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The Truth About Healthy Dog Weight

A Healthy Dog Weight is crucial if you want to help your precious pup to live a long life.

The Truth About Healthy Dog Weight

As a dog lover, you’re keenly attuned to dogs everywhere. If you’ve ever traveled outside the USA, you have probably noticed that dogs all over the world are skinnier than American dogs.

But are these dogs really skinny, or have we Americans just accepted obesity as the new normal?

(Of course, I’m not talking about feral dogs, but family pets)

Get your dog fit and away from obesity

A generation ago, American dogs looked like their global counterparts: athletic and lean. Today, we’ve become so accustomed to seeing overweight dogs that we think they look normal. But they’re not.

It’s irritating for any conscientious dog owner whose dog is naturally lean, to be asked “Do you feed him enough?” but according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, over half of the American dogs are considered overweight or obese… and more than 90 percent of owners do not recognize that their pets are overweight.

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Recently I was talking to a woman who had rescued a medium-sized mutt. Indy is a Heinz-57 mix of herding and who-knows-what from southern New Mexico. On his adoption day, at around age 2, Indy weighed 45 pounds: definitely skinny. His ribs showed, his hip bones were painfully prominent, and he had the emaciated look of a worm-infested street dog.

But his adoptive mom didn’t just start feeding him “extra” to put weight on him. She took her time, bringing him up to his ideal body composition with a diet of high-quality food (fresh meat, bone marrow, fish, and eggs as the mainstays of his diet).

What is the Raw Food Diet for Dogs?

Most important was exercise. Every day they hiked or visited the off-leash dog park where Indy would run and play to his heart’s content. As a result, Indy gained weight, but not fat: he developed the athletic build of a dog who spends his days in motion.

A year later Indy weighed in at 60 pounds. No more prominent hip bones, no ribby look (though you could feel his ribs, you couldn’t see them), just solid muscle and the biggest happy doggy grin you can imagine. And yet, people still commented on how skinny Indy was. There was nothing his mom could say to people who were used to seeing chubby dogs and thought that a lean body meant underweight. They were well-meaning, but sadly misinformed.

So how do you determine (and achieve) a real healthy weight for your dog?

1: Change your perspective of what you consider to be “active” and “lean.” Look at pictures of your dog’s breed from 50 years ago (or similar breeds, if your breed is new); and then compare those pictures with the dogs you see in the neighborhood today. Notice how the accepted norms have changed in 50 years. Ask yourself why they’ve changed. Is it for the better? I would argue, definitely not. Pet obesity is rampant, and leads to significant health problems and shortened lifespans!

What Dog Breed is Right For Me: A Toy or Small Dog

2: Look at body composition rather than weight. Have you heard of “skinny fat”? Inactivity leads to a decrease in lean muscle mass and an increase in fat mass. Even if a sedentary dog looks to be a healthy weight, his body mass composition will actually read “obese” as compared with a same-weight dog whose body mass composition is skewed toward lean muscle. Ask your vet what healthy body composition feels like, and how to achieve it in your dog.

3: Work with your dog’s body type. Just like people have different body types, so do dogs. You’re never going to make a wrestler look like a ballet dancer, or a marathoner look like a linebacker. Work with your dog’s body type, but recognize that just because a bulldog or Pug has a lot of mass, it doesn’t mean that mass has to be fat! I’ve heard people say things like, “Labradors are prone to putting on weight.” No, they’re not. They are not genetically predisposed to being fat. Fat dogs are only fat because of overfeeding and lack of exercise!

4: Don’t give in! Don’t let those adorable puppy dog eyes guilt you into giving your dog too much food or too many treats! Dogs are masterful moochers, but if you’re feeding them the right amount, they don’t mooch because they’re hungry. They mooch because it works!

5: Adjust the portions. If you feed your pet kibble, don’t necessarily go by the recommended amounts listed on the package. Kibble is carb-heavy, which may be okay for very active dogs but will quickly put weight on inactive dogs. Adjust as needed.

