An important part of being a responsible dog owner is making sure your furry friend is healthy. This includes feeding them quality food, providing regular exercise, and consistently checking in with your vet. But what should you do when your dog starts to pack on the pounds? We’re here to share some tips on how to help a dog lose weight.
As your dog gets older, it’s completely normal for him or her to gain a bit of weight. Like humans, having some fat is part of life and is usually not something to worry about. However, there is a line where weight gain becomes unhealthy, painful, and even dangerous.
In fact, recent studies show that nearly 50% of all dogs in North America are considered overweight. Additionally, 25-30% are obese. This weight problem can lead to serious health issues and even cut your dog’s lifespan short. The good news? Obesity is one of the most preventable—and curable—diseases in dogs.
With the right care and attention, you can get your dog to lose weight and increase not only their lifespan but also their quality of life. The first step in helping a dog lose weight is determining whether or not your dog needs to shed a few pounds.
How Do I Know If My Dog Needs To Lose Weight?
Unfortunately, there is no quick way to determine if your dog is overweight or obese. Each breed has different standards for a healthy weight, and variation by height or gender is common. For instance, greyhounds and whippets are naturally lean, whereas beagles and basset hounds are usually more round. Knowing what is healthy for your dog’s breed is a critical piece in deciding if they need to lose weight.
While seeking your vet’s counsel on whether your dog should lose weight is the best way to determine if they are overweight, you can also do a quick assessment at home. Grab your dog and look for these three things:
- An hourglass shape
Stand behind your dog and look down. Is their body in an hourglass shape?
- A visible waist
Look at your dog’s waist (between their stomach and hind legs). Is it visible?
- Ribs that can be felt
Gently feel your dog’s chest for his or her ribs. Can you easily feel them?
If you answered “no” to two or more of these questions, then chances are your dog is overweight.
In discovering that your dog needs to lose weight, don’t be discouraged. While you can’t go back in time to prevent your dog from gaining too much weight, you can prevent many of the complications that follow. One thing is for certain: don’t wait to start helping your dog lose weight.
How Do I Get My Dog To Lose Weight?
There is no secret formula to helping your dog lose weight. Instead, it comes down to the same factors that help humans shed some pounds: nutrition and exercise. As such, be prepared for it to take time. Any sudden, large loss in weight is unhealthy and could trigger a myriad of issues.
Nutrition is by far the best answer on how to help a dog lose weight. An improper diet is where most dogs start gaining in size. It’s easy to understand why—as my mom always said, food is love!
While you may be tempted to show your love to your dog by giving them treats and making sure they’re always well fed, doing so could be harmful. It is important to remember that limiting your dog’s food intake is actually the best way to show them love.
With this in mind, let’s get started on how to modify your dog’s nutrition to help them lose weight.
1. Stop With The Treats!
Treats are one of the biggest culprits for weight gain in dogs. They are often full of sugars and fats (that’s what makes them taste so good!). Many owners don’t think to calculate them into their dog’s daily intake. This can be a problem, especially as the high-caloric value of treats will quickly add pounds to your dog.
If possible, it is best to cut treats out entirely. Instead of pre-packaged goodies, you can go for something more natural and high in fiber. Pieces of bell pepper, green peas, or even blueberries are a great alternative.
You can also work at giving your dog non food related rewards. There are actually quite a number of options here: verbal praise, hugging, patting, snuggling, playing with toys, or allowing them to do behaviors that are normally forbidden (like jumping on the couch) could all work. While you may think that treats are the only way to motivate your dog, you’d be surprised to find that non food rewards can be just as effective.
If you can’t get yourself to totally eliminate treats, you can start with better portion control. Instead of offering your dog a full treat, cut it into quarters. Doing so can help you slowly phase out processed treats for natural alternatives.
2. Choose a High-Protein, Low-Carbohydrate Food
Choosing the right dog food can be tough. This is especially difficult when your pooch is a picky eater! However, if your dog food is high in carbohydrates or full of filler, it might be the culprit behind your dog’s weight gain.
The best kibble for weight loss should be simple. Make sure the ingredients are largely proteins or meats, with some vegetables thrown in there. Look at high amounts of wheat, corn, or soy as red flags for losing pounds. You can check out our list of recommended dog foods for weight loss here.
3. Measure Out Your Dog’s Food
We should note that for most dogs, it’s not the type of food but rather the amount of food that is problematic. Many owners prepare their dog’s food without realizing exactly how much they are giving their pooch.
For example, owners may simply fill up their dog’s bowl with kibble or eyeball a few scoops. While this seems harmless, you may actually be giving your dog too much. Furthermore, recommended portions on the back of dog food packages may be overestimating how much your dog needs.
Take an honest assessment of how much you’re feeding your dog. From there, start to cut back—you may begin with 5% less food for a week, then 10%, and so on. Make sure to gradually reduce your dog’s food; sudden or drastic changes are likely to shock your dog’s system. Doing so may cause more harm than good.
