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Weight Loss Tips for Dogs

Alison Frost

Author: Alison Frost

Edited By: Anna Bain

Weight Loss Tips for Dogs

Dog people are a special breed. We see our dogs as members of the family, form deep bonds with them, and do all we can to ensure that they’re happy and healthy. Over the course of history, dogs have kept us warm, protected us, and helped us hunt for food. Some even say that the human race might not have survived this long if it weren’t for our canine companions.

In that vein, it’s only natural that humans want to spoil their dogs, and rightly so! Unfortunately, sometimes, this well-intended special treatment can lead to dogs becoming overweight or obese, which actually worsens their quality of life, rather than improving it.  

What’s the fastest way for a dog to lose weight?  

There are several ways to help your dog lose weight relatively quickly, though some aren’t as safe as others. Here are some suggestions for safe weight loss for dogs, as well as some methods to stay away from:

Safe 

Change your feeding routine 

Many of us feed our four-legged friends twice a day, and for most dogs this routine works fine. However, if you’re trying to help your dog lose weight, you may want to consider feeding them once a day instead. This allows them to anticipate food less often and gives their gut a chance to rest between meals. 

Of course, changing their routine will have to be done gradually, so the actual weight loss itself won’t begin right away. You’ll also have to make sure that they’re still getting the appropriate number of calories; you don’t want them to develop a nutritional deficiency. Ask your vet if you’re unsure how many calories your dog needs to stay healthy while on their weight loss plan.

It’s also important to avoid “free feeding,” or allowing your dog to graze all day. Keep feeding times to a set schedule, ensure portions are measured appropriately for your dog’s weight and weight loss goals, and remove any uneaten food after 20 minutes if she/he doesn’t finish it.    

Up their exercise 

Many dogs who are overweight are simply not getting enough exercise. While their excess weight makes it harder to get around, exercise is still important for their health. Regular walks, playing fetch, and even swimming are all great options for burning off calories as well as their pent-up energy. Start slowly if you must, going at your dog’s pace, and age. Be mindful certain types of vigorous exercise may not be suitable for senior or large breeds, always take care to do your research. 

If you’re unsure about how to proceed, try consulting your vet or a trainer on the best ways to safely exercise your overweight dog. There are also plenty of resources available for exercising your dog safely at home, helping them to lose weight and strengthening your bond in the process.  

Consider fasting 

While this might be difficult for you both at first, knowing the health benefits of fasting for your canine pal might help you get past the guilt of those puppy dog eyes [1]. Humans fast regularly for a variety of reasons, and weight loss is one of them. Other benefits of fasting include detoxing, allowing the gut lining to heal and replenish itself, and the list goes on.  

This practice can be helpful for dogs, too, though it must be done gradually in order to remain safe. It’s also important to note that puppies, toy breeds, and dogs with reflux or other health conditions aren’t good candidates for fasting, so always check with your vet/canine nutritionist before setting out.

If you’re given the all clear, start by reducing their food intake gradually one day each week (or every two weeks), and eventually you’ll get the routine down. Your dog will learn to expect less and less food when this is done regularly, helping you to avoid that irresistible begging! 

Minimise snacks 

Treats are commonplace in most dog households, and they’re very helpful in some ways, especially when it comes to training. The trouble is, most people don’t realise that those tiny treats add up, contributing way more calories to dogs’ diets than they actually need. 

If you need treats for training, consider changing them to a healthier form. Small pieces of vegetables, fresh dried/ dehydrated pure meat, and other species-appropriate foods can be helpful with this. Also, raw meaty bones are long-lasting, healthy treats that your dog is sure to love. They provide many benefits, including improved dental health and exercise [2] — just scoop out the marrow to minimise their fat intake, and your dog’s one happy pup!

Another way to minimise the calories your dog gets from treats is to feed them smaller meals. This way, their calories remain lower, while you’re still able to use treats for training and the occasional “reward.” However, it’s important to make sure their treats are contributing to their nutrition, so don’t just feed them more junk food and less of their meals — this will just make them less satisfied in the long run as well as negatively affecting their health. 

Reduce stress

Stress in dogs can stem from a range of factors, such as boredom, isolation, anxiety and depression. A lack of mental stimulation, spending too much time alone, lack of structure, too much environmental stimulation or not enough, a sudden change to routine (amongst other things) can all lead to your dog experiencing stress.

 When the body is in stress response for significant periods of time this leads to increased levels of cortisol production. Cortisol is a hormone that has an important role in the body, however, when levels are consistently elevated it has also been connected with increased hunger and weight gain. Chronically high levels of circulating cortisol may also increase fat storage. Keeping stress to a minimum is a crucial part of weight loss for your fur friends. 

