How to Help Your Overweight Dog Lose Weight


Want to know a simple secret that can help your overweight dog lose weight? And live longer, too?
Dog Overweight
To be successful, every weight loss plan must be based upon one simple principle

Dogs that consume fewer calories than they burn lose weight

Simple, right? Yet if weight loss was truly that easy, why are so many pets overweight?

An Epidemic of Overweight Dogs

Today, dogs are fatter than ever. It’s now estimated that 45% of all U.S. dogs are either overweight or obese.1

That’s 35 million dogs.

What’s worse, obesity can be life-threatening, too. An overweight dog is more likely to suffer from a disabling medical condition like…

  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Heart disease
  • Lung disorders
  • High blood pressure
  • Immune dysfunction
  • Cancerous tumors

Add Two Extra Years
to Your Dog’s Life

A recent study proves that dogs maintaining ideal body weight live almost two years longer (and with significantly less disease) than their overweight siblings.2

An overweight dog is more likely to die at a younger age

In other words, you can add nearly two extra years to your dog’s life just by maintaining your pet’s ideal weight.

A Couch Potato Eating Machine

Unfortunately, many fail to recognize a fat dog.

Veterinarians report that although nearly 50% of all the dogs they see are overweight, only 17% of pet owners agree.

It can sometimes be difficult for an owner to admit her 80 pound dog is 20 pounds overweight — not just “big-boned”.

Every day I hear pet owners comment, “How can he be overweight? He hardly eats anything”.

Obesity is frequently indicative that our dogs are sedentary, couch potato eating machines burning almost no calories.

The Solution

The obesity equation is actually very simple. Dogs that consume more calories than they burn gain weight.

So, to lose weight…

Your dog must eat less — and exercise more

That’s all there is to successful weight loss. Best of all, if you work out together, exercise can be great for you, too.

The Goal
Your Dog’s Ideal Weight

Start your plan by knowing your dog’s ideal weight. Not only can your veterinarian help you do this, but she can also screen your pet for certain conditions that can contribute to obesity…

  • Diabetes
  • Cushing’s Disease
  • Hypothyroidism

You can also visit the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention for some suggested weight ranges for specific breeds.

How to Calculate Calories
for Weight Loss

Once you know your dog’s ideal weight, you’ll be able to discover the amount of calories to feed your dog daily to achieve steady weight loss.

Use the Advisor’s dog food calculator to determine this important number.

While most dogs will experience predictable weight loss when fed this amount each day, others may require even fewer calories. This can depend on a dog’s age and activity level.

The Problem with a Dog Food Label

Label recommendations are designed for weight maintenance… not weight loss. Following these instructions will likely lead to continued gains.

To control weight, you must know how many calories are in a cup of food. Then, feed according to calories.

Also, if your dog is severely overweight, your vet may need to help you design a custom weight loss program for your pet.

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.

What’s more, free feeding can contribute to unnatural hormonal changes — which can make weight loss even more challenging.

And 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.

And only at specific times.

Don’t Guess — Measure

It’s critical to actually measure your dog’s food. Never guess. Use an 8 ounce measuring cup… not a coffee cup or a food scoop.

Then be sure to dispense the exact amount of food called for in your calculations.

The Trouble with Most
Weight Loss Foods

Although there are many foods marketed for canine weight loss, not all are created equal. Products described as “diet”, “lite” or “reduced-calorie” may not be the best choice.

Many of these recipes replace meat content with high levels of carbohydrate fillers. This creates a low-calorie, bulky food that helps your dog feel full.

But only for a short time. Some aren’t very tasty and most tend to cause an increase in stool production.

These products can lead to dogs who are constantly hungry. Many times pets even gain weight due to the difficulty of staying on track in the face of persistent begging.

Most regular maintenance diets are high in calories (usually between 450 and 550 calories per cup or per can) making it easy to overfeed your pet.

Less Food — More Begging

While weight loss can sometimes be achieved by feeding less of your dog’s regular maintenance food, you’ll find you must feed very small amounts to achieve the reduced number of calories required to lose weight.

This leads to a pet that may feel less satisfied and begs more.

What to Look for
in an Ideal Weight Loss Product

For successful weight loss, choose a quality dog food with…

  • Above-average protein3
  • Below-average fat4
  • Below-average calories5

A higher protein content helps a dog feel more satisfied with less begging. This makes it easier for you to stick to the diet.

