How to tell if your dog is overweight and what to do about it.

With pet obesity on the rise, making sure your dog is a healthy weight is an important part of caring for their wellbeing. Find the facts on dog obesity here, and discover how you can help your dog avoid it.

Canine obesity is about more than just how your dog looks – it can affect their health as well. Making sure your dog is a healthy weight is an important part of being a responsible dog owner.

If you’re worried your dog might be overweight, speak to your vet for tailored advice.

The PAW Report and its findings on the average dog weight

The PDSA 2023 PAW Report uncovered some trends around pet obesity including:

  • Vet professionals estimate that 46% of dogs are overweight or obese.
  • 80% of dog owners don’t know their dog’s current body condition score (BDS).
  • Only 56% of dog owners know how much their dog should weigh.
  • 32% of dog owners don’t know what their dog’s current weight is.

If humans find that eating right and exercising regularly is difficult, especially in the colder months, that goes for our canine companions as well. Your dog may have gained weight and you might not even have noticed. It’s no surprise that if your dog has been exercising less and eating more, they may be a little heavier in the winter than they were in the summer.

How much should my dog weigh?

Your dog’s ideal weight depends on their breed, age and gender. A good indication of whether your dog is a healthy weight is if you can’t see their ribs, but you can feel them when running your hands gently down their sides. They should also have a visible waist when viewed from above. Try body condition scoring – a body weight test that can be carried out by your vet, to see whether your dog needs to lose weight.

Like us, obese animals can develop health conditions including heart disease, diabetes and arthritis. It may also be difficult for them to breathe, especially the flat-faced (brachycephalic) breeds, such as BulldogsBoxers and Pugs.

What is the best diet for overweight dogs?

Does your dog need to lose some centimetres from their middle? Start by monitoring their current diet. Avoid allowing them to snack or have treats from the table, and make sure that other family members are on the same page.

UK Pet Food (previously known as the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, or PFMA) says you should feed your dog to their ideal body weight, not their actual body weight.

Take a look at the feeding guides on the pet food packet (or on the manufacturer’s website). Make sure that you also take into account other sources of food, such as treats. 

Rather than using a cup or other volume measure, weigh out your dog’s food according to the feeding instructions. Feeding your dog a mere 10% more than they need means that they will become 10% overweight.

If your dog is considered to be overweight, before deciding upon a diet or an exercise regime, it is important that your vet performs an assessment to ensure that your pet doesn’t have an underlying medical condition such as an underactive thyroid gland for example. If your pet does get the all-clear from the vet, the vet can recommend an appropriate calorie-controlled diet and how much to feed in order to achieve an appropriate rate of weight loss of 1–2% body weight per week.

Exercise to avoid dog obesity

It’s important to make sure that your dog doesn’t miss out on regular exercise. You may already walk your dog daily, but in the winter, you might find that you miss a few more walks than normal or take shorter walks, especially if it’s cold outside. It’s a good idea to play indoor games with your dog to help keep them active at home; here are a few to try:

  • Here, boy! Enhance a game of fetch by introducing techniques used when training search dogs. Hide your dog’s favourite toy so that they must try to sniff it out. Guide your dog to where it’s hidden, then watch them use their superb sense of smell to find the toy.
  • Hide and seek. Hide from your dog when they aren’t looking, then call them to you. As soon as your dog finds you, praise them.
  • Resist temptation. This game helps to train your dog to come to you on demand. It’s fun to play and dogs tend to pick it up quite quickly. Ask a family member to hold your dog at one end of the room and lay their toys and healthy treats, such as slices of carrot or apple, in two parallel lines. Stand at the other end of the room and call your dog to come to you, ensuring that they walk between the two lines. Each time your dog manages without succumbing to the temptation of picking up a toy or a treat, praise them for it.
  • Tug-of-war. Encourage your dog to grab a soft toy by saying ‘get it’ or ‘grab it’. When they’ve taken hold of it, keep your dog interested by shaking the toy, up and down, and backwards and forwards. During the game, stop tugging and say ‘leave’ (just once) while moving your hands towards your body and then keeping them still. Your dog may continue tugging but will eventually release the grip. Allow your dog to ‘win’ the toy sometimes to help build their confidence.
  • Time to tidy up. Teaching your dog to put their toys away is a fun game (and helps you, too). All you need is a basket and a few of your dog’s toys. Scatter the toys on the floor near the basket and encourage them to pick up one toy at a time and give it to you by holding out your hand. Each time they give you a toy, reward them with praise or a treat. Then show your dog how you put each toy they give you in the basket. You may have to help your dog at first, but eventually, they should put the toys into the basket, rather than giving the toy to you. Remember to reward your dog every time they do this. 

Brain training

Finally, let’s not forget it can be just as boring for dogs as it can be for us to be stuck indoors in the winter. Keep your dog entertained with an interactive brain game, such as a toy that has snacks inside. This also encourages weight loss by making dogs work for their food.

Don’t forget that while treats keep these games interesting for your dog, you’ll need to subtract any snacks from their daily calorie intake. If you’re concerned that your dog is overweight, or if they have suddenly lost or gained weight, make sure that you speak to your vet.

And when the weather brightens up, here are seven ideas for exercising your dog outdoors.

What games do you play with your dog to keep them active? Share your stories and photos with us on Facebook or Instagram using the hashtag #PethoodStories.

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