Why Is My Dog Gaining Weight?

If your dog is gaining weight, it’s important to figure out why. Whether it’s due to overfeeding (which is extremely common) or underlying health issues, having a visit with your vet to determine the cause of dog weight gain and developing a plan to combat it before it gets out of hand is crucial. Weight gain can significantly impact your dog’s quality of life, so figuring out why your dog is gaining weight isn’t something to take lightly. We’ve rounded up several potential causes of dog weight gain so you can be prepared.

Why Is My Dog Gaining Weight? 

Dog weight gain can be caused by a variety of issues, so while it’s always best to work with your vet to determine an exact cause, these are all possible causes of weight gain in dogs:

  • Feeding too much
  • Lack of exercise
  • Prescription medication
  • Fluid retention
  • Hormone problems
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Other health issues

Overfeeding is a top cause of weight gain in dogs because it’s very easy to do. Typically, pet parents will look at the feeding guidelines on the back of their dog’s food bag and feed that exact amount without any regard for other factors in their dog’s life that affect how much they should eat daily. However, feeding guidelines should be used as a starting point and are meant to help facilitate a conversation with your vet to decide exactly how much your dog should eat. This is because a variety of factors like age, environment, activity level, and other health issues all impact how much your dog’s portion sizes should be daily. 

Lack of exercise is another top cause of weight gain. As humans get busy with work or other commitments, your dog’s exercise routine can sometimes be put on the back burner. However, in order to avoid them gaining a few extra pounds you should try your best to help your dog get at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day. Whether it’s taking a short walk around the neighborhood, taking a trip to your local dog park, or a good game of fetch in your backyard, your dog’s exercise routine is a crucial part of helping them maintain an ideal weight. 

Dog medication is another reason for weight gain that isn’t always thought of right off the bat. If your dog is gaining weight without any changes to their diet or exercise their medication may be the culprit, especially if they’ve been on it for a long period of time. If this is the case and a decrease in daily calories doesn’t fix the issue, you may talk to your vet about possibly starting a lower dosage. 

Fluid retention is another issue that causes dogs to gain weight unexpectedly and is a common side effect of heart disease. According to PetMD

“The outward symptom is of an enlarged belly that is not coincident with overeating or lack of exercise. Other conditions can also cause the body to react in this way, including tumors or diseases of the internal organs. In very young animals, abnormal amounts of fluid in the abdomen may be the result of abnormal blood flow in the heart due to a congenital defect.” 

If your dog is gaining weight without any changes to diet or exercise, definitely make a trip to your vet to rule out any issues with fluid retention. 

Parasites are another thing to watch out for and get ruled out by your vet if your dog is gaining weight. PetMD explains that parasites are often seen in young animals who don’t have strong enough immune systems to combat parasitic infestation. Parasitic infections are typically treated by your vet with a parasiticide. 

Finally, other health issues are sometimes the culprit of dog weight gain. Hypothyroidism and Cushing’s Disease are two health issues that, instead of being caused by weight gain, can actually contribute to weight gain. Hypothyroidism is when your dog’s thyroid isn’t active enough to metabolize the food they’re eating. Alternatively, Cushing’s Disease happens when your dog’s body produces too much cortisol, a hormone stored in the adrenal glands. Ann Stohlman, V.M.D and a veterinarian in FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, says “Cortisol is one of the body’s natural steroids,” and adds that a normal amount of cortisol helps the body adapt in times of stress. Cortisol also helps regulate proper body weight, tissue structure, skin condition, and other features of good health.

In the end, if your dog is gaining weight for any reason that you’re not sure of you should check with your vet to rule out any of the above listed conditions.

Three bags of Weight Control fog food sit as a dog and person walk away

Dogs Predisposed to Weight Gain 

While diet and exercise are super important in helping your dog maintain a healthy weight, the fact of the matter is that some dogs are still more likely to experience weight gain.

At the top of the list of dogs predisposed to weight gain is seniors. Older dogs are more likely to gain weight because as a dog ages, their activity levels typically decline. This is why senior dogs often thrive on weight management dog food recipes. In addition to being low-fat, weight control dog food also typically contains glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate to help support their aging joints as well. 

