7 Exercise Tips for an Overweight Dog

Updated on July 19, 2019
DrMark1961 profile image

Dr. Mark is a small-animal veterinarian. He works mostly with dogs and exotic animals.

How to help your dog lose weight.
How to help your dog lose weight. | Source

Need to know how to start exercising your dog? I provide you with some great exercise routines, including the estimated number of calories burned for each exercise. These are easy steps you can follow to get your dog in shape and prevent the diseases associated with obesity.

How to Get Your Fat Dog to Lose Weight

A pound of fat is about 3500 calories, so if your dog weighs 50 pounds but should only be 40, he needs to lose about 35,000 calories before returning to his normal weight. Without further gain or dietary change, that dog will need about 700 hours of walking, 350 hours of walking off leash, or even 233 hours of running fast.

A dog's life is short and losing weight should not take years. By itself, exercise is just not enough, but it can help. Here are seven exercises to make your dog's weight loss go a little faster:

  • Running: This is the best exercise to burn calories. Dogs love to run alongside their human, but even if you do not run their are good alternatives. I have a moped that I drive along the beach and my dogs will chase that until they are exhausted. In order to lose weight rapidly the dogs must run fast, about 5 miles an hour. In humans that rate is good enough to lose about 600 calories an hour, so a 20 pound dog will lose about 75 calories an hour.
  • Treadmill: Not everyone will have an opportunity to take their dog out for a healthy run or a long walk, and sometimes (like during a thunderstorm) the dog wouldn’t enjoy it anyway. Having a treadmill will solve that problem. If your dog is healthy enough to run for a full half hour he can burn up about 3.75 calories per pound of body weight; one study on heart rates in dogs had them walking through water tanks on a treadmill. Although few people will want to set that up at home, that exercise was good enough to stimulate a full run.
  • Walking with a backpack: When going out walking this is a much more effective way to lose weight for humans, and there is no reason your dog cannot gain from this exercise. Put water bottles or dry kibble in his backpack every day when you go for a walk. An 160 pound human uses about 500 calories an hour walking uphill with a pack, and while your dog will probably not lose nearly that much (maybe 250 calories an hour for an 80 pound dog, 125 calories an hour for a 40 pound dog), it is a much better way to lose weight than a normal walk.
  • Playing Catch: The advantage for this type of exercise is that the dog´s owner can remain fairly quiet while the dog is getting his exercise. Okay, maybe this is not such an advantage, but even a small dog (10 pounds) might lose 20-40 calories. If your dog is into catching Frisbees, he might even lose a lot more.
  • Swimming: In humans this activity burns up about 400 calories an hour so a medium sized dog, 40 pounds, might lose about 100 calories an hour. My dogs prefer swimming in the river to the ocean, but unless they are encouraged they will just lie on the bank. It sounds like a good motivator for you to swim, doesn´t it?
  • Walking off leash: Dogs let off leash during their regular walk will tend to walk, run and sprint, so this is similar to jogging and one of the most efficient ways to burn up excess calories. (The same calorie loss happens at the dog park if your dog enjoys the social benefits and runs around and plays with others. If you are not able to walk your dog off leash at a beach or hiking area this is a good alternative.) 160 pound humans can lose almost 400 calories an hour fast walking/jogging, so this is probably similar to what a dog loses (reduced by weight, of course, so a 40 pound dog loses about 100 calories per hour).
  • Walking: Although this is something you need to be doing anyway, a dog is not going to lose a lot of weight in a normal walk. Not much research has been done in this area, but what is available shows that a dog will burn less than 1 calorie per pound per hour. Even if you walk your obese dog for an hour in the morning and evening this calorie loss is not significant.

Estimated Calorie Loss

Calories Burned/pound/hour
Walking with backpack
Playing catch
Walking off leash

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A Note on Calorie Estimates

The estimates I provide in the exercise regimens listed below are only estimates. If your dog is a slacker, like my pit bull who walks next to me and only occasionally sprints, she will burn up less. If she is like my Schnauzer, who chases seabirds through the crashing waves every afternoon, she is going to be burning up a lot more calories during her daily outings.

There are several websites available that will give you an idea of your dog's daily caloric requirements so that you can adjust the amount of feed that you give. None of them are exact, however, and some owners report that their dogs eat a lot less and are in good shape, while others state that their dogs eat more and are skinny.

Most of the web sites out there that list how many calories your dog can burn up when exercising are also wrong. Getting your dog to lose weight is not easy.