These products also help combat muscle loss… an unwelcome side effect with dieting.6

Lower calories allows your dog to eat more and still lose weight.

Weight loss is often easier to achieve by adding canned food to your dog’s feeding regimen.

Canned products usually have higher protein, lower carbohydrates and fewer calories compared to a similar sized quantity of kibble.

It’s also possible to achieve a good high protein weight loss diet by combining a high quality commercial dog food with low-calorie home-cooked foods. This should be accomplished with the help of your veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist.

Exercise. Exercise. Exercise.

Forty percent of American adults do not participate in any leisure time physical activity. So, no doubt our dogs are just as sedentary.

In humans, 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

We can probably expect many of these same benefits for our pets.

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.

How to Monitor Your Dog’s Weight Loss

Monitor your dog’s progress. Weigh your dog at least every 1 to 2 weeks. Using the recommended guidelines, overweight or obese dogs should lose about 1% to 2% of their body weight each week.

If your dog is not losing weight, the daily calories may need to be restricted further.

Also make sure no one in the house is cheating by giving extra food or treats.

Once You Reach Your Goal

Once the ideal weight is reached, the amount of food your dog is eating will likely need to be increased.

It’s important to continue weighing and monitoring your dog for any future change in weight.

So, keep a log. And make any necessary adjustments throughout your dog’s life to maintain an ideal weight.

My Recommended Dog Foods
for Weight Loss

To see a list of my current recommendations, be sure to visit the Advisor’s article, “Dog Foods for Weight Loss“.

Donna Spector, DVM, DACVIM is a renowned, board-certified Veterinary Internal Medicine Specialist.

Dr. Donna Spector

Dr. Spector has written and lectured extensively on topics including animal nutrition, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, and kidney failure. She is widely acknowledged for her role as consulting veterinarian to Halo, Purely for Pets and her TV appearances with The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Dr. Spector’s online consulting service offers personalized and tailored medical, nutritional and weight loss consultations for owners of both dogs and cats.

She provides professional advice relating to urinary disorders, liver problems, immune diseases, intestinal issues, diabetes, asthma and other breathing conditions, hormonal problems and other internal medical complaints.


  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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  • vaNola

    Obviously exercise and diet are the most important things in helping your dog lose weight, but something that really helped my pug Rosie was using OxyNu Minerals. It’s an organic multivitamin supplement and all you have to do is sprinkle it on normal food. It helped kick start Rosie’s metabolism and made it easier for her to shed the weight. You can only buy it at but it was totally worth it.

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  • sharron

    wow, you have a house full- i would be the same if my husband would let me – he’s happy with 1 – thanks for your help

  • Shawna

    My eight toy breed dogs would all disagree with her :).. My smallest is an 18 year old 4 pound Chihuahua. I have two 5 pound Poms, a 7 pound Shih Tzu mix, Audrey (my pup born with kidney disease) is 9 pounds and the three bigger ones are all between 12 and 14 pounds.

    The five smallest ones are on HIGH protein raw (higher than Orijen). All but one have been with me for at least eight years and have always eaten this diet (including the one with kidney disease). The three larger ones also get higher protein than Orijen because of the toppers.

    Some dogs (both large and small) have some minor symptoms when first switching but they usually resolve quickly (couple weeks). Some other dogs are intolerant of an ingredient and shouldn’t be on Orijen but it isn’t due to the high protein unless they have a liver shunt etc.

  • theBCnut

    I deal with this same issue with my easy keeper horses. They don’t eat anywhere near the minimum suggestion feeding, so to get the right amount of vitamins and minerals, I have to give a vitamin/mineral supplement that is specific to horses that are on grass forage.

  • sharron

    hi – just bought 4 different kinds of the orijen – she ate the fish…..yeah!!!! and out of the bowl…..another yeah!!!!!!
    the owner of the pet store told me to watch her for ill effects since the food is high in protein – she doesn’t think that orijen and small dogs go together

  • sharron

    hi shawna – thanks for the info – so the food should be grain free? – been looking at the acana small breed – which is 32% protein, 19% fat – should the protein be higher than 32

  • Shawna

    Hi Sharron,

    Fat should be moderate and in line with protein. My foster Papillon came in to rescue over twice her ideal weight. She should be 12(ish) pounds but was over 30. She, Mimi, was OBESE.. Vet said not to exercise her as she felt she could have a heart attack from doing so. She couldn’t even walk two blocks without having to stop to rest. I have before and after pictures of her here somewhere.

