How to Help A Dog Lose Weight
Your dog probably doesn’t care if they’re overweight. As long as they can chase that nearby squirrel and jump on the nearest piece of soft furniture, they’re happy. But for dogs with arthritis or joint issues, extra weight can lead to pain. Thinner dogs may also live up to 15-percent longer and develop arthritis later. So, if your dog is a little chubby, you might want to adjust a few routines. Most dogs will easily accept small changes to their play routine and eating habits. And hopefully, your perseverance will reward you with more quality time with your dog.
 Effects of diet restriction on life span and age-related changes in dogs. Richard D. Kealy, Dennis F. Lawler, Joan M. Ballam, Sandra L. Mantz, Darryl N. Biery, Elizabeth H. Greeley, George Lust, Mariangela Segre, Gail K. Smith, Howard D. Stowe. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2002 May 1; 220(9): 1315–1320.
How Much Weight Should My Dog Lose?
It’s nearly impossible to use your dog’s height and breed to determine how much they should weigh. That’s why Mud Bay recommends using a body condition chart to decide how much your dog should lose. When you run your hands along your dog’s sides, you should be able to feel their ribs easily. They should have a clearly defined waist you can easily see. Extra padding on the ribs and waist means your dog is overweight.
If your dog scores a 4 or 5 on the body condition chart, don’t panic. Gradual weight loss is best for your dog, so you want to start slow. Go ahead and weigh your dog at your vet’s office, the nearest Mud Bay, or on your scale at home. Then, make a weight loss goal of 4 to 5 percent of their total body weight for the next month.
When you weigh him in four weeks, you’ll know if your changes are working. Don’t let your dog be an overachiever—over 6 percent weight loss could cause their muscles to shrink and their appetite to skyrocket. Increase their food if they’ve lost more than expected.
Before Launching a Weight Loss Plan
Scheduling your dog’s yearly physical before you start a weight loss plan gives you the opportunity to discuss possible challenges with your vet. If your dog has gained weight suddenly without any diet changes, they might have an undiagnosed health issue.
A yearly physical is also a great time to discuss how existing health challenges should affect your weight loss plan. Diabetic dogs, for example, have insulin dosages tied to the amount and type of food that they eat. A change in diet without altering the insulin prescription could threaten your dog’s life. Plus, many other prescription medication dosages are tied to your dog’s weight. Clear your intentions with your vet, and you’ll be able to proceed with confidence.
Six Simple Steps to Weight Loss
Step 1: Look for a high protein and low carb diet.
Most dogs eat kibble. It’s shelf-stable, easy to serve, and provides good nutrition for your dog. When manufacturers make kibble, they use some form of carbohydrate to bind the other ingredients together. These carbohydrates add valuable nutrients to your dog’s food, but they may also make him gain weight. With ancestors who primarily ate meat, your dog may not be able to process lots of carbohydrates effectively. Also, protein requires more calories to digest than carbohydrates.
So, for weight loss, decreasing carbohydrates is essential. You can look for a high protein, low carbohydrate formula in a kibble, canned food or raw food. If you’re happy with the way you’re feeding now, it’s a good idea to look for that same type of food in a lower carbohydrate variety, and slowly transition your dog to it.
When investigating kibble, you’ll find that there’s a limit to the amount of protein a manufacturer can pack into each bite. Each kibble also needs a minimum of carbohydrates to hold its shape. There’s no such restriction for canned and raw food. Theoretically, raw foods could have no carbohydrates at all. So, if you want to encourage weight loss by decreasing carbohydrates, you’ll have higher-protein options in canned and raw food varieties.
Many dog owners mix kibble, raw and canned foods each meal. Combining foods allows you to get the nutritional benefits of raw or canned food without all the added expense. Your dog will also get some weight loss help by substituting only 25 percent of their existing kibble with an alternative.
Your dog is an individual, so it’s unlikely that they’ll match generalized feeding instructions
Step 2: Investigate How Much You’re Feeding
How did you decide how much to feed your dog? Most people look at the side of the bag or can for the manufacturer’s suggested feeding recommendations. But your dog is an individual, so it’s unlikely that they’ll match these generalized feeding instructions. It’s possible that inflated manufacturer’s feeding recommendations caused him to gain some extra weight. At mealtimes, try reducing their food by 5 percent to counteract bloated recommendations. If they’re still not reaching the 5-percent weight loss goal in a month, try another 5-percent reduction.
For a more accurate approach, you can input pertinent information about your dog’s body, age and lifestyle into Mud Bay’s feeding calculator. This calculator is more precise than other types of feeding recommendations because it considers information specific to your individual dog. The feeding calculator will determine exactly how much of your dog’s specific food type and brand you should feed him. If your dog is overweight, the Mud Bay feeding calculator will automatically decrease the recommended amount of food.
Sometimes a decrease in food leads to an increase in begging. Two or three small meals a day—if you can manage it—rather than one large meal may make him feel better about their lighter food dish. The higher amount of moisture in raw or canned food can also make him feel like they’re eating more.
