10 Tips for Safe Weight Loss for Dogs
Obesity in dogs is a growing problem worldwide. And weight loss in dogs can be a difficult feat!
According to the 2018 Association for Pet Obesity Prevention survey, over 56 % of dogs in North America are overweight or obese1. Chronic obesity in our pets can result in many other issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and arthritis2,3.
To determine if your dog is overweight, we use a Body Condition Score. The Body Condition Score provided by the World Small Animal Veterinarian Association4 provides an easy guide for you to use to determine if your pet has a few extra pounds. This can estimate the amount of body fat on your pup by visual and palpable assessments!
If you are still unsure if your dog is overweight or obese, your veterinarian can help you! Your dog’s veterinary healthcare team can also help you build a weight loss plan that is best for your pup, and it can even include your dog’s favourite Tom&Sawyer meals!
To help you and your dog on this weight loss journey, we have some helpful tips!
TIP 1: Evaluate & Adjust How Much They Eat!
An important part of your pup’s weight loss is their diet. While it is not as simple as “Calories In versus Calories Out,” this is a big driver for balancing weight.
The number of calories your dog needs will depend on multiple factors such as their current weight, life stage, activity level, and even breed. We can provide you with an estimate for the number of calories your dog will need daily.
For weight loss, dogs should consume the number of calories they need for their ideal body weight5. For an overweight dog, this is not their current weight. Your veterinarian or a qualified animal nutritionist can determine your dog’s estimated weight using their body condition score.
Importantly, weight loss and feeding to their ideal body weight should always be monitored by your veterinarian.
TIP 2: Make Feeding Fun!
Food toys are a great way to slow eating (and digestion) while increasing physical and cognitive activity!
Eating too quickly can cause gas, bloating, and poor digestion. This can cause all sorts of problems! Slow feeders or food toys can help to reduce these issues.
In addition, food toys can increase physical activity. One study found that feeding dogs using food toys resulted in a 26 % increase in average walking time7! Why is this important? Check out tip #3!
TIP 3: Exercise! Exercise! Exercise!5
It’s easy to point to food and calories when talking about weight loss, both for humans and our pets. But let’s not forget about the importance of physical activity.
Exercise can increase the amount of energy your dog burns throughout the day. Think back to the simplified “Calories In versus Calories Out” equation.
During weight loss, physical activity also ensures that your dog maintains their lean muscle mass. This can help ensure that when your dog is losing weight, they are losing it in fat and not muscle.
Exercise can be in the form of walks, either one or two longer walks or multiple short walks throughout the day.
Leading is another way to add exercise to your pup’s day. This works by having your dog follow you anytime you move around the house.
Food puzzles can be very interactive, or even spreading their food throughout the house can encourage them to move between bites! Other fun ways to include exercise into your dog’s day can be to simply increase the amount of playtime, strengthening your bond with your pup as an added bonus!
TIP 4: Keep Your Dog Hydrated
Staying hydrated is a top priority for dogs at any point in time. And so maintaining water intake during weight loss is also important!
Your dog will be used to getting some of its daily moisture content from its food. But when we reduce their food intake, we also reduce some of their water intakes. And this is especially true when feeding high-moisture foods like Tom&Sawyer! In addition, your pup may be exercising more and therefore losing much more body water.
It is very important to always provide fresh, clean water for your dogs for all these reasons.
Be sure to monitor their water intake as well. Not drinking enough or drinking too much water can be a sign that something is wrong.
TIP 5: Weigh Out Their Food Portions
When we use cups or eye-ball portions of food, it becomes very easy to over-or under-estimate the amount. This has been proven time and time again in multiple scientific studies8,9.
For dogs on a weight loss plan, over-estimating food portions can cause their progress to stall. And underestimating food portions could result in lowered nutrient and calorie intakes and losing weight too quickly.
Using a small kitchen gram scale to weigh out their portions to the correct amount of grams is an accurate way of ensuring your dog receives the correct amount of food.
TIP 6: Consider Low-Fat, High-Protein, High-Fibre Options
Fats are an important part of your dog’s diet. However, compared to protein and carbohydrates, they provide more energy, or calories, per gram. Low-fat diets can have a reduced calorie density without losing out on proteins and carbs!
