Weight Loss for Dogs


The following items represent some of The Dog Food Advisor’s most frequently asked questions about dog weight loss.

What’s the secret to canine weight loss?

In her article, How to Help Your Overweight Dog Lose Weight, Dr. Donna Spector, a well-known veterinary specialist, shares her secret to predictable weight loss…

Dogs that consume fewer calories than they burn… lose weight.

What about a senior or lite dog food? Can one of these help my overweight pet?

I’m not a big fan of senior or lite dog foods. Most (but not all) of them achieve their lower calorie content by cutting protein (meat) and increasing carbohydrates… a diet that works no better for dogs than it does for us humans.

Good weight loss isn’t just about cutting calories. It’s also about restricting carbs.

How can carbohydrates contribute to weight problems?

Just like with humans, carbohydrates (especially the refined type) cause the pancreas to produce more insulin. And insulin induces a dog’s body to store fat.

So, if you decide to switch dog foods, try favoring recipes with lower carbohydrate content. Think “Atkins for dogs”. Look for a product with more meat and fewer grains or potatoes (fewer carbs).

Although calories per serving are important (too), you can always cut back on serving size.

My dog has become overweight with his current food. Should I switch to a different brand?

Excessive weight in dogs is nearly always a matter of calories… and not the brand of food. Each recipe contains a different amount of calories.

In most cases, simply cutting back on the number of calories fed should allow most dogs to lose weight.

How can I cut back on the number of calories fed?

There are two ways to reduce the number of calories fed…

  • Reduce the size of each serving
  • Use a food with fewer calories per serving

How can I determine my dog’s ideal weight?

The best way to determine your dog’s ideal weight is to use the exact same 9-point scale used by veterinarians… the Purina Body Condition System.

The technique works by comparing your dog’s appearance to a standardized diagram and feeling for your dog’s ribs and frame.

After examining your dog, simply choose one of these three basic categories…

  • Too Thin
  • Ideal
  • Too Heavy

Adjust your dog’s current weight up or down to estimate what you believe might be your pet’s ideal weight.

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

Or read our article, How to Find Your Dog’s Ideal Weight.

How can I estimate the number of calories required for weight loss?

Once you know your dog’s ideal weight, you can use the Advisor’s dog food calculator to determine this important number.

What should I look for in a quality weight loss dog food?

Dr. Spector suggests feeding your pet a dog food containing…

  • Above-average protein1
  • Below-average fat2
  • Below-average calories3

Where can I find a list of suggested dog foods for weight loss?

To see a list of The Dog Food Advisor’s current recommendations, be sure to read Dog Foods for Weight Loss.

Can low-fat dog foods help my dog lose weight?

Recent research suggests that dog foods low in fat may also be helpful in canine weight loss. Unfortunately, most low-fat recipes are also low in meat content, too.

For a list of dog foods that are not only low in fat yet high in protein, please visit our article, Suggested Low Fat Dog Foods.


  1. Average protein: 29% (dry) and 40% (canned)
  2. Average fat: 16% (kibble) and 23% (canned)
  3. 250-350 calories per 8-ounce cup kibble or per 13-ounce can
  • susan faccone

    I have stopped feeding my 2 Chihuahua’s dog food and feed them meat only. I was tired of losing dogs to cancer. My question is, will a total protein diet help my one over weight dog lose weight, like it does in people?

  • Crazy4dogs

    Feeding too much food in any form will make a dog overweight. Please do list what is available, as InkedMarie suggested. If you feed homemade, you need to follow a balanced diet. You might be able to find some online, but make sure they are from a reliable source, such as a veterinary nutritionist.

  • InkedMarie

    please give us links to all the foods you can get. What you are feeding is not proper at all. There are nutritionists here in the states but i bet the cost for you to work with them is prohibitive.

  • सौरभ सिंह राजोरिया

    i have tried pedigree……i tried meat nd vegetables and meat and rice of it…….drools , royal canin are available and some more branda that i do not know…….but i do not feed him pedigree now as i chose to feed him raw home food ….i think that the reason behind he being overweight could be the ‘kibble’….so i finally stopped it

  • Bobby dog

    Hi सौरभ सिंह राजोरिया:
    In the U.S. and Canada we can usually find Vet nutritionists at Veterinary schools or in private practice.