Playing catch can be one of the best ways your dog can burn excessive calories.
Playing catch can be one of the best ways your dog can burn excessive calories.

Is Your Dog Overweight or Already Obese?

Somewhere between one-third to one-half of all the dogs in the US are overweight. A recent study sponsored by the AAHA said this number may be as high as 59%.

At one point it seemed obvious to me that anyone with an obese dog would recognize it and try to do something about it. The reality, unfortunately, is a lot different. Most owners with overweight dogs just keep filling up the dog bowl whenever it becomes empty and do not realize they are killing their dogs with kindness.

If you are reading this, though, I hope you are ready to do something about it.

Weight loss is only going to come about by taking in less calories and burning up those calories that are already stored as fat. There are a lot of new theories that might make this a little easier, like feeding more on the days of heavy exercise and giving little on days of rest, but the basics do not change: take in less to gain less.

Health Problems That Are Caused by Obesity

  • Reduced life span: Obesity will make your dog´s life short and miserable. He will have trouble breathing, have high blood pressure and heart problems, and be a lot more likely to die of heat stroke on a warm summers day.
  • Mammary tumors: Obese unspayed female dogs are also more likely to develop breast cancer.
  • Skin diseases and immune problems: Obese dogs have more skin problems than thin dogs and are also more likely to have immune-mediated problems.
  • Pancreatitis: There is still no clear reason why this disease occurs but it does happen more often in obese female dogs. The pancreas becomes inflamed and releases enzymes into the abdomen that causes a dog to start digesting her own body.
  • Diabetes: One effect of chronic pancreatitis may be that the pancreas is destroyed by enzyme release. Insulin is no longer released in adequate amounts and dogs develop sugar diabetes.
  • Arthritis: This is one of the most serious problems with excessive weight, even if it does not happen until much later in life. Dogs that carry around too much weight are straining their joints and the slightest problem can become serious. According to an AVMA study, weight loss alone is enough to reduce or eliminate the signs of hip dysplasia and arthritis in some dogs.

A Fat Dog's Diet

Exercise is not enough. Here are some diet tips to help your fat dog get in shape even quicker.

Raw Dog Food Diet

Not everyone wants to bother with this diet but if you do you will find your dog is more satisfied with his diet. A healthy 50 pound dog will eat about one pound of raw food (2% of body weight) every day—dogs less than 20 pounds will need to eat a higher percentage of their body weight each day. Of course if you are feeding a raw diet in order to get your dog to lose weight you need to give less—a good starting point is to give 20% less for 1 month and then to weigh the dog and evaluate how the program is going. (This has to be weighed each day, of course. If you start an exercise program at the same time this can go a lot faster.)

Commercial Weight Loss Diet

These diets can work if used correctly. Unfortunately, the feeding recommendations are often not correct, in my experience, and some dogs given the right amount are excessively hungry. Some web sites for commercial diets will recommend you use their guide but since calorie needs vary so much the only way to tell is by experimentation at home. You can give the recommended food level for a month but be sure to weigh your dog before and after. If he is not losing, reduce it by about ¼. Weigh again in another month, and reduce it by ¼ again if necessary.

Homemade Weight Loss Diet

This is the easiest and best diet for most people. If you are willing to spend the extra time making up a diet but do not want to have raw foods around your kitchen, you can find plenty of good homemade diet suggestions on reputable websites. The main benefits of feeding a homemade weight loss diet are your ability to add high fiber ingredients to the dog food while controlling the things he does eat; your dog will eat plenty but be taking in fewer calories.

A raw diet can satisfy your dogs need to chew without providing excessive calories.
A raw diet can satisfy your dogs need to chew without providing excessive calories. | Source

I have had dogs become overweight in the past—I know it can happen quickly, and once a dog does gain excess weight it is hard to lose. There are so many health benefits to weight loss, though, that it is worth the effort. Also, be aware that some breeds are prone to obesity.

If you try food reduction and exercise and nothing really works, there is a chance that there is a medical problem. Your vet can discuss hypothyroidism with you and there is a prescription drug called Slentrol that helps if nothing else works.

Just remember to get started today!


  • Tipton C, Carey R, Eastin, W, et al. A submaximal test for dogs: evaluation of effects of training, detraining and cage confinement. J. of Applied Physiology Aug 1974; 37:271-75
  • Brooks D, Churchill J, et al. 2014 AAHA Weight Management Guidelines For Dogs And Cats. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 50, 2014.
  • Impelleziri J, Tetrick M, Muir P. Effect of weight reduction on clinical signs of lameness in dogs with hip osteoarthritis. Journal of the AVMA, Vol. 216, No. 7, April 1, 2000.
  • The human calorie values were mostly taken from MayoClinic. If these estimates are replaced by more reliable information for dogs I will replace them as they become available.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

© 2015 Dr Mark

Need advice? Leave your question here.