Since proper exercise is so important for dogs of all ages, it shouldn’t be a surprise that dogs who live a more sedentary lifestyle are more susceptible to gaining weight. Lack of exercise is a large cause of weight gain and if your dog’s diet isn’t in a place to make up for that, they could put on a few extra pounds quickly. If your dog doesn’t get out of the house much, they’re definitely more predisposed to weight gain if this lifestyle is long-term. 

As mentioned earlier, sick dogs can also gain weight as a result of side effects of medication. This is a cause of dog weight gain that isn’t always thought about, so if your dog is gaining weight unexpectedly and is also on medication, check with your vet to figure out what the side effects of those medications are. If weight gain is a side effect, have a conversation with your vet about options to counteract those effects. 

Finally, different breeds of dogs are also sometimes more predisposed to weight gain. Dogs that have short noses and small nasal openings like pugs and bulldogs tend to get less exercise which leads to a few extra pounds. Breeds that are typically more active that don’t get as much exercise as they should such as Dachshunds, Basset Hounds, and Golden Retrievers are also more susceptible to weight gain. Beagles are another breed that require weight monitoring because they tend to have slower metabolisms than most breeds. 

Is My Dog Obese?

When it comes to how to tell if your dog is obese, a dog body condition score chart is the best way to get an idea. 

A Body Condition Score (BCS) is a rating that is typically on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being too thin, 5 being obese, and 3 being the idea score that your dog should be at. Some versions also use a rating of 1-9. You can think of a dog’s BCS kind of like a doggy BMI. 

PetMD recommends the following method to help you decide which area on the chart your dog lands:

“To begin, gently press your hands over the rib cage. Individual ribs should be evident without having to press hard, but they should not be readily felt. There should be no overlying fat, and they should not be seen readily.

“There should be a nice, seemingly proportionate ‘abdominal tuck’ or ‘hourglass’ when palpating your dog’s waist from the side or along his back. Physically palpating is particularly important in dogs with excess fur. Dogs that are too thin will have bony prominences, particularly over the hip bones, shoulder blades and ribs. Dogs who are obese will have excessive soft or fatty areas that are evident, and it will be more difficult or impossible to feel their ribs or hip bones.”

While not every dog will have super defined muscles, healthy dogs are still well-proportioned based on a BCS chart. If your dog is seemingly on one or the other extreme end of the BCS chart or could possibly be considered overweight, schedule a visit with your vet to determine if a dog weight loss plan is in order. 

If your dog is overweight or obese and needs more frequent weight monitoring, a dog weight scale and a dog activity tracker may be a good idea, especially if you’re a busy human or your dog is too large to weigh on your regular scale at home. If not, more frequent vet visits may be necessary to continue to monitor any weight loss progress.

How to Tell if Your Dog Is Actually Hungry 

A dog begging for food is a pretty common thing, especially if your dinner smells rather tasty. However, determining if your dog is actually hungry may not be as black and white as you may think. 

Nutritional deficiencies are one thing that can cause your dog to be hungry even if you think you’re feeding them plenty of food. If you think this might be the case, check with your vet. It’s possible you’re feeding your dog a heaping scoop of food, but if that food is low in calories your dog might not be getting all the calories and nutrients they need to keep up with their energy expenditure. How many calories your dog should eat per day varies on many factors like age, breed, size, activity level, and even environmental factors, so it’s important to make sure you’re feeding a food that meets both calorie and nutrient needs for your dog to keep them feeling full.

On that note, if you just increased your dog’s activity levels a calorie deficiency could definitely be the case. Starting to walk more or other physical activity your dog isn’t used to could throw off the balance of how many calories they need so be sure to take this into consideration if your dog is begging and you just went for a hike.

If none of these seem to be the issue, your dog may in fact just need some fresh water. Water is just as important as food when it comes to your pet’s diet and can also help them feel full. If your dog just ate but is still begging, make sure their water bowl isn’t empty!

Consequences of Obesity in Dogs 

Shorter life expectancy is a huge consequence of obesity in dogs. According to AKC, “an article published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine reported on a study of more than 50,000 dogs consisting of 12 breeds. Researchers found that an overweight body condition was associated with a shorter life span in all breeds studied, but the magnitude of the effect varied — being least for large breed dogs at 5 months shorter lifespan and greatest for dogs of the smallest breed at greater than 2 years shorter lifespan.” 

