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Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

Helping Dogs Lose Weight - There is a Better Way

January 29, 2016 / (2) comments

The latest results of the National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Survey are depressing. It estimated that

  • 17.6% of US dogs (13.9 million individuals) are obese (a body condition score of 5 out of 5)
  • 35.1 % of US dogs (29.9 million individuals) are overweight (a body condition score of 4 out of 5)


In other words, over half of the dogs in the United States are overweight or obese.


Owners of overweight dogs often wonder about the best way to help them lose weight and regain their health. A new study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association reveals that combining a “dietary weight loss program” with a “controlled exercise plan” helps dogs lose weight while preventing a loss of lean body mass. In and of itself, these results aren’t that surprising, but the details are quite interesting.


Overweight, sedentary dogs were recruited by advertisement in local newspapers, by distribution of pamphlets at the University Hospital for Companion Animals at the University of Copenhagen, and by referral from local veterinary clinics. Dogs eligible for inclusion were medium- to large-breed dogs (body weight, 15 to 55 kg [33 to 121 lb]) and 2 to 13 years of age with a BCS ≥ 6 on a 9-point scale.


Following enrollment in the 12-week weight loss program, dogs were assigned to the FD [fitness and diet] group or the DO [diet only] group solely on the basis of owner preference. Dogs in the FD group were exercised 3 times/wk at the university hospital [The general exercise protocol consisted of 30 minutes on the underwater treadmill and 30 minutes on the land-based treadmill], and owners were encouraged to increase each dog's daily activity level at home. Owners of dogs in the DO group were instructed not to change their dog's daily exercise routines during the study period, but that any spontaneous increase in the dog's activity should not be restricted.


During the study period, all dogs were fed a commercial low-fat, high-protein, dry diet…. The aim was to achieve a weight loss rate of approximately 1.5%/wk. The dogs were weighed every other week, at which time compliance with the feeding plan was discussed with the owner, and if weight loss was < 1% or > 2%, the dog's daily feeding allowance was adjusted (increased or decreased) by 10%.


Here are the results:

  • Mean weight loss was 13.9% in the fitness and diet group.
  • Mean weight loss was 12.9% in the diet only group.


Not a big difference, right? But the fitness and diet group maintained their lean body mass while it declined in the diet only group. The take home message here is that diet is the key to weight loss in dogs, but exercise combined with diet will help them lose fat rather than muscle, and isn’t that our real goal?



Dr. Jennifer Coates





Integration of a physical training program in a weight loss plan for overweight pet dogs. Vitger AD, Stallknecht BM, Nielsen DH, Bjornvad CR. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2016 Jan 15;248(2):174-82.