Being a fat Labrador is no fun at all.
In this article we’ll help you find out whether or not your Labrador is a bit too fat, and show you how to help your dog lose weight.
And ever more countries are joining this unhappy group.
What is more, Labradors are particularly likely to gain too much weight.
Canine obesity 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, but it’s one that you have a responsibility to try your best to achieve.
Not all Labradors need the same amount of food, so you will need to pay attention to your individual dog’s needs, and be prepared to change your habits if necessary.
Some dogs like working dogs for example, will need quite a lot more food in the winter than they do in the summer. This is down to the amount of exercise he is getting differing dramatically in the changing seasons.
You need to adapt your feeding to suit these shifts.
Is my Labrador 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!
How much should my Labrador weigh?
As we have seen above, the best way to tell if you have a fat Labrador is by looking and feeling. The trouble with providing you with a number is that it can give a false impression.
Depending upon whether your Lab is field or bench bred, short or tall, chunky or slight, male or female, will all make a big difference to their ideal weight for the individual.
The average adult Labrador will weigh anywhere between 55 to 80 lbs! Male Labs usually being around 5 to 10 lbs heavier than their female counterparts.
If you are still unsure whether your Lab is the right weight for his or her build having given her a thorough check yourself as described above, then the best thing to do is to pop down to your local veterinarian. They will be happy to let you know how much your individual Labrador should weigh.
Why is my Labrador fat?
So how did your slim little puppy end up as a fat adult Labrador?
There are three common assumptions that people make when considering how their dogs came to be overweight.
Does the dog need more exercise? Has he got some kind of medical problem? Or am I just feeding him too much at mealtimes or giving too many snacks?
In general if your dog is overweight the real reason is simply that he has eaten too much. Or rather, been allowed to eat too much.
So let’s have a look at how we can eliminate these other possibilities where most dogs are concerned.
Does my dog need more exercise?
People often say to me, “my Lab is a bit overweight because he hasn’t had much exercise lately.”
Whilst exercise can help to keep your dog in shape as a part of their daily routine, it is not the critical factor when it comes to putting on weight.
He may well need more exercise, but that is not why he is fat.
He is overweight because when you take into account the amount he exercises along with a number of other factors, he has eaten too much.
The exercise needs of your dog are an important but separate issue, which we look at in other articles. The important thing to remember is this:
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.
Medical causes of canine obesity
Although most dogs who are overweight have simply had a few too many bites to eat, there are some medical causes for obesity which do crop up from time to time.
Canine medical conditions that can affect your Labs weight include hypothyroidism, insulinoma and hyperadrenocorticism.
If a medical condition is the reason then the weight gain will normally be sudden and unexpected.
If you are concerned by sudden weight gain in your Lab when you have not been giving him more food, then a checkup at the vets is definitely in order.
You may also find that your dog puts on weight after having been neutered. If this is the case you will need to adjust your feeding habits accordingly.
However, for most dogs weight gain is a simple result of over feeding.
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.
Are fat Labs less healthy?
If you have looked at your Labrador and decided he is overweight, you might be wondered whether that actually matters. You still love him and he doesn’t care what he looks like – so why should you bother?
Is it really worth the effort of ignoring those puppy dog eyes and whines for extra food? Aren’t chubby Labs just even more cute and cuddly than their skinny friends?
Whilst it’s true that your dog has no interest in his outward appearance, he will be the one suffering on the inside if you allow him to get fat.
Slim dogs are healthier
Being overweight predisposes you to an awful lot of unpleasant health problems. This is true regardless of whether you are a human or a dog.
Carrying extra pounds can also make existing problems your dog may have worse. For example joint problems like arthritis and hip dysplasia can be exacerbated by having more weight to lug around.
As well as joints and bones suffering from obesity related issues, increased body fat can also make your dog more likely to have problems with their organs including those needed for breathing and digestion.
Scarily, in order for these risks to be increased your dog doesn’t even have to be very over weight. Just a bit of extra fat can have a host of unwanted consequences.
Slim dogs live longer
Not only will a slim dog have a better level of fitness and a lower likelihood of becoming unwell, they will in all probability live longer too.
Purina PetCare carried out a lifetime study on 48 Labradors, where they were divided into two categories, one of which was given 25% more food than the other.
Those Labs on the large food ration had a median lifespan of over 11 years old. Those on the smaller food ration lived to be over 13 years old.
When you look at the difference which can be made in these terms, by helping your Lab to stay slim you could be giving him an incredible two more years with you!
So, if you are going to help your Lab to lose weight let’s have a look at the best way to go about it.
How to reduce your dog’s 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.
If you use food as rewards in dog training, this should be deducted from his daily food allowance.
It could also help to find healthier alternatives to your usual training treats.
Bear in mind that if your dog is unwell, old or very young, it is sensible to consult your vet before tampering with his diet. It is also a good idea to have a chat with them beforehand if your dog is very overweight and has a lot to lose.
Record your dog’s weight loss progress
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.
Helping your dog to lose weight
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.
The Happy Puppy Handbook covers every aspect of life with a small puppy.
The book will help you prepare your home for the new arrival, and get your puppy off to a great start with potty training, socialisation and early obedience.
The Happy Puppy Handbook is available worldwide.
Have you struggled with your Labrador’s weight? Let us know how you helped him to stay fit in the comments section below.
This article was first published in 2012, and has been revised and updated for 2015.