    Here is a directory of ACVN diplomats and the ECVCN directory that has listings by countries. I hope this will help you with your search:



  • InkedMarie

    What kibble foods are available where you are?

  • सौरभ सिंह राजोरिया

    so if i feed him chicken breasts(boiled) once a day will it help my dog? and please can u tell the overall qty i need to feed him of chicken?and here in jaipur,india there are not specialised nutritionists like u have in your respective regions so u please tell me a nutritionist online so that i can consult

  • InkedMarie

    you are in no way, shape or form feeding your dog a proper diet. Dogs need meat. If you insist on a vegetarian diet, that should be because of a medical issue & you should be working with a nutritionist.

  • सौरभ सिंह राजोरिया

    will it be sufficient if i give him egg whites and buttermilk?

  • Crazy4dogs

    Sorry, but I’m not a nutritionist and wouldn’t even try to suggest a homemade vegetarian diet. I don’t personally agree with feeding a dog a vegetarian diet. Higher protein and lower carbohydrates generally will help with weight loss, but this must be properly balanced with correct nutrients.

    You could try the balanceit website I suggested earlier, or use a commercial vegetarian diet that is approved as nutritionally complete. By randomly feeding your dog without following a balanced diet will likely result in deficiencies.

  • सौरभ सिंह राजोरिया

    hey man ! can u give me a list of vegetarian foods that are high in protien , low in calories and low in fat…i live in india…i saw on net that in order to lose a dog’s weight i should try this..

  • Crazy4dogs

    Feeding a dog vegetarian and providing him the correct nutritional balance is very tricky and potentially dangerous. I would look at a site like balanceit.com or find a veterinary nutritionist to consult. If you aren’t following the correct diet for your dog, you could be doing more harm than feeding a traditional commercial diet.

    He has likely “become lazy” because he’s lacking the correct nutrient balance, particularly protein. Here’s a link that might help you understand:


  • सौरभ सिंह राजोरिया

    i have a 3 yr old lab. he weighs 42 kgs. i used to feed him on pedigree meat and rice/vegetables but now i have switched to homemade food only. he does 1-2km walk daily but he is not losing weight.he has become lazy .i feed him twice a day . these days i am giving him roti(indian bread),curd,buttermilk,tomato,cucumber,apple,watermelon,low sugar biscuits that i eat,no nonvegetarian food,banana,daliya(indian porridge),rice and pulses with little oil sometimes. iam very confused with his diet plan. please anyone suggest a proper vegetarian diet plan for my dog.please someone suggest please please

  • aimee

    You’re welcome… Hope he does well on his diet plan.
    Best Wishes

  • Brenda De Lair

    Thanks. He was getting a ton of treats from people who dog sit for me. I got them to stop. I give him a dentastick every evening after supper. The spring should be here soon and he will be able to run more. I know exercise will help a lot.

  • Crazy4dogs

    Hi Brenda,

    I forgot to mention that you also need to include the caloric content of any treats you’re feeding, including chews. They shouldn’t make up more than 10% of the total diet. Sometimes people with overweight dogs don’t realize how many calories they are adding by giving treats.

  • Brenda De Lair

    I used fresh, but Rufus pickes them out and puts them beside his bowl. He prefers Broccoli.

  • Brenda De Lair

    Thanks Aimee. I wan’t my boy as healthy as possible. I lost a previous Cocker when he was 4 from a blood disorder and I would love this little guy to stick around for a good long time. My heart needs him.

  • aimee

    Hi Brenda De Lair,

    The amount of calories needed for weight loss will vary among individuals. If he isn’t losing at the current amount fed then you need to decrease the amount fed or increase exercise. Usually a combination of those two is best.

    Commonly you’d decrease by about 20 % then reweigh your dog in a few weeks and see if weight loss occurred. If not than another adjustment is made.

