Content Reviewed by an Essentials PetCare Veterinarian

“Why is my dog fat?” If you have found yourself starting to ask this question lately, you probably have some other ones as well. Such as “How can I help them get rid of the weight?” and “Should I be worried about health problems for my pup?”

The truth is that dog weight problems crop up just like human weight problems do – and for many of the same reasons. Maybe they are eating too much, getting access to the wrong kinds of foods, or perhaps they’re not getting the level of exercise they need. It is also possible that a medical issue is the culprit, but those three possibilities are far more common than a medical problem causing weight gain.

If you’re worried about your dog’s weight, your first instinct may be to dive right in with solutions to help them lose those pounds. Before you start drastically cutting back on your pup’s food or putting them on a crazy exercise regimen, there are other questions to ask. One of the most important initial ones is whether or not your dog actually is overweight.

How Can I Tell if My Dog Is Overweight?

Some people ask “why is my dog fat?” because their pup is a bit more round or barrel-shaped than they were expecting. However, dog breeds come in all shapes and sizes. Just because your dog isn’t as sleek as you thought they would be doesn’t mean they are overweight.

Thankfully, there are some simple home tests and observations that can help tell you if your dog may be overweight. 

  • Try to feel your dog’s ribs – if you have to poke through a lot of fat or can’t find them, then your pup may be at least a little over the ideal weight. 
  • When you stand over your dog and look down at them, can you see an obvious waist line in front of the back legs? If not, your pooch is probably on the chubby side.
  • When you pet your dog, do you feel deposits of fat?
  • When your pup walks, do you see fatty pockets that swing from their stomach or hips? 

These are all fairly good indicators of a weight problem in your furry friend.

You should also try measuring your dog’s body condition score. This is something that your veterinarian will also do in order to gauge the amount of weight loss that they need. Doing this yourself is a helpful tool that allows many pet owners to recognize how much of a weight problem they are actually dealing with in their dog. 

Additionally, you may notice that your dog has become more lethargic – less eager to walk, groaning when they get up, and otherwise displaying mobility issues. If your dog is elderly, this could indicate other problems, like arthritis. If your pet is young or middle-aged, he may be struggling to carry his weight.

Some dog owners can hold their dog and step onto a bathroom scale, but this isn’t always possible. Your pup might be too uncomfortable with this arrangement – or too large of a breed to hold!

Ultimately, seeing your veterinarian is the easiest and most accurate way to help you determine if your dog is carrying too much weight. They’ll have scales to easily weigh your dog, and they’ll look at your dog’s body shape and size according to the standards of their breed type

One important thing to remember? While you don’t want to overreact to a potential dog weight problem, if you’re asking yourself “why is my dog fat?” you also shouldn’t ignore that little voice

Why? Because it’s far easier to address your dog’s extra pounds while they’re only overweight rather than obese. Moreover, clinical obesity brings with it a host of additional health problems. If you can avoid them, you’ll save your pup from health troubles – and your wallet from the required treatments.

Once you’ve determined that your dog truly is overweight, the next step is to figure out why – and how to fix the issue.

Examine How Food Fits into Your Relationship with Your Dog

You may not want to learn the biggest origin of dog weight problems, because it might require you to look in the mirror. That’s right – you, the dog parent! 

Before you make any changes to your dog’s lifestyle, take a week or two to monitor how and when you feed them. Be honest with yourself. 

Do you give your dog a little extra food when you leave for work to distract them? Do you reward them with treats to show affection? Do you sneak table scraps or allow other family members to sneak scraps without saying anything?

This is not about shaming you or your dog, but doing those things is not good for your pet’s weight management. So it’s important to ask yourself why you’re feeding them extra food or treats, and try to think of something else you can use to substitute them, for instance:

  1. Instead of using treats for affection, give your dog verbal affirmation and petting.
  2. Refrain from feeding rich, human food to your dog! Dogs often have more negative reactions to the higher sodium and sugar content present in many human foods – and if they are overweight this is only exacerbated.
  3. If you normally use treats as positive reinforcement in training, try using your dog’s normal food as a replacement. Put it in a different bag to “trick” them. They’ll appreciate any food.

