Two Ways to Help a Dog Lose Weight

Maintaining a dog’s ideal weight is one of the most important things we can do to help our dogs live long, active and happy lives.  But some of our canine friends have trained us too well when it comes to dinnertime: currently an astonishing one in every three dogs in the U.S. are overweight. As owners, if we adopt a few simple principles, we can help our overweight dogs lose and then maintain their ideal weight.  First, find a food and consider treats that meet the dog’s nutritional needs in ways that control the calories the dog eats every day. Then use every opportunity to play with the dog.

1. Control Calories and Fat

Controlling calories and fat is the best way to help a dog lose weight from a dietary standpoint

Limit calories while meeting nutrition requirements.

Meet the dog’s daily nutrient requirements with as few calories as make sense to facilitate gradual weight loss. Most healthy dogs can benefit from foods with:

  • Higher than average amounts of digestible protein - to prevent lean muscle loss.
  • Lower calories from fat - calculated to contain 75%-85% of the calories needed to maintain ideal body weight.
  • Higher than average fiber - facilitates weight loss, helps control blood sugar.
  • Added glucosamine and chondroitin - for joint health.
  • Added L-carnitine - plays a role in fat metabolism, controlling blood sugar levels and helping maintain and develop lean muscle mass.

Increase the proportion of canned and raw foods in the dog’s daily diet. 

These foods are high in meat protein, low in carbohydrates and less calorically dense than dry food. Feeding only canned or raw foods has been shown to help dogs lose weight.* A ratio of 50% wet food to 50% dry works well, but as little as 25% wet food can be beneficial.

Measure food and feed smaller, more frequent meals.

It can be difficult to figure out how many calories a dog requires each day. A certain amount of trial and error is necessary. Consider the dog’s activity level and the feeding guidelines on the bag of food to calculate how much the dog needs each day. Adjust portions to account for any calories from wet foods and treats. Put a measuring cup in the bag to avoid over-feeding. Divide the amount of food into smaller meals, and feed two to three times a day. 

Limit the dog’s access to food for other animals in the household.

Overweight dogs may express dominance by controlling the food resources in the home environment. They’re usually experts at scarfing up cat food and any leftovers from other dogs in the house. Consider putting cat dishes out of reach of the dog. In multi-dog households, try feeding each of the dogs in separate bowls, out of sight of each other. Pick up the food bowls after 15-30 minutes, even if food is left. Talk to a veterinarian. Consult with a veterinarian to rule out underlying conditions that can influence weight, such as age, diabetes, and thyroid disease. Reduce weight slowly. Weight loss should occur at a rate of no more than 3-4% of the dog’s total body weight per month.

2. Play More, Treat Less

Studies show that owners of normal weight dogs play with their dogs more often than owners of overweight dogs.

Increase the dog’s activity.

Find their play preferences: Behavior is linked to genetics, and dogs were bred to perform some behaviors more strongly than others. When choosing a toy or a play routine for weight loss, consider behaviors the dog is more likely to enjoy. Some suggestions:

Breed Sense of duty Game, activity or toy
Hunting Breeds: Retrievers, Spaniels, Standard Poodles Retrieving game Fetch, swimming, walking, hiking
Hounds: Beagles, Dachshunds, Bassets Scent tracking Puzzle toys, chase or fetch
Herding Breeds: Collies, Shepherds, Corgis, Heelers Protecting livestock Flying disc, herding, agility
Terriers: Jack Russells, Scotties, Staffordshires, Airedales Pest control Tug, digging or puzzles, obedience
Toys: Pekingese, Chihuahuas, Maltese Companion Squeaky toys, tricks and games

Increasing a dog’s activity burns calories, increases muscle development and helps dogs lose weight.

  • Very overweight dogs may need time to develop the stamina for exercise. Once food portions are under control, most dogs can maintain proper body weight with a brisk 20-30 minute walk, just twice a day.
  • Groups and facilities for agility, herding, tracking, search and rescue and obedience are readily available in our area. Off-leash parks and dog daycares are great ways for dogs to exercise off-leash and learn to socialize.
  • Introducing new toys and games into a dog’s daily routine can decrease boredom, improve coordination and help dogs bond with their human family.

Dogs Make Good Workout Partners

A recent Northwestern University study indicates that dogs and people can help each other lose weight. Three groups were compared: people-only, dogs-only, and dogs-with-their-people. Participants in each group were given diet and exercise plans based on body mass index. Results indicate that human-dog teams are more likely to stick with a weight-loss program. 80% of the dogs and people group completed the study. Completion rates for the other groups were much lower. Participants said that it’s simply more fun to exercise with their dogs.

Limit extra calories from snacks and treats. As a rule, no more than 10% of the day’s calories should come from treats, leaving 90% or more of the calories from nutritionally balanced food. Changing treat routines can support weight loss, the health of the dog, and the happiness of the relationship between dogs and owners.

  • Use smaller-sized treats that are low in calories and fat, with minimal carbohydrates, such as mini-biscuits or 100% meat treats. The social ritual of earning and receiving a treat from a person seems much more important than the treat’s size to most dogs. Make sure the dog is asked to do something to earn the treat each time one is given, so play becomes part of the treat giving.
  • Make sure the treats are nutritionally balanced. Dry food kibble, dehydrated food cubes or dog food roll slices can be used as nutritionally complete treats.
  • Instead of a food reward, start reinforcing good behavior with play and other positive reactions and attention.

We’re not veterinarians. Mud Bay staff are well educated, and our writing is well-researched, but neither the advice of a Mud Bay staff member nor reading Mud Bay's written materials can substitute for visiting a veterinarian. We offer carefully chosen, natural solutions, but we believe that veterinary conditions should be diagnosed and treated by professionals.