Fat Labrador

Labrador looking for food

This article is part of our diet and exercise  series.

Being a fat Labrador is no fun at all.

Obesity is a huge problem in domestic dogs both in the UK and abroad.

It comes with a raft of accompanying health problems,  just as it does in people.

Feeding your Labrador just the right amount can be a bit of a balancing act.

Some dogs (especially working dogs) will need quite a lot more food in the winter than they do in the summer.

He needs more exercise

People often say to me,  “oh my lab is a bit overweight because he hasn’t had much exercise lately”

Well no,  he isn’t.    He may well need more exercise but that is not why he is fat.   He is overweight because he has eaten too much.  And unless he has developed opposable thumbs,  the only people with control over the food cupboard, are the people he lives with.

The exercise needs of your dog are a separate issue that we’ll be looking at soon.   The important thing to remember is:   the less exercise you give the dog,  the less you must feed him.

You can’t be forever playing ‘catch up’  with his weight,  or hoping to spend more time walking him next week.  Once put on, weight is hard to shift and it will simply go up and up over time.

You need to control it on a regular weekly/monthly basis, starting now.

How do I know if my Labrador is too fat?

It is really important that you keep your Labrador’s weight appropriate for his height and build,  rather than following guidelines on food packets or in books too closely.

The best way to tell is by eye and touch.

Have a look at your dog and compare him with this picture of a healthy Labrador.

Look at your dog from the side.  Does his belly slope upwards towards his groin, or is it a level line from his front legs to his back,  or even worse is it sagging down between his legs?

Your Labrador should have an upward sloping line from the base of his chest, towards his back legs.

Now look at the dog from above.  Can you see a ‘waist’  just in front of his hips?  You should be able to!   Your dog should not be the same width all the way down his body.

Look at your dog from the side again.  Can you see any ribs?  You should not be able to see a  lab’s ribs whilst he is standing still though you may well be able to see the last one or two when he is eating, drinking or bending and twisting.

Run you hands along his rib cages firmly.  Can you feel his ribs?   Ideally you should be able to just feel, but not see, your dog’s ribs.  If you can see ribs when he is standing still he is too thin.   If you cannot feel his ribs at all with your hands he is too fat!

My Labrador is always hungry

People are often concerned because they worry that their dog is still hungry after eating his dinner.  Here is an important truth.  Most Labradors are always hungry.

You cannot win this battle.  These are greedy dogs and your Labrador will always want more food than you give him.  No matter how much that may be.

If your Labrador is overweight he really needs to eat less and he will get used to his new regime quite quickly.

Cutting down on food

The first thing to cut out of your overweight dog’s diet is any snacks or fillers that you give him in between meals.   If he gets a lot of household scraps these may have to  go too.   And if you use food in training,  this should be deducted from his daily food allowance.

If your dog is very overweight, sick, old or very young,  it is sensible to consult your vet before tampering with his diet.

If your dog gets nothing to eat but a complete dog food then you can safely simply reduce the quantity you give him by about a third for three to four days.   Take a photo of him from above and from the side before you start.

At the end of the three to four days,  check the dog over as described above and ask yourself if he is still fat.

If you think he has improved a little but needs to slim down a bit further,  keep going for another three to four days then review the situation.  Compare the photo you took a week ago and you should see some improvement.

Keep going until your dog has a ‘waist’ again and you can feel his ribcage when you press firmly along his sides.   You may need to increase his food slightly in order to maintain his new slim figure and ensure he does not get thin.

If the dog is not losing weight after a couple of weeks on two-thirds of his previous food allowance, you may need to cut his food down even further.     This is a good point to check in with your vet,  let him know what you are doing and get his opinion on cutting down further on the dog’s daily food rations

Make your dog a lucky dog

Dogs are so lucky when their owners take a responsible attitude towards food and force them to lose weight if they are fat.  These lucky dogs never have to worry about portion size, or wrestle with their conscience over that extra piece of cheese.

You take care of all that for them.

The whole process is stress free and the dog starts to feel the benefits quite rapidly.   Less weight means it’s easier to move and breathe,  joint pain is relieved and the dog will often have a new lease of life.