 

Not safe 

Starving your dog 

Just like people, dogs need regular meals to keep them healthy. When considering weight loss for dogs, it’s easy to assume that simply feeding them less will help them shed their extra pounds and that’s that. However, this can be a dangerous practice if not done correctly, so it’s important to know how much food your dog needs on a daily basis to stay healthy. 

It is important to note that restricting calories excessively can also cause stress. 

Sometimes the fastest way is not the best way, and figuring out the safest and most appropriate diets for dogs can take time. Consulting your vet, ensuring that your four-legged friend has their nutritional needs met, and considering some of the above-mentioned points will help your dog lose weight safely. 

Too much exercise 

While exercise is important and a great way to help your dog to lose weight, excessive amounts of exercise can actually do more harm than good. Negative effects like dehydration, injuries, and other consequences can occur when your dog is pushed too hard, too fast. Starting slow is safer, and exercise can be gradually increased as your dog becomes fitter. 

Overweight dogs may resist exercise, especially at first, as it’s more difficult for them to move all the extra weight. They also might be experiencing joint pain, which is common in overweight dogs. Pushing a dog that’s in pain is one of the worst ways to help them lose weight, so check in with your vet if you think this might be the case. 

Dogs with health conditions  

It’s important to mention that dogs with existing health conditions, such as under-active thyroid etc, need special consideration, or even medication, when attempting weight loss diets for dogs. Their condition may mean that they need more time or a special diet to ensure their health doesn’t suffer, so talk to your vet before starting a weight loss plan if this applies to your dog. 

The good news is this doesn’t count your dog out — many dogs with health issues can safely and successfully lose weight. A healthy weight is a great contributor to overall health, so helping your dog lose weight can help them in other ways, too! 

What do I give my dog to lose weight?

The fact is most of our dogs consume entirely too many carbohydrates. Dogs are facultative carnivores, meaning that their primary nutritional need, in order for them to thrive, is lean, high-quality protein, plain and simple. 

For overweight dogs already on a raw diet, lower fat cuts of meat supplemented with some lightly steamed green veggies for bulk is recommended. This helps them continue to meet their nutritional needs while allowing them to shed the extra kilos necessary to maintain a healthy weight.

Dry food provides just that: dry food. Kibble has zero moisture, dicey ingredients at best, and seriously lacks the nutritional elements that are necessary for dogs to thrive — as well as stuffing them full of unnecessary carbohydrates and sugars. 

The species appropriate diet for dogs, when fed in the right amounts, keeps them at their optimal weight. Weight loss for dogs could be as simple as feeding them the way nature intended: lean cuts of meat with organs and bone, along with small amounts of fruits and vegetables [3]. Mix in some regular, quality exercise, and you’ve got yourself one healthy, happy dog! 

Supplements 

Supplements for dogs can be a confusing subject, there are many products available on the market, some may do more harm than good, so it is important to do your research. The correct supplementation can be highly beneficial to a dog’s health alongside a species-appropriate, balanced diet. 

There are some natural weight loss supplements for dogs that can help, just be sure you consult with your vet to determine that they’re safe for your dog to take.

Some additions you might want to consider adding to your dog’s weight loss plan that are also beneficial beyond reaching target weight:

Probiotics — The mucosal lining of the gut plays a major role with insulin sensitivity, glucose intolerance, fat storage and appetite. Adding probiotics will help to maintain a healthy gut environment, ensuring effective function. Boosting beneficial bacteria by including probiotics in the diet also aids digestion and nutrient assimilation, this means nutrients are more effectively absorbed by the body and your dog is less likely to seek out food.

Fibrous antioxidant support Fibre rich additions with antioxidant qualities such as seaweed,  psyllium husk, fruits, green vegetables, or even a specialist blended supplement rich in fibre, such as ProDog Digest, will not only help maintain a feeling of fulfilment, but will provide extra nutrients, food to fuel the friendly bacteria, and extra antioxidants leaving your dog with far less desire for snacks. 

Omega 3’s – Healthful fatty acids from fish oils or other sources,  help to support joint, heart, eye health, and cognitive function. In addition, obesity causes inflammation which can put dogs at risk of other chronic health conditions, as such the anti-inflammatory qualities of omega-3 oils will go some way to supporting overall wellbeing [4]. 

For more information about supplements for dogs read our dog supplements page.

