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How to Help a Fat Dog


According to a study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, more than half of all U.S. dogs and cats are obese. It’s an epidemic. So when my darling  (and devouring) Dexter dined a little too heavily, the vet issued me a stern reprimand. Gulp! A fat dog? Me?

I love dogs, I write about dogs, and my dog is a portly pooch? Well, not really portly, but he had gained two pounds. Ruling out any thyroid condition, I assessed table scraps, the type of dry food I was feeding him, and treats.

Fast forward two months, and my boy is leaner and I am a lot happier. He lost the two pounds, plus a teensy bit more. Here’s what I’ve learned about keeping dogs fit.


How you can tell if your dog is overweight

Feel around his ribs and spine; you should be able to locate both, with only a thin layer of fat separating skin from bones. If you are unable to find the ribcage, you have an overweight dog. Viewing the dog from above, you should be able to see a moderate narrowing at the waist just past the ribcage. A large and drooping abdomen is another sign that your pet is overweight. A bulging line from the ribcage to the hips also indicates an overweight dog.

Ask your veterinarian to evaluate your dog’s size at every check-up. Once your canine has reached maturity, ask for his optimal weight.


What you can do about your overweight dog

  • Talk to your vet: Ask why the dog is overweight. It could be an underlying medical condition.
  • Move: A good starting point is a regular walk around the park or neighborhood, with gradual increases. Rainy days, cold days, or snowy days do not make for good excuses. I wrote about indoor fun for dogs, so make no excuses. Just do it!
  • Portion control: Keep the treats you plan to give your dog in a handy snack bag, and allocate the day’s treats. When the bag is empty, treats are done. Make it rewarding for the dog. Try stuffing a Kong toy with green bean pieces, low-fat snacks, and other items like Zuke’s salmon treats, which are only three calories a piece and a natural healthy alternative. Watch for sugars added as filler to many store-bought treats. Always check with your vet for the amount to feed, as well as guidelines in feeding.
  • Switch foods gradually: I thought I knew all about dog food, but I recently learned about dehydrated food. I cannot begin to express how thrilled I am with the Honest Kitchen. My dog licks the bowl clean. Bonus points for flavor options, ease of storage, and preparation (just add water, wait, mix, and feed). Plus, it helps with the firmness of stools. And my finicky friend loves the stuff.
  • Human foods high in fat, sugar, or sodium are to be avoided: The last thing on anyone’s to-do list is an emergency visit to the vet due to pancreatitis. Foods that are fried, oily, or greasy (chicken, turkey, ham, beef bones, gravy, stuffing, pastries, rolls, cheese, and other starchy or rich foods and desserts) are all culprits and should be avoided. Never allow dogs to have grapes, raisins, chocolate, caffeine, or alcoholic beverages. To keep dogs lean, it is important the entire family and those visiting know the rules.
  • Each family member must be on board: Your dog’s health depends upon everyone working together. Make a pact. If necessary, feed Fido separately in his own room away from the kitchen or dining table.

Remember, there is no shame in admitting you need help to learn how to help your dog shed pounds.

Katie Newman wrote a how-to guide for canine weight loss, The Amazing Treat Diet for Dogs, to help other dog parents. Her dog Hustler suffered numerous ailments, which led to a more sedentary lifestyle — and extra pounds. Of particular interest are the appendices, which include toxic foods for dogs and a handy fruit and vegetable nutrition chart.


BlogPaws is celebrating January with “Get Fit With Your Pet” month and there are many ways you can engage with your dog to help weight come off safely and for keeps.


While sneaking a tidbit now and then isn’t so bad, dogs who are overweight are prone to knee injuries, pancreatic issues, liver disease, heart problems, trouble cooling off, snoring, and much more. And remember, just because a treat says “healthy” or “nutritious” does not make it so. I can read dog food and dog treat labels better than I can human food labels these days. It isn’t as hard as you might think. Becoming your dog’s advocate for what he consumes is pivotal for better health and increased longevity.

