Did you know that over half of all pet dogs are overweight?
Obesity is one of the most common issues encountered in small animal practice. While excess pounds don’t always look harmful (or even obvious), they can predispose dogs to diseases, a shorter lifespan, and a poorer quality of life.
There are lots of reasons behind weight gain, some of which are out of our control, but diet is often a key factor. If your dog is eating too much food, or eating food that’s not giving them the nutrients they need to thrive, weight gain (and all the issues that come with it) becomes a likely issue.
Below we’ll give you the tools to identify an overweight dog, as well as some handy tips to help your furry friend lose excess pounds and adopt a healthier lifestyle.
How to identify an overweight dog
Many pet guardians don't realize their pets are overweight (especially if they’ve got a fluffy coat!), but it’s important to be able to recognize a problem before it starts developing.
Use your eyes and your hands to assess your dog’s weight and size regularly, by examining their:
- Side profile - sit on the ground beside your dog so their body is at eye level. Their abdomen should be higher up than their ribcage. A severe tuck suggests they’re underweight, whereas no tuck at all suggests they’re overweight.
- Ribs & spine – place both your thumbs on your dog's spine and open your hands over their ribcage. If your pet is a healthy weight, you’ll be able to feel their ribs under their coat and skin. Do the same test on their spine by running your hands along it gently. You should be able to feel bones, but they shouldn't be protruding.
- Birds-eye profile – stand just in front of your dog’s face and look down on them. Ideally, their shape will resemble an hourglass (you’ll be able to see their waist tucked in slightly behind the ribs). If their waist is extremely narrow, they’re likely underweight, and if it bulges out past their ribs, they’re overweight.
Use this dog weight chart to see how close your dog is to their ideal body shape:
Age & breed considerations
Some breeds are naturally lean (such as greyhounds or whippets), whereas
others (such as labradors or retrievers) are predisposed to weight gain. If you have one of these larger breeds, or a dog that would give your waste disposal a run for its money, it's a good idea to plop them on the scales regularly so you can track their weight.
The age of your dog will also play a role. Puppies need more calories per day than their older counterparts, but some pet guardians forget to slowly reduce their puppy’s food intake once they reach adulthood - which is where extra pounds start creeping in.
Senior dogs are also likely to gain weight due to their metabolism slowing down, so it’s important to reduce their food intake accordingly.
Use our feeding calculator as a guide to calculate the right amount of food for your dog at each life stage.
Why a fat dog needs help from their pet guardian
There’s a long list of health issues that arise from being overweight, including:
- Trouble breathing and lung problems
- Sore joints
- Hip dysplasia
- Immune system problems
- Heart problems
- High blood pressure
- Reduced lifespan
Studies also suggest a number of negative food-related behaviors, such as guarding and stealing food, can be attributed to weight problems.
If you’ve realized your dog may be overweight, the good news is that you can help them! There are simple diet and lifestyle changes you can make - starting today - that will help get your dog’s weight under control.
What you can do to get your dog to a healthy weight
No free feeding
The first thing you’ll need to do is stop free feeding (constantly refilling your dog’s bowl and leaving it for your dog to graze on all day). Free feeding isn’t ideal for a dog with weight issues as you have no control over their food portions, and unfortunately for them - portion control is key to losing weight!
Say no to treats & processed foods, but yes to meat!
Cut back on extra treats (the after-dinner scraps, the bites of your toast… they all add up!) and consider switching from a processed diet to a nutrient-dense and biologically-appropriate one. In other words - stop feeding your dog high-carb kibble and switch to a high-meat diet, like ZIWI Peak. When feeding a high-meat diet, the diet your dog was designed to eat, you’ll notice that a little goes a long way. It will also excite your dog’s taste buds and leave them feeling satisfied!
Calculate their food intake
If you make the switch to ZIWI, it’s important to understand our recipes are extremely nutrient dense (a standard cup of ZIWI will have more calories than a standard cup of kibble), which means calculating your dog’s food intake is the best way to ensure you’re giving them the right amount of food each day.
Every dog’s metabolism, genetics, and exercise levels will be different, but you can use our feeding calculator as a general guide to work out how much food your dog needs to thrive. If they’re slightly overweight, we suggest feeding your dog the amount recommended for their ideal weight (not their current weight). Once they get there, it’s easy to help them maintain this healthy weight because our recipes are full of highly digestible, high-quality protein from meat and organs - without the added carbohydrates or sugars.
If your dog is severely overweight, however, it’s important to reduce their food intake slowly, in very small increments. Don't just jump straight to the quantity recommended for their ideal weight, as this can be dangerous for their health.
Tip: when calculating your dog’s daily food intake, remember to account for everything they eat (including special treats and training rewards), as calories add up quickly!
Different dogs have different exercise needs (so it’s worth doing your research and speaking with your vet for guidance), but the most important thing is to prioritize exercise every day. Whether it’s playing fetch, running, or chasing a frisbee, find ways to make exercise a fun part of your daily routine. Physical activity isn't just great to help with weight loss, it’s important for your dog’s overall health and happiness too!
Helping your canine companion lose weight requires a few lifestyle and diet changes, but if you commit to the journey, it’s one you and your dog will really enjoy. A healthy weight and body composition for them means less stress, worry, and vet bills for you. It’s a win-win!