Enrichment 

There are ways to feed your dog that also qualify as enrichment, which is a welcome addition to the lives of most dogs. This essentially adds value to their day by giving them something to accomplish, exercising their mental muscles, and allowing them to feel good about themselves. 

This can be done by simply making them work harder for their meals through the use of things like puzzle toys, feeding mats, and other genius inventions that are becoming increasingly popular among dog owners. This also helps your dog lose weight, helping them to feel more satisfied with their meals and leaving them feeling less hungry!

Why raw food might be better than dry food for weight loss 

By now, you’re probably wondering, “what is the best dog food for weight loss?” There are so many options available, which can make this difficult to decipher. Dry food lacks many necessary components of a healthy, species-appropriate diet for dogs [5]. It’s essentially dehydrated, which can lead to a host of health issues down the road. Raw food, on the other hand, contains the nutrients dogs need to thrive, and that includes keeping them at a healthy weight.  

While it may seem confusing when first starting out, adapting to a raw food diet can soon become second nature, and your dog’s health will thank you for it! Some benefits of feeding your dog raw food — aside from a healthy weight — include healthier skin and coat, stronger immune system, better smelling breath, increased vitality, healthier digestion, elimination of allergies, and reduced behavioural issues, to name a few. Raw is the healthiest dog food for weight loss, simply because it’s what dogs were designed to eat [6].

What should I not do to help my dog lose weight? 

Don’t feed them diet food 

The dry food or “diet food” given by vets to aid weight loss in dogs is actually lower in dog-appropriate nutrients. It’s stuffed with more fibre than dogs actually need, making them feel full without providing them with the sustenance they need to thrive. True, your dog may lose weight while eating this diet, but it won’t help him in the long run. 

Sadly, many vets aren’t primarily educated on nutrition, which means the prescription foods they recommend are often lacking to some degree. A canine nutritionist or holistic vet can be helpful here — they’re more likely to be knowledgeable on how to help dogs lose weight while maintaining their health.

The bottom line here is that more high-quality protein is necessary for dogs to maintain a healthy weight (and their health in general), not less. A species-appropriate, raw diet may be all the prescription your pup needs to feel like his old self again. 

Don’t rush them 

Weight loss that lasts is a journey, for dogs as well as people. Taking things slow is a far safer bet than rushing them, and will have less adverse effects on your canine pal’s health in the long run. Gradually increasing their exercise, feeding them the appropriate amount of fresh, high-quality food, and limiting their snacking (or treats) as much as possible will get them back to a healthy weight, within a time that’s right for them. 

The term “yo-yo dieting” applies to dogs, too. Trying too hard all at once will likely result in the weight piling back on when their lifestyle resumes as normal. Making life choices for your dog that become long term healthy habits will aid in their weight loss as well as increasing their chances at good overall health for the duration of their lives. 

Conclusion 

Helping your dog lose weight can be easier than it seems at first, and though it might take a little time, your canine pal can be feeling like his/her old self again before you know it. 

Feeding him/her fresh, quality raw food, gradually increasing his exercise, minimising stress and making healthier choices for his/her treats can all aid in helping your dog back to a healthy weight. To see how raw food can contribute to your dog’s weight loss journey, try ProDog Raw’s lower fat dog food!

 

References: 

  1. Brady C., Feeding Dogs: Dry or raw The science behind the debate. Farrow Road Publishing P. 495
  2. FR Marx., GS Machado., JG Pezzali., CS Marcolla., AM Kessler., Ø Ahlstrøm., L Trevizan (Jan 2016). Raw beef bones as chewing items to reduce dental calculus in Beagle dogs. Australian Veterinary Journal, vol 96, issue 1-2, p18-23. doi: /10.1111/avj.12394
  3. Diez M., Nguyen P., Jeusette I., Devois C., Istasse L., Biourge V., (Jun 2002). Weight loss in obese dogs: evaluation of a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. J Nutr; 132(6 Suppl 2):1685S-7S. doi: 10.1093/jn/132.6.1685S
  4. Lenox C., (June 2015). Timely topics in nutrition: An overview of fatty acids in companion animal medicine. Journal of the Veterinary Medical association, 246 (11): 1198-1202. doi: 10.2460/javma.246.11.1198     
  5. Davies M.., Alborough R., Jones, L. et al. (2017). Mineral analysis of complete dog and cat foods in the UK and compliance with European guidelines. Sci Rep 7, 17107. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-17159-7
  6. J.M Craig., (Dec 2019). Raw feeding in dogs and cats. Companion Animal Vol. 24, No. 11 doi: 10.12968/coan.2018.0068

 

Image Credit: Rafael Reifous, Pixabay

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