How to Know If Your Dog Is Overweight

Help Your Dog Lose WeightAmericans are noticing the problem of obesity in almost every part of society. Weight issues are also a problem for our pets. Studies suggest that approximately 25 – 40 percent of dogs the in the US are overweight. Obesity is just as problematic for dogs as it is for humans, and for this reason, pet owners should find out if their dog is overweight.

Excess weight places a dog at risk for a multitude of health problems including cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, depression, respiratory problems and joint /skeletal disorders. Knowing how to recognize the signs of obesity and take corrective action is important. But more important is knowing how to keep your dog in good condition to start, thus avoiding the onset of obesity in the first place.

Defining The Problem: Overweight Dogs

There is a nine point system that most veterinarians adhere to when evaluating the size of a pet, 1 being extremely thin and 9 being tremendously obese. The ideal is a score of five.

In order to determine this measurement, several factors come into play. One, the contour of a dog’s ribs should be easy to feel. Ribs that are visible to the eye specify that the animal is too thin and ribs that cannot be felt through the fat indicate the animal is overweight. A rough scale you can use follows:


Dogs with ribs, hips, and other bones protrude and are visible from a distance. Emaciated dogs show a loss of muscle as well as an absence of body fat.

Very Thin:

A step up from emaciated; bones are visible but not as prominent and muscle loss is slight.


Ribs and top of spine may be visible and the pelvic bones prominent. (Some breeds are naturally thin, so don’t be fooled at the bony appearance of Salukis, Afghan Hounds and other sighthounds.) Waist and tuck-up are evident.


Some fat on the ribs; visible waist and abdominal tuck-up.


Ribs are easily felt and have a thin layer of fat. Waist and tuck-up are obvious but not exaggerated.


Ribs have noticeable fat; waist and tuck-up are discernible but not prominent.


Ribs are covered with a heavy layer of fat and noticeable fat deposits appear on the spine and
at the base of the tail. Waist is absent or barely discernible.


A heavy fat layer completely obscures ribs and heavy fat deposits appear over he spine and around the tail base. Waist and tuck-up disappear.


Massive fat deposits in the chest area, along the spine, and around the tail base. No waist or tuck-up. Abdomen protrudes, and fat deposits accrue on legs and neck.

Where to Look

You can use this assessment on other parts of the body as well, like the tail. Where the tale joins to the body, there should be a slight layer of fat that keeps the bones from protruding but still allows them to be detected by touch. The same goes for several other places such as the shoulders, hips, and spine. All of these inspections are rated on the 9 point scale and recorded for later calculation. Remember that a score of five is ideal.

The second step of weight evaluation is to observe the size of the pet. By looking down from directly above the animal, the contour of a dog’s body is easily viewed. There should be a very clear waist area on dogs producing an hourglass figure for a rating of 5.

Another observation should be taken from the side angle. Dogs have what is known as an abdominal tuck, behind the rib cage where the abdomen is smaller than the rib cage. This observation can be quite confusing due to the fact that different breeds naturally have different size abdominal tucks. Greyhounds are an example of a breed that has an unusually large rib cage and an extremely small lower abdomen. It is important to be breed specific when coming up with score for this observation.

Once the measurements have been taken, an average of the numbers recorded will provide a ballpark calculation of the pet’s weight evaluation. If the number is over seven, then there is a good chance the animal is at a health risk for obesity.

If you believe your dog is overweight, you should first visit a veterinarian to conclude whether the animal has any other health complications and if it is safe, a weight reduction plan can begin. A local vet can also help decide on what sort of diet or exercise program will work best for a particular dog. By keeping a close eye on the size of your pet, you can prevent their weight from becoming out of control and may likely save their life.

Causes for Canine Obesity

Weight gain occurs when the amount of calories consumed exceeds the amount of calories expended on a daily basis. Weight gain may be slow and gradual or occur rapidly depending on caloric intake versus expenditure. The causes of obesity generally fall into three categories: overfeeding, genetic predisposition and hormonal disorders.


The most common cause of obesity in dogs is overfeeding coupled with inactivity. The strong human-animal bond can lead to overfeeding and snacking. It’s hard to resist those cute sad eyes, and many of us give in to the temptation to sneak our dogs a taste of whatever we’re eating. Feeding leftovers or giving frequent snacks or treats often leads to an overweight dog. Finally, the fact that our dogs lead a more confined, sedentary lifestyle contributes to the obesity problem.

Genetic Predisposition

Certain breeds seem to be more susceptible to obesity than others including beagles, basset hounds, dachshunds and Labrador retrievers. While some breeds of dog may gain weight more easily, it does not mean an animal must become overweight. Maintaining a healthy body weight requires more careful attention to the amount of food and exercise your dog receives.

Hormonal Disorders

Diseases which impact hormone balances in dogs may contribute to the development of obesity. These include thyroid or pituitary gland dysfunction.
Castration and spaying also alter the hormonal balance of dogs, sometimes causing reduced activity and changes in metabolism. These factors can contribute to obesity and increase the need for carefully controlling food intake and increasing exercise in neutered dogs.

Dog Weight Control Guidelines

As they saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!” Preventing excess weight gain is the best approach to weight control in dogs (and humans). It is much more difficult to take the weight off once it has been gained. If you think your dog is at risk of becoming overweight or if he is already carrying a few extra pounds review the following guidelines for helpful tips:

  1. Avoid feeding table scraps and treats. These are often high in fat and calories which contributes weight gain.
  2. If you use treats to train your dog, consider using low-calorie dog treats.
  3. Reduce the size of your dog’s meals, especially if you train with treats. In fact, it is best to measure the amount of food your give your dog at each serving for consistency.
  4. Increase the amount of exercise your dog receives. This can simply mean an extra walk or 10 minutes additional playtime. It will do you both good!
  5. Consult your vet before beginning any weight reduction program.
  6. Keep in mind that most dogs will need to be kept on a weight reducing program for 8 – 10 months to achieve reach goal weight.

To keep your dog at his ideal body weight or to help your pooch shed a few extra pounds be sure to feed a high-quality natural dog food diet, use portion control, limit the amount of treats and snacking and provide lots of exercise. These steps will help your dog live a longer, leaner and more enjoyable life.