Do your dog a favour and give him a better chance of good health and long life.  Keep him slim.

Obviously exercise is an important part of keeping your dog healthy too, and we’ll be looking at that soon.

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This article was written by Pippa Mattinson. Pippa’s latest book is  Total Recall, a complete recall training programme for dogs and puppies.

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Pippa Mattinson

The Labrador Site is brought to you by Pippa Mattinson. Pippa's latest book The Happy Puppy Handbook is a definitive guide to early puppy care and training

by Pippa on January 23, 2012

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Carole January 24, 2012 at 9:20 am

Great article and those pictures! That definitely looks like Barney’s back end in the food bag. When I first got him he was on kibble and managed to get in the garage one day and broke into a bag. I’ve no idea how much he scoffed before I caught him but he spent ages at the water bowl. Then of course it swelled up so he lay on his back for ages resting but he was still pleased with himself. And that lovely slim dog in the bottom picture could be Rusty :-)

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Pippa January 24, 2012 at 10:57 am

Thanks Carole, the dog in the bag is a typical greedy lab and belongs to my sister, the slim lady below is my Tess. Another greedy girl! It can be tricky resisting those appealing eyes when food is around :)

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paul July 12, 2012 at 6:25 am

my labador pup is 3 month old guide me to grow helethy

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Pippa July 13, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Hi Paul, have a look in our health section for information and do join our forum for help and advice.
Pippa

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Amanda August 8, 2012 at 1:56 am

I have two dogs the lab needs to lose weight the other does not how do i go about feeding ?

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Pippa August 8, 2012 at 8:10 am

Hi Amanda, I appreciate it may be less convenient, but you need to feed them separately. Even in separate rooms. Otherwise the greediest dog will take the most food. Pippa

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Charles December 25, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Hi Pippa. My Tisha is a 6-year-old lab that is now very overweight and I am quite concerned. I just can’t resist feeding her table scraps and such when I’m eating when she looks at me with those eyes that say “don’t forget me!”

She needs to lose about 7 kilos in my estimation. We walk three times a day and exercise is not the problem. But people have commented how slow she seems to walk behind me. However, she will still chase after her ball at full speed as fast as she can.

I feed her twice a day, usually rice, dog food and some bread or crackers mixed with either a 1/2 can of sardines or a 1/2 can of meatballs or some other such canned food. What should I do please?

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Leanne May 21, 2013 at 11:18 am

Don’t feed your dog human food as this is too salty and sugary for them they will pile on the pounds and the internal damage is serious – same as humans if we eat too much salt or sugar it affects our internal organs! This website looks to have fantastic help and advice. Try a dry complete food, follow the feeding guidelines on bag and reduce by 1/3 as advised in this article. If you are concerned it is not nice enough or interesting enough for your dog swap some of the dry food for meat – fresh boiled ONLY chicken or liver. Do not fry or bake any food for your dog. If you are going to give treats give only dog treats and remember what they have had at feeding time! My lab is overweight and is struggling to lose it due to the pain in his joints and his age but we are really trying hard with this plan and joint supplements. Good luck!

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Rosamund February 24, 2013 at 10:18 pm

Great, practical advice. I hate seeing overweight dogs (esp labs) struggling down the road and am paranoid about avoiding this. Great article! Thanks. :-)

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Pippa February 25, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Thanks Rosamund :)

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Marianne March 4, 2013 at 12:28 am

Thanks so much for the pictures. We have a lab pup who was gaining weight excessively fast. She’s now nearly 5mo old and 37lbs

https://fbcdn-sphotos-b-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/66595_10151780549289128_214127155_n.jpg

Based on your photo I think she’s at least close to a healthy weight at this point (we’ve cut her food down from 3 cups a day to 2.5cups for the past month or 2).

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Jen Moore April 18, 2013 at 7:49 pm

I have a very healthy looking 4 yr old lab bitch and a 1 year old that looks like she is starving to death! They both have the same food and excercise but there is no way of putting weight on the little one! When out with her people ask if she is a rescue dog!!!!

