How You CAN Get Your Dog To Lose Weight

Updated April 3, 2020

prevalence overweight dogs
The rising rate of overweight dogs

Have a look at this chart: are you as surprised as I was when I put this together?

It shows the results of the last five studies where vets have taken percentages of overweight dogs in the US, UK, and Australia.

How can you make sure your best mate doesn’t end up as another statistic in the dog obesity epidemic?

Answer: read on. It’s positive, 100% judgement-free and based on 25 years of successfully helping dog owners like yourself.

(pssst: if you need convincing, or just like feeling depressed, we’ve got a whole page on which dogs are at greatest risk & the health effects in overweight dogs).

However, regardless of long-term issues, when you get your dog to lose weight, these good things will happen straight away:

  • More activity and quality of life
  • Less leg problems
  • Better heat tolerance

How To Get A Dog To Lose Weight

The best advice I have is this: no matter how hard it was to get there, once an owner sees the benefits they never go back.

Be Positive

Dogs are pretty cool but they still can’t defy the laws of physics. Weight gain or loss is all about the difference between energy in and energy out. You can’t do too much about the output, but your hand is firmly on the controls of the input. That hand just needs to be steady enough.

See The Vet

Both hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease can cause weight gain. A visit to the vet first can rule these out and at the same time give you guidelines for a safe weight loss plan.

Take a Team Approach

There’s no point making a plan if it doesn’t include the whole family. Explain the rules to visitors, groomers, trainers and employees. It’s especially important for elderly people, who are statistically more likely to have overweight pets.

Measure, Measure, Measure

Measure the input. The difference between the right amount and too much is often just a few biscuits. If you’re not using the right scoop each time you’ll never be precise enough to succeed.

Measure results. You need to weigh your dog regularly at the vet to adjust the plan. I always advise people it’s going to take several goes to get it right.

Feed Once Daily

Once a day is just as good as twice for healthy adults over 5kg and the evidence shows that they are less likely to be overweight. You’ll still need to control the amount though.

Distrust Your Instincts

Everything conspires to fool you into overfeeding:

  • Heaped bowls in dog food ads
  • Overstated feeding guides on packets
  • The excessive size of dog bowls
  • The fact that over 50% of the dogs you see are overweight
  • The fact that dry food is concentrated and dehydrated

It just won’t look like it’s enough. If it’s causing the desired effect, then it is. Period.

Use Logic Not Emotion

text from dog

Thanks to evolution, dog appetites don’t work like human appetites. Think about it: if a wolf stops eating when they’ve ‘had enough’ they might starve next week when there isn’t any. Their appetite is designed to pack away every available calorie for a rainy day, or in this case a blizzard.

Domestic dogs don’t have to survive an arctic winter but their food drive is still there, telling them to use any trick they can to get as fat as possible.

The minute you start worrying about whether your dog is hungry, you’re in trouble. Personally, I don’t think dogs feel hunger, but whether they do or not isn’t the point. It should never make you feed them more than they need.

Give Time Not Food

I hope no one gets a puppy so they can be mean to them every day. We get someone to love, who will love us in return. No wonder then that we can’t say no to those brown adoring eyes.

Anytime you feel weak, remember this: in ten years time your dog most likely won’t remember how much food you gave. They’ll remember the time you spent with them. Take them outside for a play, or pop the lead on and go out instead. It’s unquestionably higher value to your dog.

Don’t Rely On Exercise

I have never seen a dog lose weight by exercise alone. The evidence shows that only vigorous exercise (a bad idea with overweight dogs) is associated with lower weights.

This seems crazy, but it actually makes sense if you think about it. What does your dog do more of if you give them a long walk? Sleep. Exercise is just a way of getting dogs to use excess energy for good, not evil.

Stop The Begging

If a dog has learned that begging at the table works, it’s nearly impossible to stop. Either use a crate at mealtimes or if that doesn’t work, your dog is better off outside. Why not trying feeding your dog at the same time using a slow feeding device?

Substitute Treats

I’ve found over the years that telling people to stop feeding treats almost never works. Nowadays I advise changing the treats to something less calorie-rich. I still need you to measure them though.

Carrots are almost always popular with dogs, but why stop there? My Loki goes crazy for mandarins, apples, broccoli, peas and watermelon. Raw bones without much meat or marrow are another popular option; read more here.

Manage Multiple Pets

It’s not rocket science: Dogs are nature’s opportunists so don’t give them the opportunity. Multiple dogs should be kept separate or supervised until they have all finished, and cats or other pets should be fed in areas inaccessible to dogs.

I’ve investigated cats for weight loss before only to find out the dog was the ‘disease’. Even my own old cat lost a lot of weight until I realised Tinker was raiding her feeding room while my back was turned.

Don’t Hurry

Lastly, it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Ignore all that advice about needing so many percent lost a week. All you need is a diet plan that causes gradual weight loss and that you stick to it until you reach the target weight. I don’t exceed 1% of body weight a week but it’s often a lot less.

What Is The Best Dog Food To Lose Weight?

Your vet will advise you on a suitable diet. However, for most healthy dogs, it’s fine to continue a regular, good quality, balanced dog food if the speed of weight loss isn’t too high.

Many people believe dogs lose weight better on raw diets but sadly there’s no evidence for this. However, if you want to learn more, read our guide to raw diets for dogs.

Having feline problems as well? Visit our guide to successful weight loss in cats.

Related: How Much To Feed Your Dog

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.

5 Replies to “How You CAN Get Your Dog To Lose Weight”

  1. Hi Andrew
    My Maltese Shih Tsu is overweight at 10.6kgs.
    I have tried feeding him once a day but he vomits up a greenish substance when he has been without food for more than 12 hours… I am guessing it’s bile? It doesnt happen if I give him two meals per day.
    How much should he weigh and how much food should I be giving him?
    The feeding instructions on the can and packet of dry biscuits are very broad and I would like to know if I am giving him the correct amount each day.
    I also have a Cavoodle who is overweight at 15.5kgs so would appreciate knowing how many grams per day food he should be having too.

    1. Hi Noor. It’s a good point regarding bilious vomiting syndrome – for these dogs you will need to split the meals as much as necessary to prevent vomiting on an empty stomach. This just means that each meal can look ridiculously small, but that’s what you have to do.
      As for the size of meals, read my article on how much should a dog be fed. However, in a nutshell it’s basically that you have to work it out by trial and error, and that food packets overestimate the amount sometimes by as much as three times what is actually needed.

    1. Hi Kathy. Once a day feeding is fine for most dogs over 5 kg body weight but the amount always depends on what it takes to achieve the right goal, be it gradual weight loss or maintenance of a healthy weight.

  2. Thanks a lot for this comprehensive guide to how to help dogs lose weight. It’s been the most helpful I found on the Web.

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