A Fat Golden Retriever? (How To Know and What to Do)


Due to their high food drive, many Golden Retrievers become overweight or obese. As pet owners, it’s imperative to keep our Golden Retrievers at a healthy weight to help avoid the negative health consequences of such a weight gain.  

Is My Golden Retriever Too Fat?

Keeping a Golden Retrieve at an ideal weight is critical to their health and well-being. Fortunately, there are signs that Golden Retrieve owners can use to know if their dogs are becoming overweight or too fat. 

As a general rule, Golden Retrievers are considered overweight when they weigh 10-20% above their ideal body weight and are obese when they weigh 20% or more above their ideal body weight. In addition, it will be difficult to feel the ribs, and the waist will lack an obvious taper and may protrude.

One of the best things you can do to keep your Golden Retriever healthy is to keep it at an ideal weight. A Golden Retriever that is overweight or obese is at much higher risk for joint issues and other health issues. 

If you believe your Golden Retriever is too fat, then work with your veterinarian to put your Golden on a healthy, calorie-reduced diet to get it back into the ideal range. 

Knowing precisely if your Golden Retriever is too fat is discussed in detail in the following section. 

How To Tell if My Golden Retriever Is Overweight? 

To determine if your Golden Retriever is becoming overweight or, worst yet, obese, there are a few guidelines you can use. 

To know if your Golden Retriever is overweight, look at it from above and from the side, and feel the ribs. The waist taper will look barely visible or absent, and there may be abdominal distention and visible fat at the base of the tail. The heavier the fat deposits on the ribs, the more difficult they will be to feel. 

Know Your Golden Retrievers Ideal Weight

Similar to determining if your Golden Retriever is too skinny, you first need to know the typical or average weight of YOUR fully grown Golden Retriever. While the breed standard can be helpful to understand the range a typical Golden Retriever may fall within, it is far more critical to know the average for YOUR dog.

Hold up. I wrote an article on how to know if your Golden Retriever is too skinny. While it is much more common for a Golden Retriever to be overweight than underweight, it does happen. Check it out here: Is My Golden Retriever Too Skinny? (Signs to Look For).

Keep in mind that breed standards are used for registered and papered dogs and those used in dog shows or competitions. In addition, it provides a judging criterion. So, you might get a Golden Retriever that is heavier than the breed standard and still at a healthy weight. 

In a similar vein, be careful of the ideal weight ranges given for a dog breed found on various websites and searches. Again, those can be useful in a general sense to determine where a vast majority of a particular breed falls.

Still, the ranges do not consider individual differences. Those are often the “breed standards” for a registered and papered breed. Dogs are unique, just like us. I’m 5’9, and my brother is 6’1… it’s genetics. The key takeaway is you need to know your dog’s ideal weight. 

Consider our Golden Retriever, BAR. He is purebred, not papered or registered, and at just over a year old, is almost 90 lbs. His father was within the breed standard, as was his mother. So, we assumed he would be too. He is not. 

According to our vet, BAR would be WAY out of the breed standard as per the AKC or CKC but is at an ideal weight and in perfect health. Once he is fully grown at two years old, we’ll have an idea of his ideal healthy weight, which might even be close to 100 lbs. 

If we used the “breed standards” or general weight ranges for Golden Retrievers, then BAR would be considered obese

If your Golden Retriever begins to add a few pounds over its ideal weight, it is most likely time to take action. A 5% weight gain would be a cause for concern and a good time to take action before the weight gain is excessive. At 10%, your dog is overweight. 

According to VCA Animal Hospitals,

“Your veterinarian will assess your Golden Retriever and determine its ideal weight. From there, you need to make sure it falls within a reasonable range of that weight—maybe one or two pounds”.

However, weighing your dog is not the easiest of things. So, the following suggestions rely on sight and feel and can be reliable gauges to know when your Golden Retriever is becoming too fat. 

Look at Your Golden Retriever From the Top and Side

A good gauge to know if your Golden Retriever is becoming too heavy is to look at it from above and from the side. 

When looking at your Golden Retriever from above, it should have a noticeable waist and a nice taper from the ribs to the back legs. Almost like the shape of a wasp. From the side, the abdomen should NOT protrude. 

Suppose your Golden Retriever is too fat or becoming overweight. In that case, the waist from above will not be obvious with little to no taper, or the waist may look round or rotund. The abdomen will be distended or sagging down from the side, and there is NO abdominal tuck.

Your Golden Retriever’s waist should not be at the same level as the chest. Instead, the abdomen should curve upward from the end of the chest toward the hindquarters. 

As a guide, the graphic below is a handy downloadable reference guide. It provides the guidelines discussed while including an image to know what your Golden Retriever should look like at an ideal weight and when it’s overweight or obese. 

Courtesy of WSAVA Global Nutrition (click on the graphic to get a downloadable copy from WSAVA)

Feel Your Golden Retriever’s Ribs 

A Golden Retriever at a healthy weight should have ribs that are felt with little difficulty.  

Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM, advises in an article by the AKC that:  

“If your dog’s ribs aren’t extremely prominent and you can easily feel them without having to press hard, then the dog is fit.” 

If you can’t feel the ribs or it’s difficult to feel them, then there is a fat layer over them, and your Golden is most likely overweight.

Use the palm of your hands and run them over your dog’s ribs. According to Krista Williams BSc, DVM, and Robin Downing, DVM, CVPP, CCRP, DAAPM, contributors to VCA Hospital.com, the ribs should almost feel like the knuckles on your hand when it is flat with the palm down. 

Now, I understand that it can be hard to visualize how to do these things. So, as a reference, the video below explains both how to visually inspect your Golden Retriever’s weight, as well as demonstrating how to feel the ribs.

What Are the Health Risks for an Overweight Golden Retriever?

