4 Steps to Create An Optimal Weight Reduction Program for Dogs
Thu, September 29, 2022

4 Steps to Create An Optimal Weight Reduction Program for Dogs



Weight loss is a challenging endeavor for both humans and pets, said Krista Williams, BSc, DVM, and Ernest Ward, DVM, of VCA, an operator of over 1,000 animal hospitals in the US and Canada. Weight reduction involves changing old habits and instilling new ones to improve an individual or pet’s quality of life. For dogs, getting fit not only adds years to its life but it also makes those years more delightful. Helping your Fido shed those extra pounds may be easier if you are willing to help it commit to weight loss, pay attention to changes, and seek veterinary assistance.


International Study Assesses the Success of A Weight Loss Plan for Overweight Dogs (2017)

John Flanagan and colleagues of biomedical and life sciences journal PMC invited veterinary practices from 27 countries in the Americas, Asia, and Europe to participate in their research. 2,214 dogs were eligible after the initial screening, but only 1,565 owners consented. 63.1% of participating dogs completed the full three months of weight loss attending all visits. Among 578 dogs that did not complete the trial, 82% failed to return for revisits and were lost to follow up while 6.9% stopped due to owner non-compliance. Moreover, 1.9% stopped due to a concurrent medical condition and 2% said the program was too tough to follow. For 7.6% of dogs, the reasons were not documented.  

The dogs were made to complete a 5-visit study protocol— an initial assessment and enrolment visit (visit 1) and four follow-up visits (visits 2 to 5).  Complete and reliable data for all five visits were available for 926 of the 987 dogs after the authors reviewed the records. 81% of the 926 study dogs were fed with dry food exclusively while 18% were fed a combination of wet and dry food. Only 1% were fed wet food exclusively. 65% (of total) of 601 dogs were given dry diet 1 whereas the remaining 149 (16% of total) were given dry diet 2. Among the 170 canines that were fed a combination of wet and dry food, dry food 1 and dry food 2 were provided to 110 dogs (12% of total) and 60 dogs (6% of total), respectively.

896 of 926 dogs lost weight (96.8%) while 1.5% maintained a stable weight. Only 1.7% gained >1% weight. 96.8% lost more than 1% of their starting body weight and 87.9% shed more than 5% of their starting body weight. 58.6% and 8.4% of canines lost over 10% and 20% of their starting body weight, respectively. After BCS (body condition score) was performed by the attending veterinary professional, only 7% or 65 of 926 dogs reached the target body weight and were in ideal body condition by the end of the study.

At the initial visit, 31.5% of dogs had an owner-reported activity score of -1, versus 50.3%, and 18.1% of those who had an activity score of 0 and 1, respectively. There was an improvement in activity at each sequential visit. Likewise, 17%, 54.1%, and 28.9% of canines had an owner-reported QOL (quality of life) score of -1, 0, and 1, respectively.  QOL improved at each sequential visit.  



My Dog Is Chubby and Cuddly, Why Does It Need to Lose Weight?

Gaining as few as five pounds above its ideal body weight can make your pet susceptible to medical conditions. When your canine is overweight or obese, it will develop a secondary condition associated with extra weight.  Some common complications include heart disease, high blood pressure, and more. Overweight or obese dogs have shorter lifespans than those in their normal weight and are also less energetic and playful to their pet parents. Dogs carrying extra weight are more lethargic, correlating it with laziness. Hence, it is easier for owners not to notice the signs of obesity, which is bad for the dog’s health.



How Do I Create A Weight Loss Plan for My Dog?

1.   Consult Your Veterinarian

The cause behind your dog’s weight problem should be identified first, ruling out any complications to help your veterinarian to create a weight loss/management program, explained Banfield Pet Hospital, a privately-owned company in Vancouver, Washington, US. As noted by Williams and Ward, many dogs start on a diet and unable to lose weight because of an underlying disease. They will assess your pet’s overall health and evaluate its needs during the appointment. Don’t put your dog on a diet unless you have consulted your veterinarian.

2.   Choose the Right Food and Diet

This step will be based on the desired caloric restrictions, the degree of obesity, and the patient/client’s preference, said AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association), a non-profit organization for companion animal veterinary hospitals. Talk about your pet’s preference for flavor, as well as dry versus canned foods with your veterinarian. They will also calculate your pet’s ideal weight relative to its breed and size.

Your veterinarian may recommend setting a higher target weight than the ideal weight to start, depending on your canine’s degree of excess weight. After it sheds this weight, the veterinary team will reevaluate your dog to see whether further weight loss is needed. For most dogs, they should lose between 3-5% of their body weight each month. Make sure that you know the amount of calories in the food that your pet consumes. Count the calories or measure the food when your dog undergoes the weight loss program. Letting it consume too much food will not result in weight loss and eating too little food can lead to health complications correlated with malnutrition.

3.   Engage In Physical Activity

Increase the intensity and length of your dog’s daily walk or exercise routine. Few dogs usually walk at a pace that elevates their heart rate to sustain aerobic activity and to trigger weight loss. There’s a difference between walking for weight loss and walking for pleasure, so it is recommended to engage your dog in a brisk walk 30 minutes a day. Consider moving your pet’s food bowl upstairs or downstairs or another location frequently, allowing your dog to walk to the food bowl.



4.   Check Its Progress

Is the weight loss program effective? It’s normal if your dog has difficulty adapting to the program or if it exhibits behavioral problems like aggression. Have your dog weighed every month until it reaches its ideal weight. Each dog has its individual needs so there may be adjustments in their recommended diet or routine before finding the most appropriate program.


Every dog has its own needs, so it is better to consult a veterinarian to help clients create an individualized program for their pets. It is up to owners to take note of their dog’s daily caloric intake and determine whether the plan is effective.