Is Your Pet Overweight? Exercise and Eating Tips for Dogs and Cats

How Can You Tell is Your Pet is Overweight?

May 18, 2021
Enjoying a day at the beach

My sons dog playing at the beach

Diane Peck

Is your pet overweight? Pets have the same tendency to gain weight (and consequences from doing so) that humans do. Here are some simple tricks to incorporate better health into your pet’s life.

Is Your Pet Overweight?

Feeling a pet’s rib coverage is a good, easy method for you to do at home. 

  • First, place the palm of your hand on the side of your pet’s rib cage and press gently.
  • If you feel your pet’s ribs with this amount of pressure, it probably weighs the right amount.
  • If you have to push harder to feel the ribs, your pet is overweight.

Most veterinary practices use a body condition scoring system on a scale of either 1-5 (3 is normal) or 1-9 (5 is normal).

It’s best to address the extra weight as soon as possible as overweight pets are more susceptible to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and disease—which may lead to more medical complications, expense for the owner, and discomfort for the pet. 

Obesity also shortens a pet’s life. Studies show that even a moderately overweight dog reduces life expectancy by nearly two years. This may be a wake-up call but it’s not hard to adjust a dog’s diet and exercise for better health if we know the right steps to take.

Better Eating

  • For overweight pets, consider low-calorie food. However, note that is it not appropriate to simply reduce the volume of their current food. This will cause malnourishment over time. You’ll need to look at food specifically for weight loss that is formulated with the right nutritional balance. Consult with your vet. S/he can tell you what kind of food to get, as well as how much the particular pet should be getting, initially for safe weight loss, and then how much to maintain the ideal weight.
  • It’s essential to set a strict diet. Only serve a set amount daily, based on your pet’s weight, breed, and age. Also, don’t leave food out all day for pets to snack on. 
  • If you’re introducing a new diet to your pet, do it gradually. Begin by mixing one part of the new food with three parts old food at each meal. After a few days mix to equal amounts of new and old food. Next, do three parts new food, one part old food.
  • Table scraps are infamous for packing on unwanted pounds. Pet’s regular meals should be designed to give them all the calories they need; the extra snacks at your kitchen table aren’t necessary.
  • If you give your pet a regular treat, however, switch to a tasty, health alternative. For example, many dogs like crunchy raw vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, and green beans. (If digestion is an issue, ice-cubes are crunchy and can act as a treat as well.)

Learn more about proper pet nutrition.

Better Exercise

  • Walking a dog is important for any size of dog, including small dogs. It’s not just a bathroom break and exercise; it provides mental stimulation and the chance to explore the world instead of being confined to home and yard.
  • For dogs, start slow and work your way up to a faster pace or longer distance so your pet can build endurance. Always provide plenty of water before and after a walk. Dogs can’t cool off by sweating because they don’t have the glands, so it’s very important to be careful in the heat not to overexert them and to keep them hydrated. An ideal route for you and your pup is one where you can walk on a path or sidewalk and the dog can walk on grass. Different breeds of dogs are more disposed to be active. Small dogs and toy breeds won’t be able to keep up; where as any medium to large breed can be conditioned for walking.
  • For cats, it’s also important to exercise a bit. Older cats naturally tend to sleep more, which reduces the amount of play time, and can lead to obesity. Or, if a young cat likes to snack a lot, the same symptoms occur—they become more lethargic and don’t exercise off the extra calories. Try to set aside some time to interact with the cat, and gradually introduce more play time. Get him/her interested in playing. Find some toy that s/he especially likes—balls, sticks with felt strips on the end, cat “fishing poles” with a bit of rag on the end, or the toys that have a ball that rolls in a circular track that the cat can bat.
  • Remember, when starting a diet or exercise plan of any sort, it’s always a good idea to contact your vet.

Learn more about caring for a senior pet.

How old is your pet in human years? See our Dog Age Chart and Cat Age Chart.


Reader Comments

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Have a beautiful bluetick

Have a beautiful bluetick coon hound, who was just fine, until we got her spayed. Almost immediately after the surgery she gained a lot of weight. She is now appox.30-40 lbs. over her ideal weight. She has always loved to eat, I mean more than my other dogs, even b4 surgery. I try to exercise her as often as possible. She tolerates activity, but gives out quickly.I think she could use some hormones, she is not nearly as active and playful as b4 surgery. But, vet says he doubts the need for hormones. However, no testing was done.Anyone out there have or had a dog who has taken hormones? Did it help them? My Sally Blue(her name) needs some help. Please give us advice.Thx!

Over weight dog after being spayed.

Our dogs were diagnosed with very low functioning thyroid (one after giving birth and one after being spayed).
They are on thyroid medication and a version of the Atkins diet (no carbs) along with exercise to try to get them back down to a healthy weight.

My cat Ali is over weight and

My cat Ali is over weight and sleeps a lot. Any suggestions he is a Norwegian Forest Cat the breed is normally large, but he is a little past that.

Hi Wyllow, Based on your

The Editors's picture

Hi Wyllow, Based on your comment, we have added more cat information in the article above. See the tips on exercise for cats as well as low-calorie food for cats. One of our editors adds, "I have a fat cat myself, and he is either partly Maine coon or Norwegian forest, so he is naturally large-framed—but also portly. This link is to a food that I feed my cat:

If you have a decent size

If you have a decent size yard check into an invisible fence. Got friends with an acre yard who installed one. Her dogs can run around freely now. Also, if your dog is up for it, try teaching him/her to play Frisbee or catch with a ball. That way the dog gets exercise without wearing you out as much. Friends are currently caring for a puppy whose owner had surgery. That puppy will chase the Frisbee tell she drops. Now, if she would only learn to bring it back to me:-)

My little MinPin is obese.

My little MinPin is obese. My Vet says NO MORE SCRAPS! I started walking him and to be quite honest, he wears me out! I am 115 and in good shape and am glad when he stops running. I tried him on my treadmill and need someone to hold the treat in front while I walk with him, he is way too quick to tie the treat up front. He's as fast as lightning and out races the treadmill and grabs the treat! Now, he became a toy to a Rotti a week ago, actually he jumped the Rotti and got shook like a rag doll! His spine was badly out of align and he cannot wear a collar or halter, any restraint, but still wants to go for his walk, He's gotten alot better though.:) If I let him run loose, I cannot keep up and he gets away. We live in the outback of northern AZ and the coyotes may get him running loose. He cannot be trusted to be loose, ever! Any suggestions?

lakotalady, please it's not

lakotalady, please it's not MINPIN place to be trusted they are our babies! all dogs just want to run for awhile, but they don't know the dangers that are out there. My Schnauzer Riley is 10 yoa my Pom is 3 yoa they never go out w/o leash. Maybe u could find a chiropractor school or office that would adjust MINPIN before the spine sets. My neice had a black 1 that was hit by car 2x. they live on busy hwy. they never learn about putting them in back fence. 3 purebreed dogs have been run over at their home. Everytime I visit & play with their new pets I feel they will be killed. Coyotes are near me too. I wish u luck give MINPIN a kiss!