top of page

Weight Loss in Dogs: Challenges of the “Chubby” Dog Epidemic! (Part 1)

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

In 2018, statistics showed that 56% of dogs were overweight or obese when they visited their vet for an annual checkup1. We are now more sedentary than ever: living in condensed cities, making do in small apartments, and generally being far away from beautiful, lush green spaces.

Unfortunately, this means dog obesity rates have probably continued to climb.

Weight loss (and management) in dogs is essential to ensure our dogs live longer, healthier lives. Although your chubby dog is adorable, it is a fact overweight and obese body conditions reduce the quality of life and longevity of our precious pets 1,2,3,7!

Skip Ahead
  1. Challenge #1: Being Able to Recognize Your Dog Is Overweight

  2. Challenge #2: Realizing That Obesity and Disease Go Hand-In-Hand

  3. Challenge #3: Promoting an Unhealthy Relationship With Food and Your Pet

  4. Challenge #4: Begging Behaviour

  5. Challenge #5: Believing Exercise Is the Magic Fix All!

  6. Challenge #6: Knowing the Proper Daily Feeding Amounts for Your Dog

  7. Challenge #7: Properly Measuring a Successful (Or Not So Successful) Weight Loss Journey

  8. Challenge #8: Losing the Weight and Then Going Back to “Life as Usual”

Weight Loss in Dogs: Challenges of the “Chubby” Dog Epidemic! (Part 1)

What You Need to Know About Dog Obesity and Weight Loss in Dogs

First and foremost, before undertaking any weight loss plan, you should be checking with your veterinarian to be sure that your dog does not have any medical conditions or diseases that may be causing the weight gain (or preventing the weight loss).

Remember, your veterinarian and veterinary staff are your best tools to help you help your pet lose weight safely—and maintain an ideal body condition after they do.

So, why is it really that important to keep your dog at a healthy weight?

Simply put, overweight or obese dogs are in a constant state of unregulated inflammation2. Did you know that a dog carrying as little as five extra pounds (above their ideal weight) can be more at risk for a number of serious medical conditions such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and osteoarthritis? This is because excess fatty tissue acts as a source of inflammation in the body, and long-term chronic inflammation leads to some of the debilitating diseases mentioned before 1,2,3,7.

Being chronically overweight also puts your dog in more danger of developing other conditions like urinary tract infections, skin infections, high blood pressure, and heart and lung conditions 1,2,3,7. Not only will their overall health be impacted, but their day-to-day quality of life will take a hit as well since obese pets tend to be less playful and lay around more 1,3. Unfortunately, this can contribute to the cycle as less active pets just become more and more unhealthy and overweight.

What we’re trying to say here is that keeping a pet overweight shortens their lifespan and general quality of life—we know that every single pet parent we have talked to wants the exact opposite of this 6!

What You Need to Know About Dog Obesity and Weight Loss in Dogs

Weight Loss & Maintenance Is a Constant Challenge

Take a second and relate to your adorably chubby dog: If you’ve ever struggled with weight loss yourself, or have known someone who has struggles, then you understand it’s a difficult journey that never truly ends! It’s the same for your dog, except they need even more help from us to keep them on track.

Some of the Challenges That You and Your Dog May Face Include (But Are Not Limited To):

Challenge #1: Being Able to Recognize Your Dog Is Overweight

Many pet owners are unaware—don’t worry, we are always learning new information. Nor have many of us been taught the skills that veterinarians have to determine a Body Condition Score (BCS) on a dog. And honestly, most veterinarians find bringing up the topic of obesity difficult.

If it’s easier, think of it as working to decrease the disease of chronic inflammation in your pet's body, instead of focusing on the fact your pet may be a bit chunky. If we all focus on the well-being of our individual pets, then doing what is right for their quality of life, longevity and disease prevention should not be a difficult conversation. If your vet does not offer this information, ask!