The easiest way to do this is to make a measuring mark on your scoop or cup indicating the exact amount of food you want to give your dog. If you give any treats throughout the day, make sure to incorporate that into your measurements. Some dog owners find that investing in a small scale is helpful. By weighing your dog’s food before giving it to him or her, you can verify that you’re not overfeeding them.
There is one important thing to note when reducing your dog’s daily intake. As your pup begins to notice the lessening amount of food, they may increase their begging behaviors. Be prepared for your dog to whine or beg for more to eat. Some experts recommend breaking two meals into three smaller meals. By spreading out their food throughout the day, your dog may be less likely to feel like they’re not getting enough.
Once you have a plan for your dog’s nutrition, it’s time to think about their fitness. While exercise alone is unlikely to cause notable weight loss, it becomes a powerful tool when combined with proper nutrition.
Here are three tips on how to improve the exercise and fitness of your dog.
1. Start Small and Work Up
When getting your dog on an exercise regiment, it’s important to not escalate it too quickly. For dogs that are overweight or obese, going on walks that are significantly longer than what they are used to can strain joints and cause unnecessary pain.
Instead, start with what your dog is used to and gradually increase the intensity. Does your dog only go on walks once or twice a week? Start by going three times a week, then four, then five, until you’re walking every day.
Once they’re used to the frequency, you can also start increasing the length. Go a bit further today than you did yesterday. You can also slowly increase your speed from a gentle gait to a power walk to a light jog. Experiment with what feels comfortable to you and to your pooch.
One great aspect of exercising your dog is that you get exercise too! Setting your own goals for fitness alongside the ones you make for your dog is one way to encourage more physical activity.
2. Explore Alternative Ways to Get Physical
There are more ways to exercise your dog than going on a walk. When considering how to help a dog lose weight, don’t be afraid to get creative with fitness.
For starters, you can pick up some dog toys designed for activity. A tug-of-war rope is a perfect way to burn large amounts of calories and increase the dog-owner bond. This game is better suited for dogs with fully developed jaws (sorry, puppies!) and for those without resource guarding issues.
You may also consider regularly visiting a dog park or pool. Swimming is enjoyed by most dogs and is a great way to get active. Playing fetch, meeting other dogs, and getting into a game of tag are other activities that are perfect for exercise.
Another creative solution to helping your dog exercise more is to install a doggie door. If your pooch has access to the outdoors, they may be encouraged to get outside and play on their own.
3. Stick to a Schedule
Just like nutrition, consistency is key to effective exercise for weight loss. You need to be prepared to create the habit with your dog. Expect to do these activities with your dog every day, and recognize that this is a healthy practice that should be continued even after your dog reaches his or her target weight.
We’d recommend establishing a regular routine to help both you and your dog stick to a schedule. Plan out your fitness activities on a calendar and don’t be afraid to get the whole family involved!
How Long Should My Dog Be On This Plan?
If you stick to your nutrition and exercise plan, you should expect to see results within a few months. In fact, most owners report achieving their dog’s ideal weight within six to eight months.
Aim to lose one to six pounds per month, depending on your dog’s breed, size, and current condition. Each dog is different, so some will lose weight more quickly while others take longer.
Throughout this process, consistency and dedication are key. The more you can stick to your goals, the better the results will be. Once reaching the desired weight for your dog, you may notice a bit of weight creep. This is natural for both humans and dogs to experience, and should not be cause for alarm.
However, don’t let good habits die once your dog reaches the weight you want him or her to be at. While you may need to adjust the amount of food and exercise you are giving your pooch, don’t slip into the old routine that created the problems in the first place. Continue to measure your dog’s food, feed them healthy treats, and engage in regular, effective fitness.
When Nutrition and Exercise Don’t Work
Although rare, it is possible that neither proper nutrition nor regular exercise will help your dog lose weight.
In this circumstance, it is very likely that your dog may have an underlying health condition causing the weight gain. Examples include hypothyroidism and Cushing’s syndrome, both of which have symptoms of weight gain and lethargy.
If you suspect that your dog might have an underlying condition causing the weight gain, it is important to consult your vet right away. There are medications, supplements, and sometimes even surgeries that may be necessary to get your pet back on a healthy path.
How to Help A Dog Lose Weight
Helping your dog lose weight may be tough—but by reading this article, you’re off to a great start. We all want to give our dogs the life they deserve, one filled with regular play, a healthy diet, and a lot of love. Getting your dog to a healthy weight is essential to accomplishing these goals.
As you start your dog’s weight loss journey, remember that it takes time. Be kind to yourself (and to your dog) and don’t get discouraged. Although it may take longer than you expect, if you carefully watch your dog’s nutrition and exercise them regularly, you will see results.
More than anything, love your dog every step of the way. They are just as beautiful and loveable when they’re chunky as they are when lean.
What are some things you have done to help your dog lose weight? Did you see the results you were hoping for? Be sure to share below what you’ve done, and what tips you’d like to try. Good luck with your dog’s weight loss journey!
While we recommend these things to help your dog lose weight, it is always important to consult your vet—they are your best resource to ensure your dog’s health and well-being.