How to Put Your Dog on a Diet

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on March 09, 2014
3 min read

Too much food and too little exercise can pack extra pounds onto your dog. But there are steps you can take to help trim them down.

Before you start a diet plan for your dog, you need to know if they are really overweight. Try these simple do-it-yourself tests:

Feel their backbone and ribs. "If the spine and ribs are difficult to feel, the dog is overweight," says David Gonsky, DVM. He's the medical director of West Loop Veterinary Care in Chicago.

Look at them from the side. Their stomach should be raised. A sagging stomach is a sign that they are carrying extra pounds.

Get a view from the top. Looking down at them from above, you should see a "waist," or inward curves, between the back of their rib cage and  hips.

Try these tips to help your dog shed pounds and get healthier.

Exercise more. Exercise burns calories and reduces appetite. Take them for an extra walk or start a game of fetch.

Be playful. Toss around balls, Frisbees, squeaky toys, and other dog toys to get them excited about moving around. Shoot for 10 to15 minutes of exercise, twice a day.

Reduce portion size. "Table food, treats, or even just generous portions of regular meals can lead to weight gain," Gonsky says.

If he's eating large servings of food, cut them down a little each day until you reach an appropriate portion size.

"Use an actual measuring cup to measure your pet's food, not just a cup out of the cabinet," says Thomas Watson, DVM. He's a veterinarian at Carolinas Veterinary Medical Hospital in Charlotte, N.C.

Cut back on treats. You may not realize how many extra calories you're giving your dog when you toss them a treat.

"Reducing the number of treats given in a day greatly helps," Watson says.

Give them half of what they used to, and then reduce it even more over a few days. Or swap typical dog treats for healthy foods like carrots, green beans, or rice cakes. "These healthy treats are low in calories and can be beneficial to your dog," Gonsky says.

Feed them more often. "Multiple small meals are better than one large meal a day," Watson says. That's because it keeps your dog's blood sugar level steadier throughout the day, so their body is less likely to store extra calories.

Don't leave food out. Many dogs don't know how to self-regulate. Instead of leaving dog food out all day, feed your pup at specific times. After about 15 minutes, take away whatever's left over. But keep their water dish out all day so they have plenty of fresh drinking water, Gonsky says.

Choose the right food. Instead of buying any over-the-counter "light" dog food, ask your veterinarian for a recommendation. They know your pup and can determine the best ingredients and portion size.

Keep them out of the kitchen. Table scraps and food that accidentally falls onto the floor can be tempting and tack on pounds. Keep them in another room while you cook and eat so they'll be less fixated on your food and won't take in extra calories.

Remember the age-old formula. "The bottom line for pets and weight is the same as it is for people: diet and exercise," Gonsky says. When in doubt, keep this rule of thumb in mind.

Show Sources


ASPCA: "Overweight Dogs."

David Gonsky, DVM, medical director, West Loop Veterinary Care, Chicago.

Thomas Watson, DVM, veterinarian, Carolinas Veterinary Medical Hospital, Charlotte, N.C.

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