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Shiba Inu eating from a stainless steel bowl in the living room.
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An important aspect of being a responsible dog owner is being sure your dog is in shape. No matter how cute an overweight dog is, they could still be at risk for health problems. Certain breeds will be affected more than others by even the slightest weight gain, so it’s important to maintain your dog’s fitness throughout their entire life.

Each Breed Is Different

Different breeds have different silhouettes, and it’s important to understand what’s normal and appropriate for your specific dog. In a Labrador Retriever, for example, the underline of the dog is pretty much a straight line from the elbow all the way to the rear leg. A Rhodesian Ridgeback, by contrast, should have a little bit of a “tuck-up” (or waist) and the ribcage should gently curve upward before it joins the body at the loin. Conversely, there are other breeds, such as Sighthounds like Salukis, that are naturally lean.

If you have a less-than-common breed, your veterinarian may not be familiar with the correct outline and weight. Check the AKC breed’s page and breed standard. If you are in touch with your dog’s breeder, don’t hesitate to forward some photos (ideally, taken from the side and above) to get another opinion.

Proper Diet

Dogs often gain weight the same way humans do—by eating too much and exercising too little. However, talk to your vet to ensure your dog does not have any underlying health or metabolic conditions, like hypothyroidism, which can cause weight gain.

Dogs that eat excessive amounts of treats, table scraps, and food at mealtimes will gain weight quickly, especially if they are not very active. Before starting any new diet or exercise plan for your dog, review it with your veterinarian.

Labrador Retriever being given a stainless steel bowl of food.
©chalabala -

Cut back on calories by reducing the number of treats given at a time. Ask the vet about healthy alternatives or substitutions for treats, like replacing biscuits, cheese, and other high-fat treats with small amounts of dog-safe, fresh vegetables and low-sugar fruits, such as carrots, apples, or green beans that are free of added flavoring.

Your dog will most likely still enjoy this new, crunchy treat! If you are training your dog and giving treats as a reward, remember to subtract those calories from your dog’s caloric allotment when tallying the daily total. And you don’t need to be feeding your dog extras to show them you love them. In fact, one way to show your dog how much you care is by keeping them healthy.

Adding in Exercise

Of course, additional exercise will help your dog lose weight. Before starting a new fitness plan, consult your vet about the best and safest ways to start getting moving with your pet.

Once you do have a plan in mind, consider which options you and your dog will enjoy. Most dogs love to participate in outdoor activities, like going for a walk, run, swim, or hike.

For an obese dog, it’s best to start out slow and increase exercise gently over time once they start losing weight. However, be sure you aren’t overexerting them, especially if they have a medical condition, and watch for signs of heatstroke.

Training to Run

If you opt to run with your dog, keep their age in mind. Youngsters can damage joints by running repetitively on hard surfaces such as concrete or asphalt. Many breeders, especially of large breeds, recommend avoiding jogging with puppies on hard surfaces until they are at least 12 months old, and ideally 18. Instead, try free play on grass or another suitably soft surface such as packed sand.

Golden Retriever running with its family in the park.
©Vasyl -

If you’d like to start running with your dog once they reach maturity, be sure that they’re in peak physical condition. Check with your vet to make sure that your dog doesn’t have a physical problem, such as heart issues, orthopedic issues such as hip dysplasia, or a luxating patella (the doggie version of a “trick knee”), that could make running painful or even dangerous. If your dog could use some strengthening in the muscle department, try working on canine conditioning exercises to safely and slowly increase balance and stability.

Making Exercise Fun

Dog sports are a great way to get moving while building the human-canine bond. For example, agility, which is basically a timed obstacle course, requires you to be able to communicate with your dog via hand signals and body language, and all that zooming through tunnels and over jumps burns plenty of calories. If you’re a newbie, find a training class so you can introduce your dog (and yourself) to the obstacles you’ll encounter on the course.

Constantly be aware of how your dog looks and acts. Slow down or stop if they’re panting excessively, and find a cool or shaded spot for some relief. Dogs of all breeds can overheat. Consider going for a walk in the early morning or late at night, when it’s cooler.

Hamiltonstovare walking on the beach.
©Tim -

And no matter what kind of dog you have, remember that asphalt can be sizzling on hot summer days. So keep those unprotected paw pads in mind, and consider putting on dog boots. All dogs will need to get acclimated to running for extended periods on hard surfaces.

Health Problems Caused by Obesity in Dogs

For some long and low-bodied breeds, becoming obese can add strain to their backs and joints, making it painful or difficult for them to walk or sit. Other dog breeds may have an increased risk of breathing and respiratory problems if they’re overweight.

In addition to shortened life expectancy, overweight and obese dogs may be at higher risk for diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, breathing problems, and cancer. Have your veterinarian monitor your dog’s health to be sure they are at their optimal weight and in good condition.

Related article: How Much Exercise Does a Dog Need Every Day?
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