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Weight Management

Pet obesity is on the rise! It is now estimated that close to 60% of all North American dogs are either overweight or obese. That is over 58 million dogs. Obesity can be life-threatening for our four-legged friends, too. Losing weight and getting in shape can not only add years to your dog’s life, but it can also make those extra years more enjoyable. 

Why should my dog lose weight?

An overweight dog is more likely to suffer from a disabling medical condition. These diseases include:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Osteoarthritis (arthritis)
  • Increased frequency of joint injuries
  • High blood pressure
  • Some forms of cancer—especially intra-abdominal cancers

Add Two Extra Years to Your Dog’s Life
Research proves that dogs maintaining ideal body weight live almost two years longer (and with significantly less disease) than their overweight counterparts. Heavy dogs tend to physically interact less with their families and are less energetic and playful. 

The Solution
The obesity equation is actually quite simple. Dogs that consume more calories than they burn gain weight.So, to lose weight, your dog must consume fewer calories and exercise more. The equation may be easy but putting it in practice is the hard part.

How should I begin a weight loss program for my dog?

A weight loss plan starts with a visit to your family veterinarian. Your veterinary team will perform a physical examination and nutritional assessment. This includes assessment of your dog’s body weight, body condition score, muscle condition score and potentially morphometric measurements, but also a detailed diet history which will help to determine your dog’s current feeding habits and calorie intake. Blood tests will also be recommended to ensure that there are no obstacles to weight loss for your pet. Health disorders, such as hypothyroidism and medical treatments such as administration of corticosteroids, can be a reason why pets fail to lose weight.

How much should I feed my dog to promote weight loss?

Your veterinary team will determine your dog’s ideal weight based on its current body weight, body condition score and/or morphometric measurements and determine a restricted number of calories and food dose to achieve weight loss. A safe weight loss rate for most dogs is 1–2% of the initial body weight loss per week. For example, if you’re feeding an overweight, 50 kg German Shepherd, your pet should be able to safely lose about 0.5 to 1 kg per week.

The most effective and safest way is by feeding a specific veterinary weight loss food in several meals per day. It is vital that you know how many calories are in the food that your dog is eating, and that you count the calories or measure the food when entering a weight-loss program. Feeding too much will result in no weight loss and feeding too little can potentially result in serious health consequences associated with nutritional imbalances and malnutrition.

Don’t Guess—Measure
It’s critical to actually measure your dog’s food. Never guess. You can use an 8 fluid ounce (250 mL) measuring cup, but the best and most accurate way is using a gram scale to measure your dog’s food allowance.

What to Look for in an Ideal Weight Loss Product

For successful weight loss, your veterinary team will help you choose a veterinary weight loss dog food. This diet should be reduced in caloric content, which means your dog can still eat a large volume of food without gaining weight.

Most weight-loss foods have fewer calories than normal foods do. Ideally, such foods will still provide the same amount of bulk, so that your dog feels full after eating. This is achieved by increasing a food’s fiber content. Fiber contains very few useable calories, yet it takes up plenty of space in your dog’s gut.

Additionally, many foods that are designed for weight loss feature increased protein levels and decreased fat levels. Low-fat helps to reduce the caloric content of the food (fats contain more calories per weight than proteins or carbs). Increased protein helps ensure your dog maintains muscle mass during the weight loss plan and also helps your dog feel more satiated with less begging. You will want to look for foods with less than 400 Calories per cup.


It is particularly important that your dog’s food provides the necessary essential nutrients; amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. This is to prevent nutrient imbalances while restricting caloric intake for weight loss. Veterinary weight loss foods are formulated to allow energy restriction and still provide these valuable and much needed essential nutrients. Over-the-counter weight management diets are great to prevent weight gain, but could put your dog at nutritional risk if consuming a small portion size aiming at weight loss. It is therefore necessary to respect the portions according to the daily feeding guide.

A good weight-loss food must still be appealing to your best friend, or he may stop eating altogether. Accordingly, you will still want to look for foods made with delicious proteins and fats, so your dog doesn’t go on a hunger strike.

Minimize the Risk of Digestive Upset

It is best to transition from regular dog food to a veterinary weight loss food gradually. Start by mixing about 25% of the “new” weight loss food with 75% of the regular food. Then, slowly increase that amount to a full 100% over the next 7 to 10 days.