In fact, the high protein content and dietary fibre that come along with a low-fat diet can also improve satiety for your dog10. This means your pup may feel fuller for longer, which can reduce food-seeking behaviours.
Low-fat diets have long been considered for weight loss programs5. Tom&Sawyer’s line of low-fat meals can be a great addition to your pup’s weight loss meal.
TIP 7: Look for Health Promoting Ingredients2
Certain ingredients can provide nutrients that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties or other potential health benefits.
These ingredients may not directly stimulate weight loss, but they are very important in supporting weight loss.
Obesity can cause inflammation within the body and is associated with high levels of harmful, reactive oxygen species. Ingredients that provide antioxidants or anti-inflammatory properties can help reduce this.
What types of ingredients should you be looking for? At Tom&Sawyer, we use superfoods like turmeric in our Coconut Chicken recipe, Goji berries found in the Goji Berry Beef recipe, and rosemary from the Rosemary Venison recipe!
TIP 8: Limit Treats, Table Scraps, and Snacks5
This is not to say don’t give your pup ANY treats as we all know that we can’t resist those puppy-dog eyes - rather, incorporate them into a complete meal plan.
Oftentimes when we give treats to our pets, we provide them on top of their regular meal. Instead, they should be considered with their main meals. Treats should not be given at more than 5 to 10 % of your dog’s daily calorie allowance.
Note: Because it’s hard to know how many calories are in table scraps, it’s best to avoid them altogether.
TIP 9: Aim for Slow Weight Loss
This cannot be emphasized enough - weight loss should be a slow, controlled process. Too quick, and it can put too much pressure on the body.
Aim for no more than 0.5 to 1 % of body weight loss per week5,6. This rate of weight loss can prevent overworking the liver and also helps to ensure that the weight loss is in the form of fat and not muscle. You can monitor this weight loss with regular body check-ins.
Be sure to monitor your pet’s weight loss closely and with the help of your veterinarian.
TIP 10: Be Patient!
Weight loss will not occur overnight… and that is ok! Slow and steady weight loss can increase the likelihood of your dog reaching their ideal body weight and condition. Importantly, slow and consistent weight loss is more likely to stick!
If you are unsure whether your pet is overweight, contact your veterinarian. Follow these tips and the advice of a qualified animal nutritionist and veterinarian to support your pup on their weight loss journey.Article written by
BSc H | MSc Animal Nutrition
Tom&Sawyer Client Ambassador & Animal Nutritionist
- APOP. 2018. Accessed at: https://petobesityprevention.org/2018
- Burkholder WJ, Toll PW. Obesity. In: Hand MS, Thatcher CD, Reimillard RL, Roudebush P, Morris ML, Novotny BJ. editors. Small animal clinical nutrition, 4th edition. Topeka, KS: Mark Morris Institute. 2000; p. 401–30.
- German AJ. The growing problem of obesity in dogs and cats. J Nutr, 2006 https://academic-oup-com.subzero.lib.uoguelph.ca/jn/article/136/7/1940S/4664725
- WSAVA. 2020. Accessed at: https://wsava.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Body-Condition-Score-Dog.pdf
- German AJ. Outcomes of weight management in obese pet dogs: what can we do better? Proc Nutr Soc, 2016
- German AJ. Obesity prevention and weight maintenance after loss. Vet Clin Sm Anim Prac. 2016;46(5): 913-929.
- Su DK, Murphy M, Hand A, Zhu X, Witzel-Rollins A. Impact of feeding method on overall activity of indoor, client-owned dogs. J Small Anim Prac, 2019.
- Coe JB, Rankovic A, Edwards TR, Parr JM. Dog owner’s accuracy measuring different volumes of dry dog food using three different measuring devices. Vet Record, 2019
- German AJ, Holden SL, Mason SL, Bryner C, Bouldoires C, Morris PJ, Deboise M, Biourge V. Imprecision when using measuring cups to weigh out extruded dry kibbled food. Anim Physiol Anim Nutr, 2010.
- Weber M, Bissot T, Servet E. Sergheraert R, Biourge V, German AJ. A high-protein, high-fiber diet designed for weight loss improves satiety. J Vet Intern Med. 2007.