What’s the Best Kind of Dog Food for Weight Loss?

Laci Schaible, DVM, MSL, CVJ
Written by:
Published: July 3, 2019
What’s the Best Kind of Dog Food for Weight Loss?

Today, pudgy pups are becoming the norm in many American households. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), an estimated 56 percent of dogs are overweight or obese.

Since obesity can create a host of medical ailments—from diabetes and osteoarthritis to heart disease and cancer—it’s important to find the best dog food for weight loss to complement your pet’s weight-loss plan.

How to Put a Dog on a Diet

In order to get your dog on a weight-loss diet, you’ll need to calculate their calorie intake, determine their target weight, choose the best dog food for weight loss, establish a feeding routine and work toward reaching their target weight.

Calculating Your Dog’s Calorie Intake and Target Weight

For otherwise healthy dogs, most veterinarians will calculate the calories your dog needs with a maximum goal of losing 2 percent of initial body weight per week.

Depending on a number of factors, a loss of 0.5 percent of initial body weight per week can be used as the minimum desired rate of weight loss.

Your veterinarian will also calculate your dog’s target weight and determine the amount of time needed to reach this goal.

Then your veterinarian can suggest the best dog food for weight loss, explain how to calculate your pet’s daily calories and schedule regular weigh-ins. Often the weigh-ins will be scheduled every two weeks for the first two months of weight loss.

Once the target weight is achieved, a new feeding plan will be initiated with the best weight-management dog food to stabilize your dog’s body weight.

Choosing the Right Dog Food for Weight Loss

We all know that weight loss happens when calories in (food) are less than calories out (energy). We alone are responsible for what our dogs eat, and we have 100 percent control over the calories they intake. Prescription weight-loss diets are incredibly effective in the battle of the bulge. 

Several components to look for in a weight loss diet include:

  • Nutrient density

  • High fiber, low fat

  • L-carnitine levels

  • Antioxidants

Nutrient Density

The value of choosing a diet formulated specifically for weight loss—and not “weight control” or “weight management”—lies in the diet's nutrient density. There are two parts to nutrient density: 1) calories in a set serving of dog food and 2) nutrients in that same serving.

Diets formulated for weight loss in dogs are designed to decrease energy intake (measured in calories) so that weight loss occurs, while also maintaining appropriate nutrient levels and not inducing nutritional deficiencies.

If you simply feed less of a regular or weight maintenance food, your dog may not get the necessary nutrients, as these diets are nutritionally complete based upon a regular-sized portion, not a diet-sized portion.

Higher Fiber and Lower Fat

Diets higher in fiber and lower in fat promote satiety. A study by Royal Canin found that this combination helped prevent begging in 83 percent of the dogs in a weight-loss study. Weight-loss foods further fine-tune the fiber ratio of soluble to insoluble to promote weight loss.

Therapeutic L-Carnitine Levels 

L-carnitine is an amino acid that helps move more fatty acids into cells to be burned for energy, helping dogs to move and metabolize fat instead of storing it. Carnitine will be listed under the “Guaranteed Analysis” section of the food label, along with the amount. 


Diets that are formulated for weight loss are often enriched with antioxidants that are clinically proven to increase energy, decrease inflammation and contribute to improved metabolism.

A study performed Hill's Nutrition found that feeding the prescription weight-loss diet called r/d reduced dogs' body fat by 22% in eight weeks. Look for these types of studies that prove that a canine prescription weight-loss diet does what it claims to do.

Creating a Feeding Routine for Your Dog’s Weight-Loss Plan

It’s important for you to work with your veterinarian to create a feeding routine that keeps your pup satiated while also on track with their weight-loss plan.

Here are a few tips you can follow to help your dog hit their weight-loss goals:

  • Measure out the exact amount of food as directed by your veterinarian

  • Feed smaller meals throughout the day instead of free-choice feeding

  • Do not allow access to other pets’ food or human food

  • Limit treats and stick to vet-approved treats

Some vet-approved treats include:

  • Carrot slices

  • Green beans

  • Cooked lean meat 

  • Packaged low-calorie treats

  • Broccoli

Reaching Your Dog’s Target Weight Through Exercise


Controlling food and calories alone only gets us so far in a dog weight-loss routine. Weight loss in dogs depends on reducing caloric intake and increasing caloric expenditures (burning calories). 


Talk with your veterinarian about your dog’s unique capabilities and needs before starting a new exercise routine.

At your dog’s weigh-ins, your vet will adjust their diet and exercise routine to cause a rate of 1-2 percent loss per week.

Many dogs lose weight in a stair-step fashion, losing quite a bit over a two-week period, and then not losing much over the next two weeks. Alterations in diet plans are not usually done unless weight has not changed at two sequential examinations.

Maintaining the Ideal Weight

After the desired target weight is reached, your dog’s body weight is monitored monthly to ensure that the ideal weight is maintained.

Just remember that even after the diet is over, approved treats should still only comprise less than 5 percent of the total caloric intake.


By: Laci Schaible, DVM, CVJ

Featured Image: iStock.com/o_sa

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

Related Articles

Can Dogs Eat Peanuts?
Can Dogs Eat Peanuts?
Connect with a Vet

Subscribe to PetMD's Newsletter

Get practical pet health tips, articles, and insights from our veterinary community delivered weekly to your inbox.