    This food however isn’t specifically formulated for weight loss. A weight loss food typically has a higher nutrient/calorie ratio in it to prevent deficiencies while on reduced calories.

    If the amount to generate weight loss is less than 80% of what the recommended feeding amount is for his ideal weight than you may have to home cook in order to meet both his skin and waistline needs.

    Your vet can consult with Purina’s vet to review if the food is appropriate when fed at the level you need to feed for weight loss.

  • Brenda De Lair

    Tell me about it!

  • Brenda De Lair

    Yes that is what they gave suggested as he has skin issues as well. He is a complicated little prince

  • Crazy4dogs

    I know, right?

  • InkedMarie

    wow, thats an expensive food!

  • InkedMarie

    Poor food. I would choose a high quality food….I suggest a lower in fat one (type low fat foods in the search here) and use the calculator here on DFA to find a suggested amount to start with.

  • Crazy4dogs

    Hi Brenda, It’s probably more rice flour than salmon meal since it’s listed first and since trout is about 75%-80% water, If you remove the water from that trout, it would be lower on the ingredient list. So the combined rice flour and canola meal are probably more prevalent in the food than the salmon meal and trout.

  • Crazy4dogs

    Are you sure you’re vet gave you Purina DRM? That’s a food for skin problems. Did he say he was giving you a weight management food? The veterinary weight managament formula for Purina is Purina OM Overweight Management Formula.

  • Brenda De Lair

    Thanks. The vet suggested Purina DRM and he has been on it for about 6 mos. It is primarily Salmon and trout although I did notice that the first ingredient is rice flour.

  • Brenda De Lair

    I was feeding him according to his current weight and then decided that I would feed him according to his desired weight about a month ago. This food was recommended by our vet so I would hope it has decent nutrition. According to the bag, it has 24% protein. I can see that it should be better than that.

  • Crazy4dogs

    Are you feeding him according to the weight he should be? If you are using the feeding guidelines to feed a 50 lb dog, and he’s overweight at that weight, you are feeding too much. Many posters (myself included) recommend feeding a higher protein food that’s lower fat, along with less food and more exercise to cause weight loss.

  • InkedMarie

    I used Wellness Core reduced fat but thats chicken, I think. Look at Annamaet Lean.

    have you used the food calculator here to determine how much to feed him? I’d choose a high quality food, maybe one that is fish or turkey based.

  • Brenda De Lair

    What the heck do you feed a dog that is overweight (male 50 lbs. American Cocker)? He is also allergic to wheat, beef, and chicken. He is currently eating Purina D.M.R. but I’m not seeing any weight loss even though I give him less than the suggested amount.

  • aimee

    Hi Vicki… If she has been checked out by the vet and no medical problem the choice you have is to restrict calories further or increase exercise.

    As time is a premium try to integrate a bit of exercise into your day. Even little steps such as feeding part of her meal by tossing a piece of kibble down the hall repeatedly can get her moving a bit or feeding from a food puzzle ball.

    Weigh the food vs using a measuring cup as measuring by cup isn’t as accurate. Even a few kibble extra can make a difference when feeding small volumes.

    If you change foods I’d make a lateral move meaning a similar energy density as the volume fed can help with satiety. Most over the counter foods are going to be higher in calories/cup or kg and then you’d have to feed an even smaller amount.

  • Crazy4cats

    That’s good news! Glad her thyroid is normal. I am feeding my two Victor Healthy Weight Formula right now due to them getting a little pudgy this summer. We had such an unusually dry, hot summer and didn’t get too much exercise in. This is a beef based food that maybe you could rotate into your healthy weight selections! In addition, I was checking out the Hill’s food you are feeding currently. It only has 245 calories per cup. The foods that are being suggested average 360 calories per cup. You might even have to feed less of it to get the desired results. Trying to fit some exercise in someway somehow will be very beneficial. Good luck to you!

  • Crazy4dogs

    I use frozen green beans and lightly cook them. I will do enough to last a couple of days and add them to the meal. Don’t use canned as they often contain salt.

  • InkedMarie

    At least you & PitLove read my response….this is why I’ve left a few FB groups. I go through the trouble to respond and it gets ignored.

