All under control - How to keep your pet at a healthy weight

Did you know that around 56% of all domestic dogs are overweight? Although this number varies depending on country and survey, it's clear to see a growing trend in the number of overweight dogs from year to year.

Why is that? In some cases, our dogs are simply being fed too much food and too many scrumptious snacks. There are are also certain health conditions that can have an impact.

So what can be done about it? Read on to find lots of information about obesity and weight gain in dogs, as well as tips to help your podgy pooch slim down!

Diet FoodDiet Food
Light FoodLight Food

The first step in overcoming the problem of your dog being overweight or obese is to recognise that it is a problem at all! The best way to find this out is to consult your vet. However, you can use a few simple steps to make an initial assessment yourself at home.

How to work out if your dog is overweight

Place your hands loosely around your dog's rib cage and move them slowly up and down. If you are easily able to feel your dog's ribs, then you have nothing to worry about. However, if you have to press hard to find the ribs, it is likely that your dog is overweight.

Another way to figure out if your dog is carrying more weight than it should be is to look at its general body shape, particularly from above. If its waist is no longer clearly defined and the stomach or body are looking at all rounded, then your dog probably has a weight problem that needs to be addressed.

What can cause your dog to be overweight?

The most common causes of weight gain in dogs are simple: getting too little exercise or eating too many calories! It is often the case that overweight dogs are simply eating more than they need, but it could also be that your dog's food is too high in energy for its nutritional needs.

Other factors can also cause your dog to gain weight, including certain health conditions, general ageing, sterilisation or neutering, and psychological stress. Therefore, it is important that you consult with your vet before deciding how to tackle the problem, so that you can find the true cause and rule out any potential illnesses.

What can happen if your dog is overweight?

There can be a variety of health implications if your dog is obese or overweight. 

As well as leading to a lower quality of life and restricting your dog's mobility, obesity can also increase the risk of your dog suffering with joint problems, respiratory diseases and diabetes

Being overweight or obese can also reduce your dog's life expectancy by an average of two years compared with dogs of the same breed that maintain their ideal healthy weight.

Are there any dog breeds more prone to weight-gain?

There are some dog breeds that are more likely to be overweight or obese than others. These include Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Beagles, Dachshunds, Cocker Spaniels and Collies. They all either have a genetically lower energy need than other dogs, or they simply love to eat. (Looking at you Labradors!)

The right food for overweight dogs

What is the difference between diet and light food?
What is the difference between a diet dog food and light food?

A diet dog food is a dish that has been specially tailored to meet the nutritional needs of pets suffering from certain health conditions. For example, there are diet foods for dogs with diabetes or with kidney problems, and these should only be fed to your dog after consultation with your vet. Therefore, a diet dog food is not always a suitable choice for weight loss.

However, a light dog food is one that has a reduced calorie content. This should be your first port of call in ensuring your dog does not eat too much and can therefore lose some weight.

Happy, healthy & on track - with the zooplus Food Advisor

zooplus product advisor

With our zooplus food advisor, we'll help guide you to a suitable product for your dog, whether they need to lose a bit of weight or not. Try now!

What to consider when changing your dog's diet

  1. The most important thing to remember is that a feed change must always be done gradually. A slow, careful approach helps to ensure your dog accepts its new food and is a great way to check it will not suffer any adverse reactions from the change in diet.
  2. Always follow the feeding guidelines or the recommendation given by your vet. Every pack of dog food will come with recommended daily servings depending on your dog's target weight - even a few grams more than your dog needs per day can prevent successful weight loss.
  3. Make sure no-one is feeding your dog titbits or leftovers! Of course you can factor treats into your dog's diet, but be sure to reduce main meal quantities to allow for it. You can also look into choosing healthier treat options.

A really important point to note is that you should never put your dog on a 'half-rations' diet if it is overweight. Rather than supporting healthy weight loss, this could simply mean that your dog is missing out on vital nutrients.

Which nutrients are particularly important in light dog food?

A good light dog food is characterised by three main features. It should have a lower crude fat content and higher crude fibre (dietary fibre) content than normal food. It is also important that the crude protein content is consistently high, as this will help to keep your dog's muscles strong and ensure your dog is losing fat rather than this vital muscle.

You can find more on nutrition for overweight dogs in our zooplus Magazine!
  • Dry Food
  • Wet Food
  • Low-calorie Snacks

Exercise is key in fighting obesity in dogs

Dog holding a lead in its mouth
Increase exercise slowly and steadily

The basic rule with exercise is not to overdo it - for you or for your dog. Losing weight is a gradual process that can take time.

As exercise needs to be a daily part of life, it is important that you and your dog both enjoy it and ease into it. A good first step is to start by extending the previous walk a little bit every day. Once this becomes habit, you can start to add in other exercises or meet up with other dog owners so that your pets can burn some energy through play.

For dogs that are overweight or obese, you should also pay extra special attention to their joint health. This could be in the form of taking nutritional supplements, or with movement aids such as ramps. You can also find orthopaedic dog beds that offer joint and spinal support.

Small steps to stop your dog gaining excess weight

As well as the classic walking, there are other activities and exercise you can try with your dog to help keep obesity at bay. However, you should be sure to check with your vet before starting anything new.

  • Swimming is an ideal choice for severely overweight dogs. It relieves pressure from the joints and is a great way to gently exercise the whole body.
  • Playing fetch is something that almost every dog will enjoy! Whether at home, in the garden or in a local park, this simple game can build the bond between you as well as helping to burn calories.
  • Incorporate little things into your daily walks, such as getting your dog to balance on tree trunks or jump over ditches. Every extra movement helps!
  • Dog sports are also a great option, offering plenty of fun. This could be frisbee, football or dancing, all of which promote activity as well as being an enjoyable experience. If your dog has a real talent for sport, you could even give agility training a try!
  • Enroll your dog in a fitness programme, or set up your own at home! Teach your dog to sit on command whenever you do a squat - by turning it into a game, your dog will be much happier to get involved. Or have you ever tried dog yoga?
  • If your dog is already seeing the benefits of weight loss or is that little bit fitter, you can even jog, hike or cycle together.

There are numerous ways to get your dog involved in activity and dog sports. Find out the best choice for you and your dog in our zooplus Magazine!

Is agility training suitable for overweight dogs?

Agility involves running through timed obstacle courses and is not suitable for overweight or obese dogs. This is partly because your dog would be overexerting itself and would quickly become exhausted, but also because this type of exercise places a lot of strain on the joints, which are already overworked in overweight dogs.

Degility training, however, is ideal! It is a clever new concept that places the focus on the movements themselves, rather than speed. The exercises are not timed, meaning you can focus on making sure your dog is using the right form. This also makes it a good choice for overweight puppies.

Find out more about agility in the zooplus Magazine!

How to keep your dog in great shape

The right diet

Look out for species-appropriate nutrition and make sure you choose the right food

Weigh your dog's daily ration

Work out your dog's daily food allowance and be sure to include treats in this calculation

Take your dog for regular, long walks

Take long walks several times a day

Play fetch or other fun games with your dog

Make games and dog sports a regular part of your dog's daily life

Regularly check your dog for signs they have gained excess weight.

Check to see if you can feel your dog's ribs easily, and keep an eye on their silhouette

Take your dog to the vet for regular check-ups.

Weigh your dog often and visit the vet on a regular basis