The Wrong Way to Feed a Dog
Many dogs are fed free choice which means food is available 24 hours a day. So, the dog eats whenever it wants. Free choice feeding is completely unnatural for any mammal. And (just like us humans), a dog will eat when bored instead of just when hungry.

The Right Way
A dog should be fed two to four small portions a day. And the total number of calories for all meals and treats must equal the number of calories desired for weight loss. If your schedule makes it difficult to follow this strategy, there are timed automatic feeders that can help your pet get the right amount of food. Please ask your pet store specialist and he will guide you in your choice. Also putting action in your dog’s meals is an excellent strategy to increase activity and mental stimulation. Try food toys or simply throwing kibble.

Exercise. Exercise. Exercise.

Physical activity has been proven to:

  • Aid in weight loss
  • Lessen heart disease
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Decrease the risk of diabetes
  • Control anxiety and depression
  • Reduce the risk of certain cancers
  • Slow bone loss associated with advancing age

So, get your dog moving. Take a walk. Run. Play fetch. Swim. Climb the stairs. Provide at least 30 minutes of brisk exercise every day to facilitate weight loss.

Some additional simple tips for mental stimulation and getting your dog to exercise more are:

  • Move the food bowl upstairs or downstairs.
  • Feed your dog in a treat ball or a puzzle feeder to slow down ingestion and help them feel fuller. Many different models are available in your pet store and are amazingly effective.
  • Use toys, balls, laser pointers, squeaky toys, or sticks to encourage games of chase or fetch. Try to play with your dog for at least ten to fifteen minutes twice a day. There are toys that move randomly and make noises that may also be interesting to your dog. Again, ask your pet store specialist he will provide you with the best possible toy.

How to Monitor Your Dog’s Weight Loss

Weigh your dog at least every 1 to 2 weeks. Your veterinary team will also assess your dog’s body condition and muscle condition during each follow-up visit. If your dog is not losing weight, your veterinarian may adjust the daily calories and restrict further.

My dog loves his treats. Can I still continue giving those? 

Yes! These are such an important part of our day. If you enjoy giving treats to your dog, feed him several kibbles from the container rather than giving him high calorie dog biscuits. You can also find low-calorie treats in your local pet store or include low-calorie human foods. But make sure the amount is controlled. The rule of thumb is 10% of calories can come from treats and snacks, as long as 90% of calories are provided as veterinary weight loss food.

When my dog is hungry, he pesters me until I feed him. Do you have any suggestions?

Here are some tips for handling your pleading friend:

  • Pet your dog or play with him. 
  • Go for a walk with your dog. 
  • Feed small meals frequently—divide the total volume or calories into four to six smaller meals.
  • Offer fresh water instead of food. 

We have more than one dog in the house, and only one is overweight. What should I do?

The ideal solution for multi-dog households is to feed the dogs separately. Feed the overweight dog his diet in one room while feeding the other dog its food elsewhere. After a prescribed time, generally fifteen to thirty minutes, remove any uneaten food. Also, automated feeders may have built-in chip control and only allow a specific dog access to the food. 

How long will my dog need to be on a diet?

Most dogs will achieve their ideal weight within 6 to 12 months, depending on how much weight they should lose. So certainly, patience and close follow-up are needed to make sure your dog is on the right track. Some dogs may need to go slower while others may shed the pounds more quickly.

Once You Reach Your Goal

Once the ideal weight is reached, the amount of food your dog is eating will likely need to be adjusted. Actually, you can go back on a maintenance adult dog formula, or an over-the-counter low calorie or weight control food and follow the serving corresponding to the ideal weight of your dog in order to maintain that optimal body weight. Here are some recommendations that can help you manage your pet’s weight.

We encourage you to continue making exercise with your dog a priority!

It is important to continue weighing and monitoring your dog for any future changes in weight.

  1. Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, Calabash, NC
  2. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Vol. 220 No. 9, May 1, 2002, pp. 1315–1320 
  3. Average protein: 29% (dry) and 40% (canned)
  4. Average fat: 16% (kibble) and 23% (canned)
  5. 250–350 calories per 8-ounce cup kibble or per 13-ounce can
  6. Diez, M et al (2002), “Weight Loss in Obese Dogs: Evaluation of a High-Protein, Low-Carbohydrate Diet”, American Society for Nutritional Sciences, Journal of Nutrition, 132:1685S—1687S, 2002 
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