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Pippa April 18, 2013 at 8:59 pm

Hi Jen, some dogs are really hard to put weight on. Especially at the 9 to 18 months point. You may need to fork out for some extra meals for a while. It is probably better to add another meal in, than to increase the quantity of existing meals. You may need to do this for a few months, but whe will eventually fill out.
Pippa

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Kate Ramsden April 19, 2013 at 8:42 am

I used to worry that Sam, now almost 22 months, was too lean but when I asked my Vet, he said ” Dont you dare worry about him , he will thank you when he`s older and can carry his weight more easily, keep him just as he is ” Ironically his weight fluctuates between 34 and 37 kilos, depending on the level of exercise at the time but it must be all bone and muscle !
100% agree re greedy dogs and the eyes, oh its so hard to resist but better in the long run !

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rahul April 20, 2013 at 12:24 pm

My Labrador is 3 months old it is very short tell me about growing a good height what food item I have to keep

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Pippa April 20, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Hi Rahul, I answered your question over on the Labrador Puppies page. Your vet will give you the advice you need.
Pippa

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kathleen May 5, 2013 at 8:07 pm

poppy is 6 yr old black lab and i was determined she would not get fat but failed miserably and she is now 45kgs. her front legs are stiff and i am so upset watching her walking. i have sterted her on a strict diet( day 5 now) and am having to be strong for her sake. we are taking grandchildren away in 2weeks to a beach caravan and want poppy to enjoy it but do you think swimming in the cold sea will make her legs worse as i know she wont stay out of the water.she is on anti inflammatories from the vet.

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Pippa May 5, 2013 at 9:05 pm

Hi Kathleen, swimming is good exercise for overweight dogs as it is non weight bearing. The cold water would not bother a healthy labrador but check with your vet if you are worried. Well done for deciding to take action to reduce your dog’s weight, and don’t give in to those pleading eyes!!
Pippa

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Jennifer July 8, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Hi Pippa!
First time to check this website and gain a lot of info. I am a 1st time dog owner and have a 3month old lab named Chico. Is it important to have a kennel? Chico is just around and sleeps wherever inside the house. My reason is because I want him to learn how to socialize with people and so not to be ignorant or aggressive.

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Pippa July 8, 2013 at 4:30 pm

Hi Jennifer, you don’t have to have a kennel if you don’t want one. Pippa

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Jennifer July 9, 2013 at 11:08 am

Thanks Pippa!

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Anna August 24, 2013 at 2:02 am

We have a twelve year old chocolate. While he has arthritis, he is controlled by rymadil twice a day, so he walks every day and swims on the weekends. He has lots of lumps and is getting flatter ones on his sides so you can’t feel his ribs exactly. His waist is visible, but at his age his belly is not as toned (probably also due to many intestinal surgeries for blockages). His mom an sister died of cancer and wasted away. What do you look for in older, less toned dogs, and is it reasonable to keep a tiny weight buffer for health?

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Pippa August 24, 2013 at 6:24 am

Hi Anna, that is a really good question, and I doubt if there is a definitive answer, but you are welcome to my thoughts :)
I am not sure that a ‘weight buffer’ would help with the ‘wasting’ aspects of cancer, and it may be that cancer is more likely in an overweight dog? If so, that would cancel out any benefit in that respect. In addition, extra weight places a strain on the joints and may exacerbate any pain due to arthritis.

I honestly don’t think there is much benefit to a ‘weight buffer’ and suspect that weight control is just as beneficial to a senior dog as it is to younger ones. As always with health matters though, do chat to your vet and get his view.

Best wishes, Pippa

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Amanda August 28, 2013 at 9:15 pm

Hi Pippa,

I have a 4 year old lab who is 45kilos. I have been using Hills prescription food call RD for weight lose. I need some advice on how much I should be feeding him as he isnt loosing much! He has 2 good walks a day. Can you also advise on how I should be playing with him and for how long as he seems really bored? Also how many treats should i be giving him?
Warm Regards, Amanda Matthew.

