How to tell if your dog is overweight

gunther is not overweight

Being overweight can hugely affect your dog’s health and basic enjoyment of life. Although the internet is full of dogs carrying a few extra pounds that are lauded as “chonky” or cute, it is actually a major problem. Many people with overweight dogs don’t even realize it! 

As with everything, prevention is easier than a fix. We recommend checking your dog’s weight every month or so just to keep things in hand. If you want to be super thorough, you can visit your local pet store or vet to use their scales. Otherwise, it’s easy to do at home with your eyes and hands.

How to tell if your dog is overweight

Step One: Look at your dog’s shape 

Image courtesy of PFMA.

The first step is a visual assessment. Step back and look at your dog’s shape as they stand side on. It can help to take a photo so you can compare them later. 

Next, stand so you can see your dog’s shape from above. If you have a large dog, you may need to use a stool. Again, taking a photo can help. 

From the side, your dog should have a noticeable tucked-up stomach. You should be easily able to see where their chest ends and their abdomen starts. 

From above, your dog should have a noticeable but not extreme tapered waist where their ribcage ends. 

If your dog is oddly shaped (Corgis, for example) or has long hair, it can be hard to accurately tell if they are overweight, which is why it is also important to do the next step. 

Step Two: Feel them out

bing sniffing around
Bing isn’t as athletic as Gunther but he’s still in good shape.

I never assume a dog is overweight unless I’ve touched it. For example, mastiff breeds and Shar-peis are bred to have extra skin folds, which can make them look overweight to the eye alone. Similarly, rough collies and Komondors are bred for thick coats, so you have no idea what’s going on under there without touching them. 

To start, run your hands down your dog’s sides. You should be able to feel their ribs under a small covering of fat. (A small covering to me is about a half-inch or so.) If you have to dig your fingers in to find their ribs, that is not a small covering of fat.

Make sure to do this regularly as it’s the easiest way to stay aware of what shape your dog is in. As a guide, we do it to our dogs about once a month. 

I think my dog is overweight

doctor bing will see you now

If you think your dog is overweight, they probably are. More people are in denial about their dog’s size than are overzealous about keeping them in a trim and athletic condition.

Start by tracking the amount of treats and human food everyone in your family gives your dog daily. You might be surprised just how many extra snacks they get and just tracking them can be enough to keep things in check. These are unnecessary extra calories that can secretly start to add up to a lot more energy than your dog expends in a day. 

Cutting these out is the quickest and easiest way for your dog to lose weight.

If you aren’t sure what your dog’s ideal weight is, arrange a weight loss appointment with a veterinary nurse in your local vet clinic. 

As a nurse myself, I LOVE weight loss patients because it’s a chance to work with owners and their pets to prevent serious health issues, instead of treat them.  

I think my dog is underweight

gunther enjoying a puppuccino
With all the puppuccinos he gets, Gunther is not too skinny. He’s the right weight for his breed.

Some dogs are naturally leaner than others. Sighthounds, for example, are almost always thin and leggy. 

Working dogs and high-energy breeds like Hungarian Viszlas are often slimmer than people expect. Gunther is regularly called too skinny by people who aren’t aware of how fit dogs should actually appear. 

If you can see the last two ribs before your dog’s abdomen starts, and they are a working breed, a sighthound, or just a bit fussy when it comes to food, don’t worry. 

If you can see the ribs that are by your dog’s front legs or your dog has lost a large amount of weight rapidly, then that may need further investigation by your vet team. 

Weight loss is a long journey for both dogs and their owners. We’ll be looking more at tips on how to help dogs lose weight in future posts on this website. For now, check out our guide to healthy enrichment for dogs.