As your dog gains extra weight, this also puts significant stress on their joints. If your dog is older, this is even more concerning as dogs’ joint health tends to decline with age as it is. If your dog is in too much pain to move, they may develop an exercise intolerance which can hinder weight loss efforts. This is yet another reason why weight management dog food is so important for overweight dogs–the added glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate helps support your dog’s joints so you can continue going on walks and having play time to support weight loss efforts and even quality of life. 

Diabetes is another health issue to watch out for if your dog struggles with obesity. Obesity can create an insulin resistance in your dog which puts them at risk for diabetes. According to AKC, symptoms of diabetes in dogs include: 

  • Excessive thirst 
  • Increased urination
  • Weight loss
  • Increased appetite
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lack of energy
  • Depressed attitude
  • Vomiting

According to VCA Hosptials, obese dogs are also at an increased risk for different types of cancer, osteoarthritis, urinary bladder stones, and anesthetic complications. 

Dog smiles next to a bag of Weight Control dog food

How to Prevent Obesity in Dogs 

Preventing obesity in dogs is essential to helping them live a long and healthy life. If a vet appointment determines that your dog is actually at a healthy weight, it’s important to know how to keep it that way. 

While you’re at the vet, you may ask about a personalized diet plan and recommendations for what food to feed your dog and how much of that food your dog should eat every day. High quality protein foods that have the nutrients your dog needs are super important, so work with your vet to find a high quality dog food that’s best for your dog. 

Regular exercise is another thing to start or continue if your dog is at a healthy weight. Taking a daily walk around the neighborhood will help your dog build stamina and give them a great way to burn some extra energy. Getting your dog used to exercising while they’re young and healthy will help build healthy habits as they age, which you’ll be thankful for down the road. 

If you don’t have as much time to exercise your dog as you’d like or have a low activity dog, you can also try things like enrichment toys or other indoor dog activities. Find some fun dog activity toys to keep your dog up and active at home if you’re planning on leaving the house for a bit.

Finally, remember to continue to monitor weight. Weight gain can happen even if you haven’t changed your routine as a result of health issues, so continuing to keep an eye on your dog’s weight will help detect problems like that, too. 

Increasing Activity and Play in Your Dog

Dog enrichment toys and dog puzzle toys are a great way to keep your dog active throughout the day without totally wearing them out. Enrichment toys are a great way to help your dog express their natural behaviors and while it’s not a strenuous activity for your dog by any means, dog activity toys do get their blood pumping and are a great way to have your dog work for their food or treats.

If your dog doesn’t really seem to get excited about toys and playing with them, you may look into building toy drive in dogs. By using high value rewards and a few other tactics, you can build your dog’s toy drive to get them excited to play.

Alternatively, you might skip the toys altogether and try out a dog sport instead. Most times when people think about dog sports, their mind goes straight to highly-active sports like agility trials. However, for dogs who are overweight and having a harder time getting around there are low-impact sports like scent work for dogs that help get your dog up and moving while still stimulating their brain.

How to Treat Obesity in Dogs 

Obesity in dogs is most effectively helped by making diet changes. Maintaining portion control and feeding your dog the right amount of low calorie dog food is crucial in helping them lose weight. Once you and your vet decide how much your dog should eat per day, make sure to stick to a set schedule as well. Free feeding is another thing that can quickly contribute to extra pounds as it throws portion control out the window, so set a feeding schedule and stick to it!

Another thing that will help your dog lose weight is limiting treats significantly. While you probably don’t have to cut them out entirely, figuring out how many treats you can afford to feed your dog per day based on calories and finding low calorie dog treats will make a huge difference. 

Your dog’s diet is super important, but it’s not the only piece of the puzzle. How much exercise your dog gets per day is just as important as monitoring their diet. Helping your dog get even 30 minutes of exercise a day will make a huge difference in their weight loss journey. Whether it’s fetching a ball in your backyard or taking a walk around the block when you get home from work, adding in some physical activity is crucial for your dog. 

How to Train Your Dog Without Treats

If you’re looking to cut down on your dog’s calories, you might be looking into how to train dogs without treats. While dog training treats are generally effective, they’re not the only way to train your dog. To do this you might need some treats to get off on the right foot, but eventually you should be able to nix the treats with the help of classical and operant conditioning work.