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Pippa August 29, 2013 at 10:40 am

Hi Amanda, If your dog is not losing weight, you need to keep cutting down until the weight starts to come off. I recommend you follow the instructions in the ‘cutting down on food’ paragraph above. Treats need to be deducted from the daily food allowance.
Best wishes,
Pippa

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Tracy September 2, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Hi, so happy to know that my Lucy is the ideal weight. The Lab in the photo above could be my dog’s twin!!! Thanks for the confirmation….if only I could control my weight like I do for her! lol

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martin September 2, 2013 at 7:34 pm

Pippa, thank you for the article, The picture is a great help, My herc looks like your dog. I have not meseaured his ” Withers” , need my horse measuring stick, he is a large lab. I think more Amercian Type, but as dumped in the grounds here, do not know his breeding.

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Amanda September 5, 2013 at 6:57 am

Hey! Thanks so much for this article! We have an almost 3 year old female black lab.. She had a litter of puppies when she was 2 years old and shortly after, we got her spayed. After that, she seemed to put on a bunch of weight! We have a 5 year old Male also, and I feed them separately so that they don’t share food. But alot of the time, it’s him trying to eat hers! I am going to try your advice on feeding less, and maybe that will help her. We aren’t in a very nice neighborhood, so the only real exercise she gets is if I go out and play with her, or if she wrestles with the male for fun. Thanks for the advice, and let me know if you have any extra tips! :)

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tina December 2, 2013 at 1:00 pm

hi i have an 8 year old over weight black lab apart from exercise can you suggest any sort of diet hope you can help as she is finding it hard to get around

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Pippa December 2, 2013 at 3:38 pm

Hi Tina, I suggest you follow the recommendations for cutting down on food, given in the article above. She will soon start to shed the weight. Pippa

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Marie January 17, 2014 at 12:34 pm

We have a 4 year old female labrador who weighs about 32 kg. She looks bit overweight, her tummy is tiny bit saggy and she’s quite wide on her back. I would like to get that extra weight off her now before she gets too overweight and it will be more difficult. I’m giving her 2 meals a day, she’s on Burns weight control kibbles+I give her some cooked chicken once a day in her food. But treats are the problem, small bit of biscuit here and there, or piece of sausage/cheese/// She gets 1 half an hour walk a day+some running on the fields with a frisbee..I would still like to get her spayed but I’m worried of her gaining more weight..

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Pippa January 17, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Hi Marie, food is the key. Exercise has to be extensive to make a big difference and a sudden increase in exercise in an overweight dog puts a strain on the joints. Follow the ‘cutting down on food’ advice with commitment and you will see a dramatic improvement. Your dog will be so much more healthy. Ignore those pleading eyes :) You can do it.

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Janeane Nursey January 27, 2014 at 2:51 pm

I just picked up a buetiful golden lab she is 6and a half lovely nature but grossly over weight iI can not believed a breeder has let her get so big and I mean big.
I have started I walked her not to far as I did not want to over do it and if been told to give her half a scoop of food twice a day I was informed that shehas been having a daily treat of a rich tea biscuit and loves bread and cheese all bad for her I believe so they are going to be the first thing to go.
Can anyone offer any advise that would help.

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Marty B February 12, 2014 at 2:00 pm

My labrador is Marley and is 3 this week. He’s about 38 kg and should be 30. He’s on two handfuls of chappy every morning and evening and has a carrot as a treat. I don’t know what’s caused him to become overweight; whether someone else has been feeding him without my permission or he has been going into the bin etc I don’t know. But I really want to get him to lose that 8kg. Please help me!

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Vedant March 17, 2014 at 8:53 am

My lab’s weight is 32-34 kg. Is he fit??

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Iram March 30, 2014 at 7:43 am

Hi…A couple of days back, I bought a puppy Labrador. I’m trying to teach him to ‘sit’ but he doesn’t listen to me, but he listens to my brother…maybe because mostly he feeds him. A bad habit of my puppy is that he keeps on coming towards one’s feet and if not stopped, bites the trouser or whatever one’s wearing. Plus, when he is asked to follow, he follows, but stops after a few minutes. Moreover, when I call him, he comes only when he wants to. And I had been feeding him milk and a pieace of bread thrice a day. But as I read your articles, I came to know that I have to buy dog food for him.

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Bill April 9, 2014 at 3:18 pm

Sorry, but what on earth is a kilo?

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Pippa April 9, 2014 at 6:36 pm

A kilo is 2.2lbs

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