Do You Feed Your Dog on a Schedule?

“Why is my dog fat?” Maybe it’s because you’re letting them eat whenever they want.

Some dog parents can get away with leaving out food all the time, and their pup will only eat when hungry. But for most dogs, this takes way too much self-control. Dogs are opportunistic eaters, meaning that if food is available they will eat, whether they are truly hungry or not. Pups who are becoming overweight because food is always available might benefit from a more structured meal schedule

Put down the food at a certain time each morning and/or evening. Then set a timer, and only leave the food out for that amount of time. You might have to endure an adjustment period during which you get a lot of sad puppy eyes asking “Why are you starving me?” But your pup will eventually realize that food is coming consistently – it’s just not available all the time.

What Kind of Food Are You Feeding Your Dog?

Once you’ve shored up your food habits and schedule with your dog, it may be worth looking into some diet dog foods. These foods tend to be lower in calories and carbohydrates but just as filling.

Often, dogs will barely notice when you switch their food – especially if you gradually transition them to the new food. You can do so by mixing it with their old food in larger and larger proportions, over a period of 1-2 weeks, until you are only feeding the diet food by itself. Your pup will get to eat exactly the same amount while still supporting some weight loss.

Measure Your Dog Food

It’s important to consider the calorie content of the food that you are feeding. This measurement can typically be found on the bag of food or on the manufacturer’s website. Your veterinarian can calculate the amount of calories your dog should eat per day. This calculation allows you to know exactly how much food to feed without guessing. Remember, a cup of dog food means an 8 ounce cup like you would use for cooking, not the giant plastic cup that you saved from a sporting event that’s sitting in your kitchen cabinet! 

Treat Habits

Experts often talk about using treats as positive reinforcement to train dogs. So you may feel frustrated to receive conflicting advice to reduce their treats, that’s understandable!

The real key is to look at the content, portion, and routine of treats with your dog. Is it possible to feed them a treat that’s more protein and less grain? Can you feed them lower calorie treats? Are there moments when you could give your dog a different type of positive reinforcement, like mentioned above?

Ultimately, the amount of treats given to your dog per day needs to be factored into the total amount of calories that you are feeding. So if you are using treats for training, calculate the amount of calories you are giving in treats and subtract this from the amount of food you are feeding to keep the total calorie intake for the day the same. Using a diet dog food which is much lower in calories makes a great training treat. Just give your dog a kibble when they need a reward, and they’ll never know that they’re eating a low-calorie diet treat! 

How Active Is Your Dog?

Often, the answer to “why is my dog fat?” is simple – your pet is not getting enough exercise

Have you perhaps fallen out of a walk routine with your pup? Have you stopped playing fetch or frisbee? Try reinitiating your pup’s favorite exercise to see if that helps them shed those few extra pounds. Your dog will enjoy the extra time with you and the added activity! 

Many people assume that their older, arthritic dog should be allowed to lay around and rest. Don’t fall into this assumption! Regular low-impact exercise, like walking or swimming, is the best thing your dog can do to keep arthritis from progressing rapidly. You should talk to your veterinarian about the many treatment options to keep arthritis pain under control so that your dog can stay active and healthy. Even a small amount of weight loss can make a huge difference in your dog’s comfort level if they have arthritis. 

Other Health Possibilities

Occasionally, a dog may exhibit weight gain as a symptom of other medical issues, that is why we recommend getting your veterinarian involved in the discussion about your dog’s weight from the very beginning. 

The doctor may want to examine your pup and run blood tests to rule out other diseases. If it is a more serious disease, you’ll be glad that you caught it sooner than later – and that you didn’t waste time evaluating your pup’s food, treat, and exercise habits when those weren’t the problem.

Essential Tip: A regular exam at Essentials PetCare includes a weight check and nutrition advice from our veterinarian. Take advantage of preventive measures today.