    I put her on foods like Orijen, Nature’s Variety and such and then add high protein canned and raw foods as toppers to up the protein even more. She went from over 30 pounds (I’m blanking on exact weight now) to 14 pounds in a little over a year. My grand babies moved in at that point and the weight loss stopped due to extra crumbs provided by the babies… UGH The babies are two years older now and drop food less often so we’ve been able to get about another pound off Mimi but she still has a bit to go.

    If you find a food she likes that isn’t technically “high” protein you can still feed it and add higher protein canned or home prepared foods in small amounts to up the protein. A lightly cooked egg white with a little less kibble a few times per week. Egg whites are high in protein with no measurable amounts of fat. The fat is all in the yolk. Lean or boiled hamburger or white meat chicken are other options to add in small amounts to the kibble (reducing the amount of kibble fed to compensate for the extra food added).

    PS — when I say fat should be moderate or in line with protein I mean that if protein is 38% than fat should be no more than 19% and lower, but not too low, is good. Origen (which is one I rotate in often) is (at least now) 42% protein and 20% fat. I try to keep the protein to fat ratio of the toppers similar to that of Orijen or a bit lower in fat.

  • sharron

    thanks shawna – it’s trying to find a dry food that she likes and will stay with it that is high protein, low carb – what should the fat be?

  • Shawna

    Weight loss, and less hunger issues, can be achieved on a high protein, lower carb diet. The dog retains more muscle mass on this type of diet two.

    Here’s one of the papers on the topic
    “High-Protein Low-Carbohydrate Diets Enhance Weight Loss in Dogs”

    Dogs fed the same amount of calories lost more weight on the high protein diet then on the higher carb/fiber diet.

    “This study, however, found no differences in the calories consumed among
    the groups, whereas the low-carbohydrate groups
    still lost significantly more weight and fat mass
    than the high-carbohydrate groups. This suggests that decreased caloric
    intake is not the sole mechanism of action of
    low-carbohydrate diets.” Same link as above

  • Crazy4cats

    OTC stands for over the counter. Basically, not prescription.

  • sharron

    thanks aimee
    what is OTC short for and – been told in the past that lexee should roughly get 200 cals/day – i try and keep around that mark – give or take a few cals – she’s happy with eating 1/2 cup to 5/8 cup/day – that is spread out over 3 – 4feedings – 1/8 cup each feeding – the food she is on now and doing well on is the rc gastro moderate calorie (she gets bouts of stomach acid every so often) – i had her on a weight loss food and i fed her what i was suppose to – she was so hungry on it that she had on 3 different occasions brought up bile all day – so i fed her more and she gained a bit more

  • aimee

    There is truth to the vet tech explanation. Dogs need a certain amount of nutrients and the AAFCO tables etc assume a certain calorie consumption a day. If a dog requires far below this or is on a weight loss program it is possible to not take in enough nutrients.

    This is why there are foods specifically formulated for weight loss they have a higher nutrient/calorie ratio than other foods. This also depends on the company and the diet. Some diets/companies put more cushion in than others.

    Veterinary nutritionists recommend if using an OTC food for weight loss that the weight loss be very gradual vs a rec 1% a week if on a weight loss food

  • Crazy4cats

    I think that sounds ridiculous! The food is balanced. (well, it’s supposed to be anyway)

  • sharron

    hi – i’m not looking for help with this posting – just wonder what people think – i’ve been told in the past few days that if i don’t feed lexee the recommended serving/day that is stated on the bag, meaning
    cutting back on her daily intake, that she won’t be getting all the nutrients that she needs on a daily basis – this was told to me by a vet tech – lexee has never eaten the amt that is shown on the bag for her weight -just wondering what others think of this

  • Betsy Greer

    Stick to your guns, Sharron!

    Lexee is your pup, so the vet’s recommendation is just that, a recommendation. You’re working hard to control her portions and increase her movement.

    You’re doing just fine!

  • Crazy4cats

    Yes, I agree with you. It doesn’t sound like it is necessary to use a weight control food. Just cut back on amount fed. It is beneficial to switch foods every now and then, however. See the benefits of diet rotation in the FAQ tab above. Good luck with your dog!