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    • DrMark1961 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Mark 

      9 months ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Hi Kaylea what about limiting the sessions to 10 minutes, but doing so three times a day?

    • profile image


      9 months ago

      My dog can only walk/run for so long before she is tired so I find it hard to get her running for 30 mins to one hr

      I have a treadmill and I have tried putting her on it but she freezes up and won’t walk on it

      If anyone has advice please help.

    • RobinGrosswirth23 profile image

      Robin Grosswirth 

      4 years ago from New York

      Hi, DrMark1961 I don't have a place for him to swim, unfortunately.

    • DrMark1961 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Mark 

      4 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Hi Robin, a little guy like that sounds like a good candidate for swimming. (He probably would not take well to a backpack!) Do you have anywhere to take him for swimming?

    • RobinGrosswirth23 profile image

      Robin Grosswirth 

      4 years ago from New York

      I am feeding my dog less dog food and supplementing him with veggies, however, he does not run, especially in warm weather. Though I do walk him often during the day, oftentimes, I am seen dragging him because he is lazy. He is a Cavalier K C. Great hub.

    • torrilynn profile image


      4 years ago

      you are more than welcome

    • DrMark1961 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Mark 

      4 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Hi torrilynn nice to "see" you again! You are right about a lot of extra table scraps, but I don't think taking your dog out is going to be enough. Even at twice a day, which a lot of people do not do, it is going to take a year or so for a medium sized dog. Way too long, in my opinion.

      Thanks for commenting.

    • torrilynn profile image


      4 years ago

      I would think cutting out the table food would be a great start and taking your dog outside more for activities would be beneficial as well. really great hub that you have here. thanks.

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 

      4 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Yes, we cut out the "junk food" milkbones (though we had been giving Daisy small ones) and substituted tiny, healthier treats instead. Thanks for the encouragement!

    • DrMark1961 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Mark 

      4 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Hi Susan thanks for the comment. As Bob points out, treats are one of the greatest diet busters since a lot of people do not realize how many calories they are adding. One thing I have noticed when training is that dogs just want the treat, no matter how small it is. I give a "little fingernail" sized piece of garlic powder-dried liver, and with my own dogs just use a small piece of dog kibble (they eat raw so kibble tastes really different to them). I do not know if you are giving Daisy those big milk bone-sized treats like the company suggests for a big dog like her, but if you are try giving very small treats instead. You can provide just as many as before but with a lot less calories. Good luck on her program.

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 

      4 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Daisy (our Lab) is a few pounds overweight, though she gets plenty of exercise (long walks and play). Our problem is that she loves treats and I love treating her! Since her recent annual exam, though, I've cut back on the treats and she's lost what she needed to lose. We certainly want to keep her healthy for a very long time. She's part of the family, after all! Thanks for the advice.

    • DrMark1961 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dr Mark 

      4 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      I agree with that last comment about telling the client like it is, but so many vets are worried that the clients will just not come back if they tell the truth. And, like you mentioned, a lot of clients are just amused anyway and don't realize how serious this problem is.

      I see this problem even with dogs that are able to run around. You do remember what a dog will do if you put him in the yard to run around? He will lie down and wait for the urge to exercise.

      Maybe more of them need that can!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 

      4 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Good information, Doc. I just hope people take it seriously. I've seen estimates of 65% of dogs in the US being overweight...of course, overweight doesn't necessarily mean obese. My guess is that most of those are, though.

      In my experience in dealing with pet owners, too many of them speak of their obese dogs in amused terms..."He's a little porker...he likes to eat too much...he never met a treat he didn't like."

      Speaking of treats, owners should count them as part of the dog's daily caloric intake. People will weigh and measure food, but the treats are often given ad lib and not considered part of the daily regimen.

      I think the obesity epidemic here in the states has a lot to do with it. It's not uncommon to see obese parents with overweight or obese children and an overweight or obese dog.

      I don't think vets are forceful enough with their clients, either. People will tell me that the vet noted the dogs overweight condition but didn't seem to be alarmed about it. The vets need to open a can of ass whupin' and let their clients know the seriousness of the condition.

      Voted up, useful and interesting.


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