Here Are Some Tips for When Going for a Vet Visit:

  • Your veterinarian should be doing a full BCS on your dog each time it comes in, and it should be noted in their medical records

  • Ask your vet what that body condition number score is

  • Although every vet is different, on a chart that scores body condition from 1 to 9, the ideal is 4-5 and overweight is anything above 6

  • 6 = overweight, 7 = moderately overweight, 8 = severely overweight, 9 = obese

  • Ask your vet how to perform a BCS on your pet, AND do it regularly at home! WSAVA has a brilliant free chart available to print and keep at the ready to do your bi-monthly BCS!

Being Able to Recognize Your Dog Is Overweight

Challenge #2: Realizing That Obesity and Disease Go Hand-In-Hand

Yes, pets that are chubby with a little extra chunk are very endearing; however, from a health and longevity perspective, being overweight is nothing to laugh at. As we mentioned below, many diseases and cancers have been linked to pet obesity.

If everyone truly realized how devastating obesity was to their pets, we can all agree that more of us would be focused on keeping our precious pets’ waistlines thinner. There is no argument: Maintaining an ideal body weight will keep our pets around (and healthy) for much longer!

Challenge #3: Promoting an Unhealthy Relationship With Food and Your Pet

Put your hands up if your dog occasionally receives any of the following…

  • Scrap from the table

  • Little extras from when your cooking

  • Droppings from licking the ground under a toddler or kids having meals

  • Popular chew sticks and dental treats (most of which are very high in calories!)

No need to feel bad—we all give treats to our precious pets because we love them, probably more than they love the treats. However, for all of our good intentions, partaking in these actions too much can lead to dangerous weight gain.

Even if we are feeding healthier options like raw bones, it’s important to remember these also contribute to caloric intake. To mitigate an unhealthy relationship with food, you should be reducing what they are fed for dinner, or not feeding dinner at all but counting that bone as a meal replacement. This simple deed can make a huge difference!

The key takeaway here is that everything our pet eats contributes to caloric intake, and if we then go on and feed them full portions of their regular meal, in addition to these tasty extras, the weight gain cycle is bound to begin.

Food does not equal love. Killing them with kindness is quite literally a true statement when it comes to pets and obesity.

Promoting an Unhealthy Relationship With Food and Your Pet

Tips for Healthier Treating:

  • By all means, give them those treats and special "good boy" goodies! However, be calorie conscious when doing so, and give them a tiny bit less during dinner time that day.

  • If you have been doing a lot of treat training, try to select healthier treats, and don't be afraid to skip their dinner or feed 1/4 to 1/2 of it if they have had a particularly successful training day. It is ok for an otherwise healthy overweight, or ideal weight dog to miss a meal—despite what their opinion on it may be.

  • There are countless ways that you can show how much you love your pet that does not involve food:

  • Playing with toys

  • Setting up obstacle courses

  • Environmental enrichment

  • Hide and seek, is a great hike

  • A long "sniff-ari" walk

  • A swim in the river

  • A massage or just a really good cuddle

Find out what motivates your dog, and what they genuinely love, and offer that next time you are tempted to pass them that bit of steak from your plate, especially if they are overweight!

Challenge #4: Begging Behaviour

Your dog is absolutely adorable, so we definitely understand why when your dog begs it will pull at your heartstrings, while probably also being slightly frustrating. However, remember that begging for food does not equal a hungry dog!

Many behaviours are learned, and if begging worked before, then what smart dog wouldn't try it again, and again… and again? They are, after all, amazing at training us humans! You know when you smell that amazing smell of freshly baked bread, and even if you’re not hungry, you might feel like you need a piece? Just imagine what that is like with our dogs' extremely superior sense of smell!

Since begging is a learned behaviour, then teaching an alternative can also be learned. Of course this will take lots of patience, consistency and time, but just like that toddler asking for candy before dinner, you know that not giving in is best for them.

Tips if You’re Dealing With a Professional Beggar:

  • Put them in a separate room with you’re preparing for or eating—you can eventually make this a certain area (think crate or mat)

  • Coordinate your dog’s mealtime with your own so that you can all eat in peace, especially if they eat in a separate area

Begging Behaviour