  • sharron

    hi – lexee’s vet wants her on a weight loss food which lexee does not like and won’t eat – she only needs to lose about a 1/2 lb – the weight increase came from not getting enough exercise during the winter – but i have increased it since the weather is now nicer. I have her on royal canin gastro low fat, moderate calorie dry and the wet which is working quite well and lexee so far likes it – the vet says that this food is not for weight loss – i told her that lexee does not get the recommended serving a day, i feed her less than what is stated on the bag – she still insists that she should be on a weight loss food – i’m NOT going to switch food – any opinions? thanks

  • aimee

    Hi Sharron,

    The only way to know how many calories a day Lexee needs is to ask her. Calculating a caloric requirement is at best an educated guess. Nutritionists will report that the number of calories needed may vary by 50% from any number calculated.

    If the calculator at this site reports 230 calories then Lexee’s actual requirement may be from 115-345 calories a day.

    The way to refine it better is to weigh Lexee every week. Invest in an infant scale or take her to the vet once a week for a weigh in.

    I thought you posted previously that on 210 calories a day Lexee didn’t lose any weight. This could be why your vet recommended 180 calories a day for weight loss.

    The goal of a weight loss program is about 1 % a week. If you were feeding 180 calories a day and she was not on a steady decline in weight then Lexee is telling you that 180 calories a day are too much for a weight loss program for her. The choice is to adjust the program by either decreasing calories or increasing exercise and then checking her weight in another week.

  • dchassett

    Hi Sharron. I feed my girls twice a day every day. Breakfast and Dinner. They get treats in the evening when we’re watching t.v. Carrots, banana, apple, etc. Not a lot. I don’t give them any treats between breakfast and dinner. When I first get any new puppy or dog I do the same thing. It’s part of training. I put the food in their crate with them (I feed two in their own crates and my older girl (the queen of the house) out of her crate). I leave them in their for approx. 20 minutes. Open the crate, if they ate, fabulous. If not, I let them out put the food away and they would not eat again (no treats in between) until dinner time. Eventually (quicker than you would think) they learn that they better eat the food when it’s down cause it’s going to disappear. I think she may have got you trained and of course we’re all a bunch of softies when it comes to our babies but you’re the mom, you’ve got to take charge otherwise this is going to go on for her entire life. As to her not being hungry in the a.m., when are you last feeding her dinner and what and how many treats are you giving her before bed time. All this is really important to know to help figure out what’s going on. Dogs are incredibly smart at training us instead of the other way around. And, she is not going to starve because she has missed a morning meal that she did not eat. She’ll eat at dinner time. As I said, eventually she’ll get into the routine and know that when the food is down she’s got to eat it.

  • sharron

    hi – i need thoughts on what i was told this am
    i was out and about and dropped in at the vet clinic to get some dental chews for lexee. the vet tech asked how things were going in regards to lexee eating etc. she told me that instead of feeding lexee when she is hungry, i am to feed her at specific times, which i don’t disagree with, but i told her that there are mornings that lexee doesn’t want to eat, and she isn’t hungry until 3-4 in the afternoon. the tech told me that i have to make her eat, that i have to show her that i am the boss not her. i told her that lexee isn’t holding out for something better, she just isn’t hungry. plain and simple. this is driving me crazy.

  • Beth Knuth

    I just want to mention what happened to me lately, I have had Butch, pit mix rescue, 8 years old, on Raw Darwin’s for breakfast and kibble for supper for almost a year now. Lately, he has been doing what I think you are describing, I called it puke burping and bringing up some kibble and goo, this is all after he has eaten kibble at night, never after the raw. I just took him over to total raw, 2 pounds a day of the Darwin’s, absolutely no vomiting or puke burping anymore right away. He smells sweet and feels softer just after 5 days! You may have a vet that would go balistic over raw, but you could try that and see, Darwin’s has a web site, they send right to your door. Good luck!

  • dchassett

    Hey Sharron. We’re all a little crazy obsessed as far as our fur babies go. We all put on a little weight over the winter. It’s cold. Who wants to go out and exercise. Use your best “mom” judgement and she’ll be fine. Just don’t let her go hungry because of what some vet told you years ago.

