New Year’s Weight Loss Resolution? Consider your dog, too! Series | Part 1

Understanding Obesity in Dogs

“This will be the year I start working out again, and eating better!” If this statement sounds remotely similar to your New Year’s resolution, consider including your dog in that goal. Many studies have found anywhere from 30-50% of canines are overweight or obese, mirroring numbers in the United States human population. Similar to humans, obesity in animals can lead to a variety of health issues including but not limited to arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease. Overweight animals have been shown to be less active and social, and can have a shortened lifespan. Pet obesity is a complex issue that has to do with both how much food is eaten and how the body uses that food. How much food is eaten is affected by the dog’s appetite and the caregiver’s feed behavior (e.g., “Fluffy begs” and “I love giving Fluffy treats”), whereas how the body uses that food can be affected by the dog’s activity level and how efficiently the body uses energy.

So how does your veterinarian diagnose your dog as obese? Veterinarians employ many tactics to fully understand your animal’s health. They might ask you questions such as what type and amount of food you feed to your pet, whether your pet receives treats or not, and their activity levels, along with performing a physical exam on your dog. During the physical exam, your veterinarian will typically weigh your dog as well as determine their overall body condition score (BCS) using a 9-point scoring system.  The scores are as follows:

Simply looking at a dog does not give an accurate representation of their body condition, which is why you will see the veterinarian physically palpate prominent areas on the animal, such as their ribs, spine, and pelvis. If your pet is determined to be overweight, the veterinarian will estimate the target ideal weight for your dog. Each BCS point is considered approximately 10% of the animal’s ideal weight; there are also a variety of online calculators used to estimate target weights.

If your veterinarian determines that your pet does in fact need to lose weight, there are many different regiments (just like human diet culture)! You should have an at length conversation about what option fits you and your dog’s lifestyles best. It is important to remember that your veterinarian’s assessment of your dog’s body condition is not a judgement on your ability to care for your pet!



Gossellin, J., et al. “Canine Obesity – an Overview.” Journal of Veterinary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, vol. 30, no. s1, 2007, pp. 1–10. Wiley Online Library,

Shepherd, Megan. “Canine and Feline Obesity Management.” Veterinary Clinics: Small Animal Practice, vol. 51, no. 3, May 2021, pp. 653–67.,