  • Vicki

    Yes about 3 months ago i had a complete profile done especially because I was concerned that she may be hypothyroid. Fortunately, everything was within normal levels. .

  • Crazy4cats

    Have you ever had a blood panel done to check her thyroid levels?

  • Vicki

    I’m thinking that Wellness core reduced fat might be a good food for her. . Thoughts?

  • Vicki

    Please explain exactly what kind of green beans you are referring to?

  • Vicki

    Also, what exactly does everyone mean about the green beans? Canned green beans?

  • Vicki

    I suspected that the RD was no good. I feed her 1/3 cup twice daily… No treats, bones or anything else at all. However, i am ashamed to say that she doesn’t get hardly any exercise because I work several jobs and don’t take the time to exercise her when I finally get done working 10-12 hrs. So what would be the best grain free food with the least fat, carbs, etc.. you can recommend?

  • Crazy4dogs

    What you are currently feeding her is a low calorie bag of corn. Here’s the link:


    I have a small (13 lb) foster that walks (runs to keep up with my lab) at least 1.5 miles a day and is fed regular formula grain free dry food along with canned for 1 meal and raw or fresh food for the other meal. She is 9 years old and in really good shape. How much are you feeding and how many treats is she getting (including and dental chews) per day?

  • Pitlove

    along with Marie’s advice, don’t forget to feed for ideal weight, not current weight and also activity level. She needs to burn more calories than she takes in to help shed those pounds. Best of luck!

  • Crazy4dogs

    Hi Vicki,

    I’ve been there before. She is really not hungry, probably just bored. If you could exercise her more, that would be the best way to reduce weight (just like people). I tend to use Nature’s Variety Healthy Weight, which is grain free, with my dog’s in the brutal winters we have. I have had dogs that I’ve had to slim down due to health issues (my avatar) and I’ve been successful by carefully measuring all food fed, counting the calories in any treats in the daily total and adding green beans to her daily meals.

  • Crazy4dogs

    I agree completely and I’ve used green beans to reduce weight as well. 🙂

  • InkedMarie

    Hi Vicki!
    I’m a sheltie lover too! A number of years ago, we adopted a sheltie who was 14″ tall 7 weighed 43 pounds! I used Wellness Core’s reduced fat food to get her down to 26lbs. If I needed a weight loss food now, I’d look at Annamaet Lean as well. Both are grainfree and good foods. I personally prefer a high quality grainfree food. You can add a little fresh green beans if you think she’s hungry.
    Either of these foods are better than the veterinary food IMO.

  • Vicki

    Good question!

  • Vicki

    I have been feeding my 7 yr old Sheltie Hills RD prescription diet 1/3 cup twice a day for over a year now (prior to that she was on Hills WD), and she is still overweight and always so hungry! She weighs 21 lbs and the Vet has always said her ideal would be 15 lbs. I have been researching other dog foods such as grain free and trying to figure out which is best as far as low carb, low fat, calories, etc…. but I am more confused than ever. Could you please tell me what exactly I am supposed to look for to help her to lose weight in a quality food regarding the carb %, fat %, protein%, and if grain free is best? I would GREATLY appreciate it if you would be willing to just give me some suggestions of dog foods to purchase as trying to understand the ingredients on the labels is almost impossible for me to understand.
    Your help would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

  • Bobby dog

    Hi Diane:
    I don’t have any suggestions for food. However, here is a calculator I use often for pet food to figure out carb %’s on a dry matter basis quickly that you may find helpful: http://www.scheyderweb.com/cats/catfood.html

  • Diane Morrison

    I need a low carb dry puppy food…i want a 5 star one. Any other suggestions other than orijen or evo? (i’m looking for one a little bit less expensive, but I need it to be low carb puppy)…..Thanks

  • Crazy4dogs

    Ummmm…what does this have to do with a dog food site???? Dr. Mike?