One way to eventually eliminate the need of treats from your training is by using a dog training clicker. However, you first have to create a positive association with the clicker in the same way your dog has a positive association with treats (aka classical conditioning):

“One of the most common ways to use classical conditioning in a positive training program is in the initial steps of clicker training. The clicker, at first, has no special meaning to the dog. But as soon as the Click! of the clicker is repeatedly paired with great treats – also known as “charging” the clicker – it becomes a powerful tool in training. The “charged” clicker elicits the same emotional response in the dog as the treat itself.”

Whole Dog Journal

By using a combination of classical conditioning and some examples of operant conditioning like positive reinforcement (your dog sits, he gets a treat; your dog is more likely to sit again) you should be able to eventually phase treats out of your training and get the same results with the clicker once your dog creates the same positive association with it.

How to Choose Your Dog’s Optimal Diet 

When choosing a food for your dog, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. If you’re trying to research diet options, there are several key factors to think about before you go shopping that will help narrow it down:

  • How old is your dog? What stage of life are they in?
  • Do they have special dietary needs (allergies, sensitivities, weight management, limited ingredients, large breed, etc.)?
  • Do you have a preference in protein?

How old your dog is will help narrow down what life stage the recipe you choose should be suited for as noted by the AAFCO Nutritional Adequacy Statement that can be found on the dog food label (along with just about any other information about the food). If your dog is a puppy, you’ll want a food formulated for growth. If your dog is an adult, you’ll want to look for maintenance. All life stages formulas are also an option if your dog is young and you want to avoid switching foods later down the line. 

If your dog has special dietary needs, this will narrow down your search significantly. Allergies can be a difficult thing to work around, but limited ingredient diets are often a great option to give your dog with allergies or sensitivities some relief. For overweight dogs, weight management dog food formulas like our Weight Control recipe are great low-fat options that can help your dog lose a few pounds. Large breed dogs also have more dietary needs like the need for more glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate to keep up with their quick growth. 

Lastly, you can narrow down a little further if you have a preference in protein. Whether it’s turkey, lamb, chicken, or fish, there’s all sorts of proteins that dog food is made with so if you have a preference, this will help you pick out a recipe you’re excited about feeding. 

Should I Feed Breed Specific Dog Food?

As long as you’re consulting with your vet regarding what food you feed your dog and are making sure that the nutrients in the recipe you choose are suitable for your dog’s needs and lifestyle, feeding a breed-specific food isn’t necessary. Your vet will be able to tell you what to look for in a food for any breed so as long as you stick to those recommendations any breed will be healthy on a normal dog food recipe. 

When to Switch from Puppy to Adult Dog Food

If you’re trying to figure out when to switch to adult dog food for your puppy or are looking for the best senior dog food, the first thing to take into consideration is the different nutritional needs of puppies, adults, and seniors.

What’s the difference between puppy and adult dog food? Is puppy food higher in calories? The big difference between puppy and adult dog food when it comes to weight loss is that puppy food is higher in calories than adult dog food. The main reason for this is to help their bodies keep up with their quick growth. Puppy food also has different nutrient requirements to help their development like DHA to assist with brain development.

Can puppies eat adult dog food? Generally, puppies should not eat adult dog food since adult food typically won’t have the same levels of nutrients like DHA mentioned above to help the puppy grow at a healthy rate. Exceptions are made for all life stages dog food which is made with the right levels of nutrients to help dogs of all ages develop properly.

Can an adult eat puppy food? The answer is typically the same here as above. Adults will generally do better on adult dog food than puppy food because adult dog food will have more nutrients like glucosamine and chondroitin to help with joint health as dogs age. Exceptions are made for all life stages formulas and even pregnant dogs, as they require more calories and can sometimes benefit from a puppy formula for that reason.

In the end, if your dog is gaining weight it is absolutely worth visiting your vet over. Gaining weight can be a sign of a much bigger issue your dog may be having, so it’s important to rule out any health issues that could be potentially life threatening. Once those are ruled out, determining what needs to be done about your dog’s weight gain is the next step as weight gain in general can cause a decrease in quality of life. Whether it’s switching to a weight management dog food or adding to your dog’s exercise routine, helping your dog lose those few extra pounds will make a world of a difference for your furry friend.