Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Unexplained Weight Gain

This is a tough one. A majority of dogs are already overweight or obese. Most of the time we're not even aware of a problem, particularly when it happens gradually.

Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Unexplained Weight Gain

The first step is knowing what your dog's body should look and feel like.

Can you feel your dog's ribs easily? Does your dog have a visible waistline? Tummy tuck? If the curves on your dog start disappearing (dogs shouldn't be shaped like tubes!), your dog is putting on some extra pounds.

Look how she's beautifully filling in.

That's what people kept saying when Jasmine started loosing her youngster all-legs look. We were none wiser. After all, she was a Rottweiler - those are supposed to be big, right? Then we adopted Bruin who was huge. Just seeing the two side by side made Jasmine look tiny.

It wasn't until we were trying to get to the bottom of a completely different problem when her vet finally noticed that she might be chubbier than she should be. As it turned out, she had an under-active thyroid.

Once treated, the extra weight just melted away.

As we became more aware of what Jasmine's body condition should be, I got serious about keeping her that way. Then she started getting heavier again. I kept reducing her food to the point where I felt that she could not get any less. When discussing her weight with the vet I insisted that I cannot and will not feed her any less food.

We tested her thyroid again, and, in spite of being well managed with medication for quite some time, her levels had suddenly dropped. Adjusting her meds got things normalized once more.

Your dog put on some extra weight. Why?

It is always the "why" that leads to a solution. Quite often the answer to weight gain is simple. Too much food, too many treats, wrong food or treats, too little activity ... It is important to be honest with your vet and particularly yourself. If the answer is simply too many bacon bits, the solution is unpleasant but straightforward.

What if you are positive, like I was, that your dog does not get excessive amount of calories?

There is, actually, a formula that allows you to calculate roughly how many calories a day your dog needs. The formula does look a bit scary but these days, there is an app for everything. SlimDoggy will make the calculations for you as well as help you figure out how much to feed your dog.

If you do want to calculate your dog's energy requirements, the formula and instructions can be found on petMD.

The next important step is to add up how many calories your dog gets in a day. The tricky part is to calculate EVERYTHING, including any treats, table scraps, or supplements.

But what if your dog gets just the right amount of calories and still gaining weight?

If the answer isn't in the bowl, it is in the body.

There are a number of medical causes behind weight gain or the appearance of weight gain. It does make sense that metabolic diseases would have direct impact on weight gain or weight loss.

For me, if my dogs start gaining weight without eating more or exercising less, hypothyroidism is a prime suspect. Low thyroid function leads to a sluggish metabolism which means that however little energy is consumed it gets stored as fat instead of being used.

Cushing's disease is caused by an overproduction of hormones that are involved in protein, carbohydrate and metabolic regulation. A dog with Cushing's disease will gain weight while muscles are wasting. The typical potbelly seen with Cushing’s disease is caused by fat shifting into the abdomen and a weakening of abdominal muscles.

Some prescription drugs can cause weight gain.

Large abdominal tumors or fluid retention, such as that seen with some types of heart or liver disease, can cause an enlarged belly that has nothing to do with obesity.

One way or another, if your dog starts putting on weight, do pay attention.

Related articles:
Veterinarians Answer: 10 Main Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog 
Symptoms: Recognition, Acknowledgement And Denial 
When Is It An Emergency? 
Don't Panic, Don't Panic: Know What Your Job Is  

Excessive Panting
Excessive Drinking 
Changes in Urination/Urinary Accidents 
Changes in Behavior
Bad Odor 
Excessive Drooling  
What Can Your Dog's Gums And Tongue Tell You? 
Excessive Head Shaking 
Lumps and Bumps 
What Is That Limp? 
Nose Bleeds (Epistaxis)
Unexplained Weight Loss
Unexplained Weight Gain 
Loss Of Appetite  
Fever (Pyrexia)
What Happens in a Dog's Body with Severe Vomiting?
Gastroenteritis is when ...  