In North America, canine obesity is prevalent. According to the VCA Animal Hospitals, 20 to 25% of dogs are obese, with 40 to 45% of dogs aged 5 to 11 being overweight. 

Not only is obesity preventable, but the risk for health consequences for an overweight Golden Retriever rises substantially with its weight. 

In general, overweight or obese Golden Retrievers are at an increased risk for diabetes, joint issues, arthritis, high blood pressure, kidney and heart disease, heatstroke, and many types of cancer. In addition, new research indicates that being overweight may reduce your Golden Retriever’s lifespan by up to 10 months. 

The health consequences for overweight in Golden Retrievers are sobering. Moreover, obesity is preventable with daily exercise and watching how much your Golden Retriever eats. 

If the health consequences are not enough for pet owners to keep their Golden Retrievers at a healthy weight, then consider the cost.

I wrote an article on the health consequences of Golden Retrievers and the associated cost. Take a few minutes to read The Most Serious and Costly Health Issues in Golden Retrievers. Spoiler alert: it can be expensive. 

The most significant health consequence of being overweight is on your Golden Retriever’s lifespan.

A study from the University of Liverpool and Mars Petcare’s Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition looked at the association between weight gain and lifespan of neutered or spayed dogs. The study looked at 50,000 dogs spanning 12 breeds, including the Golden Retriever. 

The study noted that a normal-weight male Golden Retriever lives for 13.3 years. In contrast, an overweight male Golden Retriever lives only 12.5 years. The corresponding data for female Golden Retrievers are similar at 13.5 years for normal-weight females versus 12.7 for overweight females. 

The message is clear. Excess fat affects both the quality and quantity of your Golden Retriever’s life. 

Why Is My Golden Retriever Overweight? 

It’s hard to hear, but your Golden Retriever’s weight problem is usually the result of the actions or inactions of pet owners. Of course, in rare instances, obesity may result from some health issues. Still, usually, it’s what we as dog owners do or don’t do. 

Your Golden Retriever may be too fat because it eats more calories than it expends. Calorie excess can be due to lack of exercise, eating too frequently or too much, or ingesting too many snacks. Weight gain can also result from underlying health issues, so check with your vet to rule out any medical cause. 

In certain situations, obesity is an indicator of an underlying health issue such as an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) or overactive adrenal glands (Cushing’s). 

As such, it is vital to have your veterinarian first check out your Golden Retriever to rule out any underlying medical issues that may be causing your dog’s weight gain. If medical problems are ruled out, then sadly, the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the pet owner. 

Daily exercise and monitoring food intake are crucial to maintaining your dog’s healthy weight. Golden Retrievers, in particular, are a very active breed that requires a lot of daily activity. Upwards of 60 minutes or more. 

Limiting snacks and monitoring feeding amounts and frequency are the other pieces of the weight loss puzzle discussed in the next section. 

How Can I Get My Golden Retriever To Lose Weight? 

Before putting your Golden Retriever on a weight loss program, it is essential to have your vet perform a complete physical examination and provide guidance on how best to proceed. 

In general, for your Golden Retriever to lose weight, it will need to take in fewer calories than it expends by increasing exercise and/or decreasing the amount of food (calories). Work with your vet to develop a healthy weight loss plan for your dog that includes safe amounts of food and exercise. 

It is essential to ensure that your Golden Retriever receives dog food lower in calories while maintaining an optimum balance of nutrients. Unfortunately, calorie reduction often comes at the expense of fewer nutrients, so your veterinarian is the best source for recommending a good dog food for your Golden Retriever. 

Next, make sure your Golden Retriever receives the appropriate portions and is fed at designated feeding intervals throughout the day. As noted, too many feedings and/or too much food are core contributors to weight gain, as is snacking. 

Ensure your Golden Retriever receives no more than 10% of its calorie intake from snacks and treats. Vegetables and fruits make healthy snacks that are typically calorie sparse and nutrient-dense. 

If you need to know which vegetables and fruits are best, check out these articles I wrote. I also list which ones to avoid since some can cause stomach issues or even be deadly. 

Golden Retrievers: Can They Eat Vegetables?

Can Golden Retrievers Eat Fruit? (Good Fruit Options Versus Bad)

Exercise, the last piece of the weight loss puzzle, is a bit more tricky. Excess weight can cause joint issues if exercised too vigorously or long, so it’s best to consult our veterinarian first. 

Walking is one of the best exercises and has low impact. However, it is best to start any exercise program slowly and begin with shorter sessions. Swimming is also a great exercise, it is joint-friendly, and Golden Retrievers love to swim. 

Once your Golden Retriever has reached a healthy weight, running is an excellent activity for keeping the dog fit and lean.

If you are curious if Golden Retrievers make good running companions, consider taking a few minutes to read this article next: Need a Running Partner? How About Your Golden Retriever

Some precautions to be aware of when exercising your Golden Retriever are noted below, with recommended readings if you need more detail on those potential issues.

If exercising your Golden Retriever in the heat, be very careful of heatstroke. Excess weight lowers your Golden Retriever’s tolerance towards heat and makes it more prone to heatstroke. 

To ensure you know what temperatures are safe and how to recognize signs of heatstroke (and what to do if it occurs), then read my article on that very topic: Golden Retrievers In Hot Weather: Keeping Them Cool.

Frigid cold temperatures are the other end of the spectrum. And frostbite and hyperthermia are the risks. Check out this article to know when it’s too cold to exercise your Golden Retriever: Winter Safety for Golden Retrievers: What’s Too Cold?

If you need some indoor activities for your Golden Retriever, consider this post:

Boredom Busters: 21 Great Activities for Your Golden Retriever.

On a parting note, remember to start slow with short sessions and consult your veterinarian to ensure it’s a suitable activity and in the right amounts. 

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