Step 3: Help Your Dog Move More
Whether it’s a long walk, a game of fetch or a tug-of-war, your dog probably has an activity that they love. Now’s the time to encourage him to get more of that exercise every day. If your dog is a cuddly couch potato, you might want to look at what their ancestors were bred to do. For example, your loveable Labrador could uncover their love of fetch once you start throwing a toy into the swimming pool. Or if you have a bright Border Collie, they might surprise you with their instinctive agility know-how.
Some dogs aren’t ready to start daily exercise right away. A good first goal is 20 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Watch your dog for cues for when they’re ready to stop. They might be happier with three 7-minute sessions at first. Your ultimate goal should be at least two heart-pumping 20-minute sessions of exercise each day.
Arthritis and other joint diseases can make any exercise difficult. For dogs who aren’t comfortable with other forms of movement, swimming is a fantastic choice. Not only is it low impact, which will protect your dog’s joints, but it’s a true full-body workout. Swimming is also a good gateway exercise: As your dog gets stronger and leaner they might try other activities.
Step 4: Consider Supplements to Boost Weight Loss
Your dog doesn’t need supplements for weight loss. But as they begin to lose weight, you might want to try additives that make their weight-loss routine easier. For example, glucosamine and chondroitin supplements can make exercise less difficult for overweight or geriatric dogs. These nutrients, which are normally combined in a joint supplement, can help increase overall mobility.
L-carnitine is a supplement that may improve your dog’s fat loss. Studies show that animals respond to this amino acid by burning more fat, building more muscle and maintaining a normal metabolism. Plenty of manufacturers add L-carnitine to dog foods, and it’s naturally found in red meat, fish and poultry.
 Gross, K.L., Wedekind, K.J., Kirk, C.A. et al, Effect of dietary carnitine or chromium on weight loss and body composition of obese dogs. J Anim Sci. 1998;76:175.
Step 5: Find the Non-Food Rewards Your Dog Loves
Every dog adores a tasty snack, but there are plenty of other ways to give your dog some love. Incorporate belly rubs, head scratches and plenty of verbal praise into your reward arsenal. Also, don’t underestimate the value of a quick play session–many working dogs prefer 60-seconds of playtime with a favorite toy above any treat.
For times when you need a food treat, look for low carbohydrate or low-calorie options. Raw vegetables add great fiber to your dog’s diet without many carbohydrates. Meat-based treats are also another option to try. No matter what tidbits your dog loves, make sure their overall treat consumption is only 10-percent of their diet, and you incorporate these foods into their daily calorie count.
Incorporate belly rubs, head scratches and plenty of verbal praise into your reward arsenal
Step 6: Rule Out Other Food Sources
Is it possible that someone is sharing food with your dog? Dogs are scavengers, so a bit of leftover dog kibble, cat food or after-school human snack will be eagerly accepted. To make sure everyone’s eating the right amount, consider feeding all pets in separate rooms. Putting away leftover food immediately after meals is another good strategy. By eliminating temptation, your dog will become a model citizen by default.
Transitioning from Active Weight Loss
Once you’ve coached your dog through the challenges of weight loss, you’ll need a maintenance game plan. Just like humans, it’s common for dogs to experience weight creep after a loss, so a monthly weigh-in is still useful. Daily exercise is also an amazing habit for any living creature, and this routine will help your dog stay limber into old age.
Increase their food 5 or 10 percent to stop additional weight loss or use Mud Bay’s feeding calculator to recalculate the suggested food portions. You can check their weight in a month and make any necessary adjustments then. Over time, your dog may gain some weight in the form of muscle. If they meet the body condition guidelines, don’t worry about these types of gains.
What if My Dog Isn’t Losing Enough Weight?
Imagine this scenario: You find a great high-protein, low-carbohydrate dog food and measure each meal carefully. Every morning and evening your dog goes for a brisk walk around the neighborhood, and they’re happily accepting belly rubs instead of bully sticks. Your dog is a model of healthy weight loss habits. Then, they step on the scale, and you find that your 100-pound dog has lost one pound this month. What do you do now?
We don’t know why certain dogs lose weight faster than others. But it’s possible that your dog may lose weight at a slower rate than other dogs. If you’re already following all the weight loss tips in this article, try being patient and seeing if their weight loss increases over a couple months. As long as they’re losing some weight consistently, they’re making progress. But if their weight loss completely stalls, it’s time to discuss your goals and your dog’s health with your vet to rule out any underlying conditions.
When to See a Veterinarian
After 10 weeks of an improved diet and more exercise, your dog should lose some weight. So, if you don’t see the numbers on the scale change, it’s time to make an appointment with your veterinarian. In some dogs, slow weight loss or steady weight gain can be a sign of hidden health problem. Cushing’s and hypothyroidism are both common causes of weight gain in dogs. They are also treatable conditions that are easily diagnosed via bloodwork.
Your veterinarian can also help you decide if your dog’s weight loss goals are achievable, and if you need any extra support to get there. A small number of dogs may need prescription weight-control dog food or a modified exercise plan to drop weight.
And finally, don’t be afraid to take the long view. Weight loss may be your ultimate objective, but the healthy habits you’ve built together will always benefit your dog. Even if you expect your weight loss efforts to last a year or more, you’ll quickly begin to see health gains that extend beyond the scale. So, schedule regularly check-ins with your vet and embrace weight loss as a process that will lead to better habits and improved health.