How to put your dog on a diet

Obesity is a serious health risk for dogs. It is primarily caused by inactivity and too much food. Therefore, in order for your dog to lose weight, both must change. But can you do it properly, without making your dog feel hungry or becoming ill?

Dog on a diet looking puzzled about the food

In this article, you are going to learn how to put your dog on a diet, as well as additional tips to ensure that your dog’s weight loss is healthy and safe.

NOTE: By all means, in case of obesity, you should consult a veterinarian before putting your dog on a diet. Your dog’s current and previous health is a very important factor to consider; an incorrect diet can put your dog’s health at risk.

  1. Don’t forget to exercise your dog. Putting a dog on a diet is an effective way to lose weight. However, increasing your dog’s activity at the same time is even better. WARNING: Increase the level of activity gradually. If your dog has been a couch potato for most of their life, running just a block may be too much for them to take in the beginning. Instead, start with a 15-minute walk, and increase the duration and pace each day.
  2. Don’t put you dog on a “crash” diet. Fasting has been proven to be an unhealthy practice in both humans and dogs, for several reasons: (1) Weight loss that is too rapid not only burns fat, but also causes loss of muscle mass. (2) Fasting reduces the body’s ability to obtain nutrition. (3) Weight that is rapidly lost, in both dogs and humans, is very likely to return soon after the end of a diet. (4) Substantial calorie restriction increases hunger and restlessness in dogs.
  3. Weigh your dog. Using a normal human scale, hold your dog in your hands and step on the scale. Subtract your own weight from this number, and you will get your dog’s weight. If you have a large dog, you can also visit a vet clinic; most have pet scales. Next, see this list of ideal dog weight ranges by breed, and determine how your dog’s weight compares. Most dogs should be in the middle of the range, while larger and more muscular ones could drift to the top of the range. Smaller dogs will touch the lower margin. In addition, you can try to press your fingers into your dog’s flanks. Normally, you should feel your dog’s ribs after applying a slight pressure. The more pressure you must apply, the more significant your dog’s weight problem is. A veterinarian can also assess your dog’s condition.
  4. Determine how much you should feed your dog each day. Take a look at the label on your dog’s food. You should see a table of “recommended feeding guidelines,” which lists the daily amount of food necessary for a dog, depending on their weight.
    • If your dog is moderately overweight (<20% over desired weight), feed them the amount that corresponds to their desired weight, and your dog should soon arrive at a healthy weight.
    • If your dog is significantly overweight or obese (>20% over desired weight), feed them 60–90% of the amount listed for their current (unhealthy) weight.
      EXAMPLE: A Labrador weights 92 lb. (41 kg), but their desired weight is 70–75 lb. This means that they are more than 20% over their ideal weight. A certain commercial dog food (no brand mentioned) states that a 90 lb. dog should receive 4.25 cups per day. Multiply this by a number 0.6–0.9, and you will determine that your dog should eat 2.5–3.8 cups per day. It’s better to start with a lower amount of food than the maximum recommended, so you could feed them 3.5 cups.
  5. Feed your dog in two to three meals. Don’t free-feed your dog. A dog, as a natural hunter of large animals, is fully capable of eating just a few meals each day. They won’t starve without constant access to food. If they are restless and hungry, wait for our next article on dogs. Feeding your dog in meals ensures that you can measure how much your dog eats. For example, if you calculated that your dog needs 3.5 cups of food per day, you can give him 2 cups in the morning and 1.5 cups in the evening.
  6. Continue monitoring your dog’s weight. Weigh your dog at least once every week, and keep a record. There are two things to check: (1) As your dog loses weight, you should alter the size of their meals according to their “new” weight, as described in the previous point. (2) If your dog is losing more than 2% of their body weight per week, then the loss is too rapid, and you must feed them more. (3) If they are losing less than 1% of weight during a week, you should increase the amount of activity your dog gets, or decrease the amount of food you give them.
  7. Treats are okay, but only to a certain point. You might introduce a new activity or start dog training that involves food bribery. However, make sure treats do not account for more than 10% of your dog’s total daily caloric intake. Subtract treats from your dog’s daily food intake. Table scraps should be avoided.
  8. Do you need a specific dog food for weight loss? There are several commercial dog foods that are labeled “light,” “low fat,” etc. Their main difference from “regular” pet foods is that they contain a lower amount of fats in favor of more difficult-to-digest carbohydrates and/or dietary fiber. This satisfies their hunger with a lower amount of calories. However, this is not mandatory to get your dog slim, because, as long as you feed them high-quality dog food and stick to these feeding guidelines, your dog will soon reach a normal body weight.

Losing weight should not be difficult for your dog. One thing that differentiates dogs from humans is that they do not need to look perfect tomorrow for a bikini party. Therefore, a slow, steady—and most importantly—healthy weight loss is easily achievable, if you know how.