  • Olimpia Font

    I’ve been overweight for 10 years and tried so many things. Different things work for different people and I was lucky enough to find one that worked for me. I lost 19 pounds in one month without exercise and it’s been a life changer. I’m a little embarrased to post my before and after photos here but if anyone actually cares to hear what I’ve been doing then I’d be happy to help in any way. Just shoot me an email at [email protected] and I’ll show you my before and after photos, and tell you about how things are going for me with the stuff I’ve tried. I wish someone would have helped me out when I was struggling to find a solution so if I can help you then it would make my day

  • Pacos Hope

    Have a 15 yr old senior mill survivor… who has no teeth.. but can eat dry kibble no problem.. which i like for facet he still chews and doesnt loose his jaw as fast…. but he is like a cat and sleeps 22 hrs out of the day.. I need to get his weight down… Brothers is great for the fat we dont have yeast infections in his ears or itching problems.. but his weight is my concern…

  • I feed 5 star kibbles and canned foods (especially to the obese ones) for weight loss. They’ve all lost weight on this type of diet. I’ve had several obese fosters the past 4 years. I don’t know what size frame that pug is but even my large frame pugs would get 1/2 cup twice a day, medium frame pugs 1/3 cup twice a day. And it takes time. Not a quick fix. The rescue vet here suggested just 2-5% of weight loss per month.

  • InkedMarie

    Hi Pug Poppa,
    Thanks for rescuing this dog. That is a big pug! We adopted a sheltie that weighed that much; we used Wellness Core reduced fat with great results. Our girl had arthritis & bilateral hip dysplasia so exercise didn’t happen for quite awhile. I’ve also heard good things about Annamaet Lean.

  • Pug Poppa

    Hi, I am associated with a pug rescue and will be fostering an obese 4 1/2 year old female pug. She weighs 43.8 pounds. She had lived with an older caretaker that recently passed away. I have 3 male pugs in the house. Two are cancer survivors and one is blind. They are a healthy weight. Any suggestions on a diet to help her reach a healthy weight. I do realize that she will need a regimental walking program. Food suggestions?

  • Cas

    He went to school to be a vet not to be an animal nutritionist.

  • Pattyvaughn

    Wellness Core Reduced Fat is a much better quality food so I would expect good weight loss and better overall health.

  • InkedMarie

    Yes! We adopted an elderly sheltie who should have weighed around 26 pounds. She weighed 43.7 when we got her. Due to other health issues, exercise wasn’t an option for a long time.

    We fed Wellness Core reduced fat, feeding her the amount for what she * should* have weighed and adjusted from there. It took time but we got her down to an optimal weight.

  • Kristene

    My 1 yr old rat terrier is about 8 lbs overweight, despite decreasing her food and walking more. Vet is encouraging we switch to Hill’s Metabolic Advanced and promises an ideal weight in 4-5 moths. have concerns since the first ingredients listed are chicken by product and corn. Don’t really want to offend the vet (he went to school, not me), but I’m seriously considering Wellness Core Reduced Fat instead. Think I can get the same weight loss results with that?

  • Marcine

    Thank You for your advise. I do give my dog carrots and green beans. I have tried sweet potatoes treats and my dog would not eat it. I have never tried pumpkin and was told broccoli was not good for a dog? I am not sure if she will eat apples. I do walk my dog everyday but only once a day. When she was a puppy I gave her a treat everytime she did something good or went out to go potty and her vet said that is what started her weight gain. She was alot more active than she is now, I have to really work with her to walk a good walk. She does walk better/longer with my neighbors dog. Thank You again for your advise, I will try them and see what happens.

  • With her score of 4-5, whatever you’ve been doing is just fine!  Feed her what she likes, but I would stick with grain free and find a couple flavors she likes, not just one. If she walks less, feed less.  I’ve found that with a better “dense” food, the dogs get “dense” as well, more muscled, bone mass, whatever…they are just heavier and more solid.  I have some larger looking pugs than mine, but they are actually lighter and don’t seem as strong or as built-up. 

