Exercise Tips for an Overweight Dog

According to the Pet Obesity Prevention study, 55.8% of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese. That number equals about 50 million dogs. As we go through our busy lives, we humans often push exercise to the bottom of the to-do list for ourselves, so it is not surprising that so many of our dogs are suffering from obesity, too. Fortunately, exercising your overweight dog can be simple and fun for both of you.

Just like with humans, weight gain in dogs is caused by consuming more calories than the body needs. Dog owners often struggle with determining how much to feed their dogs. Most brands of dog food provide guidelines on how much to feed a dog based on their current weight, age, and activity level. Owners frequently overestimate just how active their dog truly is, resulting in feeding the dog too much and the dog becoming overweight.

When working on a weight loss plan for any pet, it is important to partner with your veterinarian to make sure that the weight gain is not caused by another issue like a thyroid problem, Cushing’s Disease, or other medical problems. Your vet can help you determine how to gradually reduce the amount of food that your dog eats a healthy and humane way. It is also important to make sure that your dog is healthy enough to start an exercise program at their current weight.

Walking your dog good exercise

Once you have gotten the all-clear from your veterinarian, walking is the safest and easiest way to get an overweight dog up off of their favorite dog bed and burn more calories. Not only does walking provide physical activity, but it is an excellent form of mental exercise for your dog because of the smells that they experience along the way. Walking is easier on their joints than running or playing fetch, and according to VCA Hospitals, walking keeps their urinary tract in good working order.


Start slowly by taking walks for short distances and monitor your dog as you go. Watch your dog’s breathing to make sure that he/she is not struggling for breath or panting heavily. It is important to choose your walking route carefully so that you are not committed to a long walk because there is no short path home should your dog become tired. You can also stop for periodic breaks, and make sure that you and your dog are having fun and enjoying the scenery as you go. As your dog’s endurance increases and their weight decreases, you can gradually take longer walks and hikes on more difficult terrain.

If you are in an urban or suburban setting, you can make more than one trip around the block to ensure that you are not too far away from home, or walk when other family members are home and can pick you and your dog up in the car if needed. If walking on a trail, remember that you have to walk back the same distance that you headed out on the trail, so opt for shorter distances and then repeat if your dog is still enthusiastic and not showing signs of being tired.  

Hydrotherapy for dogs

Hydrotherapy is a form of exercise that involves walking your dog on a treadmill that is underwater. More and more Canine Hydrotherapists are offering their services around the country as this form of therapy becomes more popular. Although many pet owners utilize this service for physical therapy following an injury, it is also a great form of aerobic exercise for overweight or elderly dogs because it is easy on their joints. The water makes the dogs more buoyant, which is good for their joints, and the therapist can help work certain muscle groups depending on the level of water in the treadmill area, according to this video by CBS news.

Dog swimming

Swimming is also an excellent exercise for dogs, particularly overweight dogs. In most suburban or urban locations, pet owners can find indoor swimming pools for dogs where you can take your dog to swim safely in a clean pool with a trained employee to assist you and your dog.  These facilities are great because dogs can swim year-round and the water is treated to prevent germs and accommodate the specific needs of a dog’s skin and coat so it is not as drying as a regular swimming pool.

If you choose to take your dog swimming in an outdoor, natural body of water like a pond, stream, lake, or ocean, be sure to take several safety precautions and make sure that you understand the currents and undertow of the body of water. Saltwater can become deadly when consumed, as can blue-green algae. Additionally, watch for popular fishing areas as lures and hooks can lurk at the bottom of the body of water and injure your dog’s paws. Depending on your location, snakes, alligators, and other animals can injure or kill dogs. Finally, never allow your dog to swim in a manmade retention pond, as there are hidden hazards that can cause injury or accidental death like underwater drains and aerators that pull water into them that could cause drowning.



Although many breeds of dogs are natural swimmers, life preservers are always a good idea, particularly if your dog is overweight or out of shape. Make sure to keep your dog’s safety in mind, and avoid swimming in places where you cannot reach your dog yourself if he/she has difficulties.

The Whole Dog Journal has a comprehensive article on how to safely introduce your dog to swim that you can read at this link: https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/lifestyle/swimming-is-great-exercise-for-dogs/


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