No Fat Dogs! How to Help Your Dog Lose Weight
How to Manage Obesity in Senior Dogs
Obesity in any dog is a serious medical condition. Obesity in a senior dog is even more serious because the odds are even greater that your dog will develop a secondary complication. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to manage your dog’s obesity. Start by talking to your vet. Your vet will work with you to help you develop an exercise regimen and diet that gets your dog’s obesity under control. Follow your vet’s directions carefully and be conscientious of how much you’re feeding your dog. Additionally, stay on the lookout for conditions that often accompany obesity, including cardiovascular problems, breathing difficulties, and diabetes.
Regulating Your Dog’s Weight
Talk to your vet about prescription diet foods.Simply switching your dog to a lower-calorie dog food might seem like an easy fix, but if your dog does not feel satisfied with their meal, this may result in begging or behavioral issues. Your vet can instead recommend a food that will keep your dog feeling full and satiated, but on fewer calories — such as a food that is high in fiber, or one that increases your dog's metabolism. Your dog's needs will vary depending on their activity level, size, and age, so speak with your vet to ensure you choose a food that meets all their dietary needs.
- Talk to your vet about how much your dog needs to eat to attain a healthy weight.
- Once your dog attains a healthy weight, your vet will advise you as to what its new daily caloric intake should be. Feed your dog the proper amount and no more.
Work on portion control.Instead of leaving a bowl full of dog food out all day and allowing your dog to help themselves when they feel hungry, carefully portion and distribute food to your dog. Start every morning by measuring out the amount of food your dog can eat for the entire day and put it in a sealed container. Portion out the food from this container into two or three meals so you can ensure the dog is not being overfed. Use your knowledge of how many calories your dog should be eating each day to measure out an appropriate amount of dog food.
- In order to determine how much dog food your dog needs, you need to know its activity level, its ideal weight, and the calories per serving size of your dog food.
- With this information in hand, use the dog food calculator — online at — to serve your dog two or three appropriately-sized servings of food each day. Usually, you can serve your dog some food in the morning, some in the early afternoon, and some in the evening.
- Make sure everyone in the household understands the system, and that when the container is empty, the dog has had their food for the day. This will remove any confusion about whether or not the dog has been fed and someone mistakenly giving them two meals, etc.
- Check back in with your vet regularly to ensure that your pet is on track to lose weight. Your vet will let you know when your dog can increase or stabilize its caloric intake.
- Always measure your dog's food carefully and accurately.
Avoid feeding your dog outside of mealtimes.Your dog’s caloric intake needs to be carefully managed if it is older and obese. Reduce treats or little snacks throughout the day (talk to your vet about how many are appropriate). Don’t allow your dog to beg at the table while you or your family sit down to eat. These extra calories add up quickly and can prolong your dog’s obesity.
- Instead of giving treats and snacks for being a good dog or performing a trick, give your dog hugs, pats to the head, and other physical affection. You should also give your dog verbal praise. For instance, say, "Good dog!" when they perform a trick or does something good.
Increase the amount your dog exercises.Obesity in dogs, like obesity in people, is best managed not only by a decrease in caloric intake, but also by an increase in physical activity. You will first need to check with your vet to make sure it is safe to increase your dog's activity level and discuss which activities are appropriate for your dog. For instance, you could:
- Go for a walk at the park or around the block with your older, obese dog.
- Talk to your vet before engaging in a new or more intense exercise regimen with your dog.
- Older dogs might have creaky bones and stiffness, but these problems, too, can be managed by moderate levels of regular exercise.
- Slow down if your dog is lagging, drooling or panting excessively, or coughing frequently.
Try using environmental enrichment strategies for appetite control.Consider trying a food puzzle to encourage natural foraging behaviors, can increase their energy, and can slow down their eating if they tend to gobble down their food. Try a puzzle feeder or even just spread your dog's kibble in the grass so they must hunt for it using their sense of smell.
Identifying Obesity In Your Older Dog
Feel for a backbone.The backbone — or spine — is a long central series of bones that run in a straight line from your dog’s neck to their tail. If you rub your hand along your dog’s back, you should be able to feel their spine. But if your dog is obese, their spine will be layered with fat, and not readily detectable.
Touch your dog’s ribs.Your dog’s ribs, like their backbone, should be easy to detect with light touch. If you drag your hand gently across your dog’s flank, you should be able to feel several long bones running vertically up the dog’s side. These are your dog’s ribs. If you cannot feel the ribs without pushing into your dog’s flesh, your dog is obese.
Look for a waist.View your dog from above. Your dog’s body should taper inward slightly toward a point near their back legs before widening out at the rump. If your dog’s body, as viewed from above, is one consistent width from front to back, or if your dog’s body gets even wider as it proceeds from front to back, your dog is obese.
Managing Secondary Symptoms of Obesity
Look for osteoarthritis.Osteoarthritis is common in obese dogs, mainly because an obese dog is unable to spend as much time exercising and moving about as they need to in order to stay healthy. As a result, the dog might demonstrate stiffness, especially in the morning, and have trouble getting up and down the stairs or jumping onto furniture.
- Osteoarthritis also leads to lameness or limping, which might begin only occasionally, then become more frequent as the arthritis accelerates.
- Other signs include whimpering, especially when the dog rises from a prone position.
Monitor for cardiovascular disorders.If your older, obese dog has heart disease, they might not have any symptoms; however, if they do have symptoms, the earliest signs will be detected by the vet in the form of an irregular heartbeat. More visible symptoms include hacking or coughing (especially early in the morning or after exercising), laziness, excess sleeping, or generally low stamina during exercise.
Check for diabetes.Obese dogs often have diabetes, too. If your dog drinks a lot, urinates excessively, and eats more than they should, they might have diabetes.
- Your dog might also start to lose weight, even if their diet remains stable.
- More serious cases of diabetes might result in cataracts (a cloudiness in the eyes) or blindness in your obese dog.
- If you know your dog is obese, you probably won’t allow them the opportunity to eat excessively. Check for other symptoms instead.
Keep an eye out for respiratory diseases.There are a variety of respiratory conditions that could negatively affect your obese dog. These include pneumonia, fungal infections, and bacterial respiratory infections. These conditions tend to manifest similar symptoms, including shallow breathing, noisy breathing (including grunting or snorting while trying to breathe), rapid breathing or panting (especially when not associated with exercise), or coughing (especially with blood, phlegm, or other discharge).
Get your dog screened for cancer.Dogs who are obese tend to have higher rates of cancer. For this reason — among others — it is important to have your older, obese dog visit the vet regularly. Your vet will be able to check for cancer using X-rays and other medical tests.
- You should already have a vet for your dog. If you do not, check the American Animal Hospital Association’s vet database at to find a vet near you.
- About 45% of all dogs in the U.S. — some 35 million pets — are obese or overweight.
- Take your older, obese dog to the vet regularly for checkups to ensure they are responding positively to the obesity management program and they are free of harmful obesity-related secondary symptoms.
Video: Dog Diabetes Basics
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