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

Laci Schaible, DVM, MSL, CVJ
Published: July 3, 2019
Updated: January 6, 2023
Vet Reviewed by Jennifer Coates, DVM
What’s the Best Kind of Dog Food for Weight Loss?

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

Because obesity in dogs is associated with 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

To get your dog on a weight-loss diet, you’ll need to determine their target weight, calculate their recommended calorie intake, 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% of initial body weight per week. Depending on a number of factors, a loss of 0.5% of initial body weight per week can be used as the minimum desired rate of weight loss.

Your veterinarian will also determine your dog’s target weight and the amount of time needed to reach this goal. Then your veterinarian can suggest the best dog food for weight loss, explain ways to determine how much to feed, and schedule regular weigh-ins. Often, the weigh-ins will be scheduled every two weeks for the first two months of weight loss. Your dog’s diet will be adjusted based on how they’re doing.

Once your dog’s 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

Weight loss happens when the calories your dog is taking in (through food and treats) are less than the calories expended (through exercise and maintenance needs). Pet parents are responsible for what dogs eat and have control over the calories they take in.

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 and caloric density

  • High fiber, low fat

  • L-carnitine levels

  • Antioxidants

Nutrient and Caloric Density

The value of choosing a diet formulated specifically for weight loss—and not “weight control” or “weight management”—is related to two factors:

  1. Calories in a set serving of dog food

  2. Nutrients in that same serving

Diets formulated for weight loss in dogs are designed to decrease caloric intake (so 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 feeling of fullness) while still having a lower caloric density than regular dog foods. Dietary fiber can’t be digested, so it adds no calories to a dog’s diet.

Weight-loss foods tend to contain sources of both soluble and insoluble fiber because this combination promotes weight loss while not leading to unpleasant side effects like dramatically increased poop production or a dog food that tastes yucky.

Dietary fat is the most calorie-dense nutrient, containing more than twice the number of calories per gram in comparison to proteins and carbohydrates so it makes sense to limit the amount of fat in dog foods designed 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. This helps dogs move and metabolize fat instead of storing it. Look for L-carnitine in the dog food’s ingredient list. It may also be listed under the “Guaranteed Analysis” section of the food label. 

Antioxidants

Diets formulated for weight loss are often enriched with antioxidants that neutralize free radicals that damage cells. Many of these antioxidants also have an anti-inflammatory action. This can benefit dogs who are overweight because they tend to experience more inflammation than slimmer dogs 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 your dog several smaller meals throughout the day instead of feeding free-choice or just one or two large meals

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

  • Limit treats and stick to vet-approved treats

Some vet-approved, low-calorie treats include:

Reaching Your Dog’s Target Weight Through Exercise

Controlling food and calories is the most important part of a dog’s weight-loss routine, but the process can be helped along by 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 ideally result in a rate of 1-2% body weight 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. Major alterations in diet plans are not usually done unless weight has not changed at two sequential examinations.

Maintaining the Ideal Weight

After your dog’s target weight is reached, your dog’s body weight should be 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 10% of your dog’s total caloric intake.

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