  • dchassett

    Let’s see how she does. I think she was acting hungry because the poor baby is hungry. 180 calories is much too low. Each dog, as humans, is an individual. Of course, there’s a guide as to what weight one should fall into but it’s not written in stone. If your dog has weighed 10 lbs or so for the last four years and has been healthy than that’s more important than what the scale says. Each breed has small, medium and large boned dogs. There is no absolute weight for them. Use your own best judgement and so long as your dog is healthy she should not have to weigh an exact number and she should not be vomiting bile because the acids in her stomach are acting out. She’s hungry.

  • sharron

    thanks to all – i will up it to a 1/2 cup/day
    keeping her on acana will still be ok?

  • dchassett

    Thanks Melissa. That’s where I was coming from also. 180 calories is beyond low for Sharron’s dog. It’s no wonder that the poor dog is acting hungry, she is hungry.

  • sharron

    ok – thanks – i got how much to feed and how many calories from the vet about 3 yrs ago
    the extra little weight happened over the winter – it was ugly – couldn’t get her out
    i hope people on this site don’t think i’m
    a crazy lady who doesn’t know what she is doing

  • Melissaandcrew

    If your dog is 10.5lb and should be 9.5lb…and is inactive altered etc she should be getting something like 230 cals per day. No wonder she is hungry on 180. Go to the food calculator on this site and put in your numbers.

  • sharron

    hi – she gets 1 oz of dry and 1 tsp of wet 3 x a day – is that still too much?

  • Melissaandcrew

    Yuppers! I Should have been clearer on that!

  • theBCnut

    I think Melissa is saying you have to decrease the amount of dry or you are adding more calories.

  • sharron

    ok – so it’s either straight dry or straight wet food? – the wet food is blue buffalo divine delights – each container is 3 oz and contains 85 calories

  • Melissaandcrew

    You can not add canned food to what she is already eating and expect her to lose weight. The more calories in, the more weight she will put on.

  • Melissaandcrew

    Can you post a pix of her taken from t he top view?

  • sharron

    hi – going to keep her on the 3/8 cup/day dry and add canned to it and will feed her when she is hungry rather than going by what time it is. she’s the type of dog that eats to live rather than lives to eat. she’s not highly motivated by food – whether it’s people or dog food – will keep the servings smaller and feed more often – thanks for your help

  • dchassett

    I doubt very highly that vomiting or bringing up bile is a behavioral issue. Your vet said that? 180 calories per day also seems on the low side. Although most dogs are always looking for food, your dog actually sounds hungry especially with the bile issue. Have you tried any of the Acana grain free diets in their Regional line. They have a higher protein which I have definitely seen make a huge difference in my dogs. Before going to a high protein grain free food my dogs (all toy breeds) acted like they were starving even though they were at a good weight. Always looking for food, hanging around the dinner table and, yes, trying to lick and smell inside the dishwasher. I think within a week or less of switching them they stopped that behavior. Now when my husband and I are having dinner they all seem to wander off to their beds and/or crates on their own and nap. My dogs range in size from 5 to 8 lbs. I feed each of them 1/4 cup twice a day and it seems to work fine for them. My two smaller ones are more active then my older 8 lb. girl so it all works out. I don’t weigh my dogs, I know whether I have to tweak the amount they’re eating by feeling their ribs and their body. Oh, I should also mention that on a higher protein grain free dog they also have a lot more energy. My 14 1/2 year old Maltese that used to spend most of her time sleeping and which I assumed was old age, now only naps at our dinner time and sleeps through the night. The rest of the time she’s running around, playing and barking at anyone passing the house and playing with our other two dogs. Just like she used to do when she was younger. It’s amazing.

  • sharron

    it’s not you – i should have given those details
    she is a 5 yr old yorkie/chihuahua – she has been this weight for the past 4 yrs, – she ranges from 10.1 lbs to 10.6 lbs – she has always been like this – i can feel her ribs without digging to feel them. she has these little saddle bags just past her shoulders which i have never be able to get rid of. i have had her on weight control food from the clinic, i have cut back on regular food and with doing this, lexee starts
    bringing up bile because she is hungry and not getting the right amount of calories. i have been told it’s a behavioural issue. I don’t agree with that at all. I don’t think 180 is enough.

  • dchassett

    I should have asked this question from the beginning but what type of dog do you have, how old is she and what makes your vet feel she’s over weight? When you feel her, can you feel her ribs without having to press in too much? Does she have allergies? I’m wondering why she’s on a limited ingredient food.

  • sharron

    what is considered a mod fat level
    the only dry food she likes and will eat consistently is acana and orijen