  • Shawna

    My Chihuahua’s eat a raw diet which is MUCH higher in protein then Acana.  On (the Chi mix) is 6 years old and has kidney disease since birth — she is SUPER healthy despite her disease.  The other is 15 years old and has been on HIGH protien raw since she came to me 6 years ago.  Our other Chi (all of 3 pounds), we lost her last December, came to us in POOR health.  We switched her to high protein raw and her health improved however the damage from the first 5 years of her life was too much to make it too old age.  She lived to age 11.  (The first 5 years of her little life she had only minimal health care, ate human fast food for her meals, had her leg broken while still a pup and was not given vet care etc…) 

  • sharron

    will feed her acana, it’s the one that she likes the best.
    should it be grain-free or ones with grain. she doesn’t have any allergies

    thanks again for all your help

  • sharron

    forgot to mention that she is a 4 out of 5.

  • sharron

    hi sandy

    i know i have tried many foods over the past  2 years. Either lexee didn’t like some of them and refused to eat them and some of them just didn’t agree with her, they made sick to her stomach. Instead of going with what i think is appropriate, i depend on other people’s opinions. My vet says that acana is too high in protein for her and others have told me that too. Then others say it’s ok. I have asked chihuahua breeders. One says feed her acana, another says to feed her royal canin. I know i have done this to myself.
    I’m just trying to find the right food for her.

  • He weighs 24 pounds.

  • Just curious as I remember you trying several different foods for Lexee for quite some time.  What is her body condition score?  Some dogs are technically ‘overweight’ but are actually physically fit.  My ‘small’ pugs are ‘overweight’ for their breed but they have great muscle tone, a tapered waistline, ribs easily felt and some visible while walking, no excessive body wrinkles.  With those long walks, I’m thinking she just has great muscle tone.  Muscles are heavy.  Can you post pictures?  Pugs are supposed to be around 16 pounds give or take, so mine are way overweight!!  But does he look fat? He will never weigh what he is supposed to weigh.

  • sharron

    oops – should be walking not waking.

  • sharron

    forgot to mention thst she gets 1 – 1 1/2 hr of waking/day.
    weather permitting of course.

  • sharron

    acana duck and pear which has 430 cal./cup or horizon select duck formula, that has 360 cal/cup, for a 3 1/2 yr old chihuahua that is 1 – 1 1/2 lbs overweight?  she currently weighs 10.1lbs and should be between 8.5 – 9 lbs.

  • BryanV21

    You may have to adjust the amount of food the dog is given, but that’s normal with any food change… grain-free or not. Although I don’t expect that if you do change the amount, that it’s much at all. In fact, I’m betting that it’ll be the same. Just check out the chart on the bag to make sure, and adjust accordingly.

  • Suz Lerner

    I have a puppy and am considering giving him a grain-free food, even though he seems fine with his current kibble. Will he lose weight in a grain-free diet?

  • InkedMarie

    About five years ago, we adopted an elderly sheltie. She had alot of health issues: she was morbidly obese (43.7lbs, was only 14″ tall), had arthritis, hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, bladder stones and gross coat & ears. After doing a little research, I decided she needed a high protein, low fat diet. I chose Wellness Core’s reduced fat. I fed her the amount she would have eaten if she had been at her ideal weight and slowly, the weight came off. Exercise was hard for her, her hips were a mess, trying to carry around all that weight. We didn’t think she’d last a year but we had her for 3.5 wonderful years. Now, I’d probably choose something else as there are many new foods on the market that weren’t back then. 

  • Ruth Kaempf

    I control the weight of my mini wirehair dachshunds by feeding them a variety of quality dog food supplemented with chopped raw or sometimes cooked carrots, green beans, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, broccoli and such.  For treats I give them apple slices.  I am a firm believer in keeping the dog food to smaller amounts than recommended and when the dogs receive treats I reduce their feedings accordingly.  We walk at least twice daily and when we hit the beach they are off leash and move for roughly 2 hours.  Nobody believes that one of my dogs is almost 16, he passes for a puppy.  I believe dogs (and cats) become overweight just like people from eating too much, and not moving enough.  Sadly some dog owners kill their dogs with kindness, i.e. too many treats. A friend who has a 14 year old dachshund who is considered a tweeny, feeds him several times a day a teaspoon at a time. The dog is a perfect weight. 

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