I forgot to take some raw out of the freezer to thaw).

      P.S. I had a grand weekend, which is why I only reply now – after having worked non-stop for several months, I finally decided I needed to not work on a weekend. It was refreshing & much needed! I hope you had a great weekend as well!

  9. Tenacious Little Terrier Avatar
    Tenacious Little Terrier

    Mr. N gets his treats for training and he gets tiny, tiny bites usually. Also we exercise with him every day.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Mr. N always looks to be in great shape in every single photo I’ve seen of him! Your exercise routine & disciplined treating/feeding definitely shows!

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