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
  • 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…

  • http://www.dfwpugs.com/ sandy

    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.

  • http://www.dfwpugs.com/ sandy

    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.

  • http://www.dfwpugs.com/ sandy

    He weighs 24 pounds.

  • http://www.dfwpugs.com/ sandy

    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.