The Horrors of Commercial Pet Food: What Every Dog and Cat Owner Should Know

6: Work with your vet! Your vet will tell you when your dog is overweight so listen up and do what your vet recommends.

7: Move more. If you increase your dog’s daily exercise by just 15 minutes a day without adjusting food intake, you’ll see a remarkable difference in a short period of time! Give both of you the benefit of more daily exercise as a way to build lean muscle. One hour per day of free running is ideal; of course, the amount and type of exercise depend on your dog’s breed, age, health and so forth. Your vet will tell you how to increase your pet’s activity levels safely. ??

Indoor Dog Exercise Ideas - For Small Dogs

Before and after picture of obese dog

You love your pet… and obesity is a major reason for shortened lifespans. Read this study that showed that life-long maintenance of lean body mass is a key factor in achieving a longer lifespan in dogs.

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You can keep your best friends around longer, and give them a much better quality of life, by keeping them active and on the lean side. All it takes is a change in perspective and some very easy lifestyle adjustments!


What is your dog’s Healthy Dog Weight?  Please share your stories and comments below.

Written by Johannes


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  1. Oh dear. This is alarming. Of course all of us want our doggy friends to live a long and healthy life. I had a doggy friend who passed on 2 years ago. I believe she was in good health and lived long. She was definitely not chubby.

    But I do see many dogs in my neighborhood looking like the photos you showed. Also, some of my friends’ doggy friends are a little on the heavy side. I must send them this link to educate them.

    Thank you so much, Tammy for writing this.

    • Thank you for the comment. Yes, it saddens me when I see overweight dogs. It is so bad for their overall health. Sorry to hear you lost a loved one

  2. Wow, this is a brilliant post! I had absolutely no idea if my dog was overweight but according to your image, mine is definitely in shape. This is a breath of fresh air and I thank you for that. I’m going to pass this article on to my aunt because I have a feeling her pet dog is overweight and she should do something about it real quick. Thanks a bunch!

  3. Hello Philip, thank you for the question. Just like humans, dogs tend to gain weight as they get older because they are slowing down and not as active. I would decrease his feedings and try to give him more exercise. His metabolism is most likely slowing down with age…hope this helps!

  4. Wow, this post was very enlightening! I have two dogs, that are a cross chihuahua and yorkshire terrier and looking at this, I believe one of them may be overweight… He loves to eat anything in sight, so perhaps I need to become a bit more strict with his food intake.

    Thank you for sharing this!

    • Hello Joann, I bet your dogs are super cute, great combo. I have one that will eat anything also; she’s always hungry! Good idea to keep an eye on it so you don’t deal with health problems down the road.

  5. OMG that picture of the little dachshund is so sad! I’ve seen extremely overweight dogs and cats and in my view it’s a kind of animal abuse. They’re wired with the same drives we are for eating when there’s plenty, because we all still erroneously assume periods of famine. Thanks for the tips on how to correct this tragedy!

    • Hello Penelope, I agree, it is abuse because it will eventually kill them. Some people think it’s cute to have a fat pet, infuriating! Thank you for reading.

  6. Well, you made me go look at my dog’s waist. I can’t see her waist so we must be doing something wrong. She gets plenty of free roaming exercise on a daily basis, so it must be her diet. Do you recommend any particular brands of dog food? She’s a 7 year old lab.

    • Hello Keith, thank you for the question. I can’t recommend any kibble or commercial dog food. I only feed my dogs a raw (species appropriate) diet and their weight is perfect. You can make it yourself or for convenience, you can buy freeze dried or pre-made raw food for your lab. There are a lot of options at Amazon and other online stores. I also recommend frozen raw patties. A lot of companies offer this now, but some are better quality than others. If you don’t want to switch to a raw diet, I would cut back on what you’re feeding her now and increase her exercise. Just like us, dogs tend to slow down with age so they don’t need as much food as they did when they were younger. Hope this helps! If you need more info on the why and how to do RAW, I can get you some good information to make the transition.

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