My Smart Puppy

with Dog Expert, Sarah Wilson

Three “M”s for Canine Weight Management


More than 50% of America’s dogs are overweight, a problem that eats away at both the length and the quality of their life. No one wants that for their companion but many people are stymied by both exactly how their pet got this way and what to do about it.

Here are three simple tips for how to help Spot slim down:


When I asked the owner of an overweight Labrador how much she fed her dog, she answered, “One cup twice a day.” I asked her to show me the cup. It was a coffee mug that actually held two cups of food. She was shocked. Apologizing directly to her dog, she tossed that mug out as I stood there.

TRY: Using an actual measuring cup. Look at your dog’s body, not the dog food bag, to decide how much to feed. When you run your hands down your dog’s body his ribs and backbone should be easily felt. If not, it’s time to review his meal plan. Each dog is unique and may need much less food to stay fit than a bag might suggest.

Want to add some extra low-cal treats to smaller meals? Try mixing in some plain green beans or squash, plain canned pumpkin, or plain sweet potato, but chat with his veterinarian beforehand to double check if that is a good idea for your dog.

AVOID: Leaving food out all the time. Two meals a day works best for most healthy adult dogs. Watch those treats! Find low-cal options and break them up. A dog is just as delighted with a quarter of a cookie than a whole one. Be even more watchful with small dogs! Feeding them too much is just incredibly easy when their meals are measures in teaspoons, not cups!


Dogs are generally world-class loungers and overweight dogs can take resting to near Olympic levels. Heavy dogs need to get moving but they need to do so safely.

TRY: Talk to your dog’s veterinarian first but aim to increase activity by 25% each week until you’re up to an hour or more a day. The best low-risk exercise for over-weight canines includes walking on leash, swimming, and hill walking.

AVOID: Activities that demand racing around, spinning or scrambling. Fetch and dog parks can be a blast but they can also put a great deal of strain on an overweight dog’s body. Keep those activities as a goal to enjoy after the pounds come off. Short games of fetch played up a slight incline and play dates with calm, gentle dogs can be good intermediary steps for many dogs.


If you want your dog to look different, you have to make his life different. Look for ways to add both activity and interest into his day to motivate him to move and keep moving.

TRY: Feeding meals from food dispensing toys. Such toys allow you to load your dog’s meal inside then your dog has to work to get it back out. This keeps your dog entertained and active while meal time is prolonged. Smaller meals are less noticed when fed from such a toy. There are many brands, some of our favorites are: IQ Treatball, Kong Wobbler, Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball, Everlasting Treat Ball, and Busy Buddy Twist ‘N Treat.

AVOID: Making life too easy for him. Even small changes like calling him to you  instead of going to him when you want a pet fest, leaving a favorite toy out of reach so he has to get up to get it, leaving a couple of small, low-cal treats hidden in the house or yard so he has to work to find them can add to his daily calorie burn.

Results take time. Feeding less and exercising more is usually the answer. It’s not a complex equation but it is a good one. Make it a project you do with and for your dog. You’ll be adding years to his life and life to his years. Now that is love!

Other articles to help your overweight dog:

Good Games for Child and Dog

The Foundation of Following: Five Off Leash Games

by Sarah Wilson

Author of handbooks: My Smart Puppy (book with DVD) and Childproofing Your Dog

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