Got a pooch who can stand to lose a few pounds? Have you had any luck bringing her weight down? Bark at me in the comments below!

Note: I originally wrote this article for Dogster magazine and am re-running it here to help raise awareness for keeping dogs healthy!

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  1. You know we are all about fit pets over at SlimDoggy, so we loved reading this post and glad that Dex has shed a few lbs….he will be happier and will live longer.

    1. Thanks for that feedback, Katie. We are fans of SlimDoggy and so glad you advocate to keep dogs in shape!

  2. Good and timely article! I see SOOOO many pudgy pooches and chubby kitties! Sometimes I wish I could say something, but you have to be careful not to offend anyone, but I feel bad for the furkids. We all love our babies and want to give them treats and goodies, but I feel some of us are killing our pets with love….. I had a friend who had a Cocker so fat, he could barely walk. We all tried to talk to him, but he wasn’t receptive to our advice. The dog died quite young. With this in mind, the Domestic Dogdess is working on a few lower fat treats, like the Pudgy Pooch cookies and we have another, even lower fat version on the chopping block, along with some healthy, low fat frozen treats.

    1. I also am researching a piece about dogs who are too thin. You are right that you have to be careful. Too thin or too big are both epidemics.

  3. In many, not all, cases the human with the dog could lose a pound or two also. This may not win me any popularity contests, but get moving, that is the best way to slim down for pets and people. Eat a good diet, cut back on snacks, and get out and at least walk every day. Dog and human benefit and both will feel better. We eat an unbelievable amount of treats right now because of training a puppy and our nose work classes, but we are always out walking so we stay in shape. Cut back a bit on the food if snack intake is way up. It is all about balancing, there is not magic pill. Glad Dexter dropped a few lbs. it is hard when you are injured and can’t work out like you should.

    1. So interesting that you brought that up, Emma, and I am glad – the humans get the benefit, too. I know when I got my first dog as an adult many moons ago, I lost 30 pounds by gaining 25. My dog entered my life and she was 25 pounds, and in all of my activities and things with her, I lose 30 pounds- which I sorely need to do at that time. Many wags for chiming in.

  4. Glad to hear Dexter lost a few pounds (hoping it was all fur)! Grandma’s Cocker is overweight too, from table scraps and too many treats! Have you tried can food with his dry? We walk regularly for weight control, both of us! Love Dolly

    1. Hey Dolly – thanks for stopping by! Dex doesn’t eat dry or canned. He gets The Honest Kitchen, which is a semi-dehydrated food. I add Dr. Harvey’s Veg to Bowl and some cooked meat now and then. I rotate the latter, too. We do a lot of indoor games and brief walks. He also gets to the park when the temps are not frigid, as they are now.

      I have a great piece on underweight dogs publishing today, too. Stay tuned. And many wags to you and Dolly – walks rock 😉

    1. OOOH heading to see that post and glad you liked this piece. I am on a lose 10 pounds by BlogPaws Journey myself. I tend to be a late night eater when I work long days, which seems to be often of late. LOL

  5. Good information – thanks for sharing! Nike’s weight fluctuates so much, based on her activity level, what she’s eating, and medications that she takes for allergies. It drives me nuts. I’m more conscious of HER weight than I am my own, and it’s an ongoing struggle. Ideally the vet wants her around 65 pounds, and right now we’re at about 68, so we’re in slim-down mode. It’s good prep for me for BlogPaws, too, ’cause I could stand to lose a pound or two. Lol.

    1. I also found out that I have to be careful about the coconut oil for Dexter’s allergies, which amazingly has helped his itching lots! As in we don’t have nearly as much. Well, coconut oil isn’t calorie free, so I find out… but all part of be a cautious pet parent. I hear you there, Christin, about prepping and losing a pound or two. I need to for sure! I love Christmas cookies eep.

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