Whats In The Urine? (Part I: What You Can Notice On Your Own)
What's In The Urine? (Part II: Urinalysis)
A Tale of Many Tails—and What Came Out From Underneath Stories from My Diary-rrhea (part I)
Acute Small Intestinal Diarrhea
Acute Large Intestinal Diarrhea (Acute Colitis)
Chronic Large Intestinal Diarrhea
Chronic Small Intestinal Diarrhea

Do you know what your dog is telling you about their health?

Do You Know What Your Dog Is Telling You About Their Health?

Learn how to detect and interpret the signs of a potential problem.

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog

An award-winning guide to better understanding what your dog is telling you about their health, Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, is available in paperback and Kindle. Each chapter includes notes on when it is an emergency.


  1. Hi Jana, my dog is a rescue pup who had just recovered from parvo when we adopted him. Is there a specific product you would recommend for adding weight? dog food just doesn't seem to be doing the trick. I found two that i'm debating between. or GNC's ultra mega. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Any highly digestible, nutrient-dense food should work. What breed is your dog? I'd go with high protein, could also add some beneficial fats/oils. Depending on the age and breed, could ask your vet whether puppy food would be a good idea temporarily.

  2. Hi Jana ��
    After years of wearing her hair long, my 4 year old shih tzu had her first summer cut 3 weeks ago. The summer heat in manila was just too much for her.
    Anyway, this week, i notice a sudden weight gain. Easily a good 2 pounds. Although there was no change in diet.
    I also notice a she is little slower during our daily twice-a-day-30-minute-walks.
    Could it be because of the haircut? I mean, with all that hair is gone the nutrients go to her body now? Or you think it is something more serious?
    Thanks in advance for the reply ��


    1. I don't see how a haircut would cause weight gain. Something is causing this, though. Please do have a wellness evaluation done including blood work.

  3. Hi Jana,
    I have a Malti-zuh that was given to me about a year ago and over the past 4-6 months he's gained about 3-4 pounds, he pants heavily and drinks a lot of water. The doctor did blood work and said that everything was normal. What would you recommend?

    1. What kind of blood work? Basic blood panel? That might not provide enough information. I'd test thyroid and adrenal function as well.

      While additional panting COULD BE because of the additional weight, it still doesn't explain the weight gain and it definitely does not explain the excessive thirst. I believe something is going on there and I'd keep investigating.

  4. We have a 4 year old female american pit bull. We had her fixed about a year ago and soon after she started gaining weight. We first were told by our vet that it was because of getting her fixed. She has a big back yard ( 2 acres ) and she runs all day but she's still gaining weight. We feed her once a day 6 oz of high protein food. Any suggestion on what to do? Or anything we should be concerned about?

    1. Being spayed does contribute to lower metabolism but if you feel she's gaining more weight than makes sense, I would want to check her thyroid function. And I'd want to have Dr. Dodds at Hemopet do it.

  5. Hello Jana, first I am so sorry for your lost. I too have a rotti,her name is Sasha. For some yrs now we have been having financial trouble and I have been going through med issues. So because of these 2 issues,I haven't been able to take her to a vet because of cost. I'm not happy about that and I noticed she has been gaining weight. She barely eats, she drinks alot of water,will eat treats if I give them. I can't take her for long walks cause of my medical issues. She's 12 and I know that I haven't been a gd parent two her. I fear the out come and also she hates vets,and kennels. She was abused in one and she has trust issues and fear with them. Truthfully I'm scared her end is near and because of MY neglect and finance, I'm the reason. What should I do or what do you suggest.

    1. I think that your Rotty being 12 years old is a great testament to you being a great parent. However, yes, she does need to be seen considering what you describe. Some of the things are not that expensive to diagnose or treat. A veterinary consultation is not that expensive. Please do find a way to bring her in for a check-up and basic labs.


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