Keeping your dog’s weight in a healthy range is important because according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, a healthy weight lowers their risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, respiratory disease, kidney disease, and some forms of cancer.3 But how heavy should your dog be? And how exactly can you manage a dog’s weight? It can be challenging, but there are many ways to make the process easier for both you and your dog.
First, you’ll need to figure out if your dog is overweight, underweight, or at a healthy weight. Since every dog is unique, your local veterinarian is the best person to ask about your dog's ideal weight.
There are many different factors to pay attention to that will play into your dog’s weight and feeding range:
- What breed is your dog?
- What is that breed's average weight?4
- What is your dog’s sex?
- What are your dog’s exercise habits?
- What is your dog’s food intake?
This data and a dog weight chart are great starting points, but each dog is different and their health goes beyond simply a target weight. If your Great Dane is taller than the average Great Dane, then they’ll need more muscle and fat to be healthy. This means your dog may appear overweight when compared to the average Great Dane, but they could be actually healthy. Further, you may not know your dog’s exact breed or they may be a mixed breed. This can make it hard to determine an average dog breed weight.
To learn your specific dog needs, you’ll need to take their body condition score (BCS).5 This test looks at your dog’s physical characteristics to measure if they’re underweight, overweight, or at a healthy weight. You can then take the BCS and figure out your dog’s ideal body composition. PetMD offers an online healthy weight calculator that helps you get an overall understanding of your dog's ideal weight range.6
It’s also important to take stock of your dog’s ribs. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, you can determine if there is too much padding on your dog’s ribs by feeling them. Your dog’s ribs should feel like the knuckles on the back of your hand feels when your hand is held flat. Specifically, VCA recommends that you “hold your hand palm down and feel your knuckles with the flats of the fingers on the opposite hand, this is how your dog’s ribs should feel just behind the shoulder blades.”7
The rib test can help you quickly determine your dog’s weight loss progress at home in between vet visits.
Once you know your dog’s ideal body weight, then you can start to implement lifestyle changes to help your dog lose, gain, or maintain weight for their health. Be sure to consult your veterinarian to help you develop a plan.
One easy way to help your dog gain or lose weight is through daily physical activity. If your dog needs to overcome obesity, you can add walks or play activities to their daily routine. Depending on what your pet’s current routine is, they may already get a lot of walking and play in. One key tip here is to increase the intensity of these activities. When walking your dog with the goal of weight loss, you should increase from a light stroll to a brisk walk, or even turn that walk into a jog.
You can also help your dog gain weight through exercise. Your goal should be to help them put on more muscle. You can do this by including more proteins and fats in their diet to encourage new muscle growth.
Make sure to keep these activities interesting and enjoyable for both you and your pet. This daily activity will improve your dog's physical and mental health to create an overall healthier foundation for your pet.
Your dog’s diet plays a large role in weight management. The dog food you choose for your dog affects their energy level, their digestive system, and how they feel in general. If your dog is overweight or underweight, consider giving them a different dog food.
Because dog nutrition is complex, you should consult with your veterinarian on which food they recommend based on your dog’s breed, age, and particular health concerns. Some dogs may need food that is lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein to help them lose weight. Others — particularly shelter dogs — may need a higher-calorie food with fats and protein to help them gain healthy weight.
While it may seem appropriate to cut down on the amount of dog food you’re giving your pup, VCA Animal Hospitals cautions against it as it can cause malnourishment over time. Instead, they recommend choosing scientifically formulated weight-management dog foods that have lower overall caloric density without sacrificing on nutrition. Some brands to ask your vet about include Hills Prescription Diet and Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets OM Overweight Management Canine Formulas.
Many of us have dogs that beg and we cave to these behaviors. Dogs tend to beg during meal time. The best way to respond to begging is to ignore it altogether. Eventually, when your dog realizes they’re not getting food when they beg, they’ll stop.
If you feel like caving in and feeding them scraps, just remember that ignoring their whimpers is for their good. By managing the food they eat, you’re actually keeping them healthy.
If you reward your dog for good behavior by providing treats, this may be a habit that is causing unhealthy weight gain. Once you begin rewarding them for minor things with food, they begin to expect it any time they do the requested behavior. The more they are rewarded with dog treats and other foods, the more they could be gaining unnecessary weight.
Instead of using food, reward your dog with a walk, playtime, being released from their leash, being petted, or other activities your pet may enjoy. If you absolutely need to use food, break off treats into smaller portions, or try using something very low-calorie, like carrots. Carrots soaked in broth are a fun, crunchy snack most dogs love.
Please note that this tip is only for overweight dogs. If your dog is underweight, then food rewards are a good way to give them extra calories throughout the day.
As mentioned, your vet is the best person to help you determine if your pet needs to go on a diet. You may only need one consultation, but if your dog continues to not meet their weight goal after working on their diet, it’s important to check in with your veterinarian again as your dog’s weight problems may be linked to larger health issues.
Did you know that a MetLife Pet Insurance1 policy can help with problems that arise if your pet is overweight or underweight? Dog insurance can also help dog owners afford routine appointments, diagnostic tests, and medication or treatments.2 Get a free quote today to see if dog insurance makes sense for you and your pup.