How to help my dog lose weight

My mutt Ace is one of the fittest dogs I know. He has a naturally lean body, and his sleek coat shows off his frame. He also gets plenty of exercise, and I don’t overfeed him.

People are so used to seeing overweight dogs that they tell me my dog is underweight. It’s no wonder so many of us have fat pets. We don’t even realize they’re fat!

Hide a dog’s obesity under a thick coat of fur, and it’s even easier to overfeed her. Try shaving your dog or giving her a haircut to see what she really looks like under all that fur.

Ace’s weight is one piece of his overall health that I have complete control over. He will become fat if I let him, and he will starve if I let him. I want my dog to be around as long as possible. And while he’s here, I want him to be healthy. One of the easiest ways to be healthy is to eat a proper diet and exercise regularly (in case you haven’t heard).

Eat less. Exercise more. What a concept.

If only it were as easy as it sounds. Then we wouldn’t have such a problem with our own waistlines. But whether you are fat or not, why on earth would you allow your dog to become fat?

Ace the black lab mix running across the dirt, horizontal photo

It sounds so easy to keep a pet at a healthy weight, but obviously it’s not easy or more people would have thin pets.

Tips for helping your dog lose weight

1. Don’t feed based on what the package says.

Dog food companies want you to feed your dog too much so you will buy more food. Ace is 65 pounds, and he eats 3-4 cups of dry dog food per day. Keep in mind my dog also goes for walks and runs every day. On days we do longer workouts, I might give him an extra half cup. If your dog is not getting as much exercise as Ace, he should be eating nowhere near the same amount of food. It also depends a lot on the quality of food you are using.

2. Stop feeding table scraps and human food.

Every time you give your dog a potato chip or a piece of bread or a bit of your cheese, he is getting extra calories. Your dog is most likely a lot smaller than you. One potato chip for your dog is not the same as one potato chip for you. Instead of giving your dog “just a taste” or “just one piece,” become more disciplined and stop feeding him your food all together. Trust me, he will forgive you.

I’m not saying that human-quality food is bad for dogs. I’m saying, stop feeding your dog extras.

3. Train your dog to stay on his bed or in his kennel while you eat.

If your dog is not begging, you will be less likely to offer handouts.

My dog is always hungry. At least he thinks he is. Ace begs if I don’t stop him. He also begs from everyone else he knows. However, if we’re at home and I tell him to go to his bed, he goes in the other room and lies on his bed. Or, if I put him in a down-stay position anywhere else, he will stay until I release him. That doesn’t mean he won’t stare at me with pleading eyes from a distance, but at least he’s not begging right in front of me. I even taught him the word “out” which means, “Get your butt out of the kitchen!”

You can always put your dog in his kennel or in a separate room during your meals. This is a good time to feed him his own food. That way begging at the table will not become a habit and he will associate his kennel with food. At the very least, get him to lie down and stay at your feet rather than shove his nose in your crotch.

4. Cut out treats completely.

I don’t understand people who buy several bags of dog treats of all different kinds for their dogs. I barely buy any treats for Ace at all. All I use are jerky treats which can be torn into tiny pieces the sizes of M&Ms for training. A small bag might last me two months. I also use Ace’s actual dog food or my cat’s food for training. I see no reason to offer my dog treats throughout the day just for existing.

Ace the black lab mix at Lake Superior standing at the shoreline5. Go for a hike once a week.

Lately I’ve been giving myself permission in my busy schedule to take one morning a week to go on a long, relaxing run or walk with my dog. I really look forward to these walks. We drive to a park rather than walk through our boring neighborhood, and I give myself at least one hour. Make this a habit and you could be walking 12 or more extra miles per month.

6. Get help from your veterinarian.

Veterinarians are there to help. Your vet should be able to recommend the proper diet and activity level for your particular dog based on his age, breed, health issues and weight. It’s possible your dog is not losing weight because of a thyroid issue or another medical problem. If you think this is a possibility, then talk to your vet about it.

7. Measure your dog’s food.

Know exactly how much food your dog is getting. Never allow an overweight dog to self feed from a bowl that is always full. Control his portions by measuring his food and giving him access to eat for limited periods. That way you can decrease his portions by a little at a time and know exactly how much your dog is eating.

8. Give your dog a bone once a week.

Dogs love bones! Sometimes I give my dog an actual bone, and sometimes I give him a raw hide. Either way, they last him a week or so for some good chewing sessions and not a lot of calories. There’s no reason to give a dog a new bone every single day, but bones for dogs are healthy for their gums and teeth.

Whatever it is that your dog likes such as pigs’ ears, knuckle bones or raw hides should be given sparingly. I allow Ace to chew on his bone for 20-30 minutes every day or two. That way he’s still getting the benefits but not too many extra calories. The bone also lasts longer and he values it more. If you’re concerned about bacteria growing on the bone, then throw leftovers away each time and give him a new one at his next chewing session.

9. Feed your dog high-quality dog food.

You wouldn’t want to eat McDonald’s every day, so why feed lower-quality food to your dog? If it’s too expensive, one trick I use is to mix two kinds of food or alternate between the two. Just be careful not to suddenly introduce new food to your dog or he could get an upset stomach. You may be interested in feeding your dog a raw dog food diet.

10. Walk for 30 minutes every single day.

Now’s the time to make this a habit. You and your dog will benefit. For some, that time should be 60 minutes per day. If walks are no fun because your dog pulls, then get a Halti or a Gentle Leader for dogs.

11. Visit the dog park.

This is a good way for you to be lazy, but at least your dog will be getting some more activity. I recommend walking your dog before you go to the dog park to burn off some energy and get some exercise. Then, visit the dog park right afterward as a reward and added activity.

12. Hire a dog walker or dog runner.

Not having enough time is probably the number one excuse not to exercise other than pure laziness. If you can afford a dog walker or dog runner to take your dog out even once a week for some extra exercise, it will pay off. Running is ideal because a quicker pace will help speed up your dog’s metabolism.

13. Take your dog to dog daycare.

Dog daycare usually is not as structured as a walk or a run, but it’s better than your dog sleeping on the couch all day. At least he’s being active, and he’ll probably have a great time playing and socializing with other dogs.

14. Give your dog enough water.

The kibble most of our dogs eat does not contain much water. Allow your dog to have as much water as he wants. It’s a good way to temporarily feel full.

15. Play with and train your dog more often.

Even little things like a 10-minute game of fetch or a quick training session in the backyard help you and your dog become a little more active.

What do you do to make sure your dog is a healthy weight?

You may also be interested in my post on how to help a cat lose weight.

37 Readers Commented

Join discussion
  1. Jan on June 18, 2009

    A few years ago while my daughter worked in a bookstore, she lost 15 pounds. It was just enough to make her look sensational and everyone wanted to know what book she used. She told them she just ate less and exercised more.

    They were so disappointed.

  2. Matt on June 18, 2009

    You always have some really good tips!

  3. Apryl DeLancey on June 18, 2009

    Yeah, for Gus we have cut out treats completely unless we take him for extra exercise like a massive hike that really exerts him. In addition, we have a very specific diet that he gets 2x a day.

    Jan’s comment is so true – a friend of mine and I were discussing that very thing. However, people and dogs only lose weight by eating right (whatever that is for the particular individual) and exercising.

  4. Lindsay Stordahl Author on June 18, 2009

    Haha! Good one Jan!

    Apryl, Gus must have lost a lot of weight by now. You’ve done such a great job with him! He sure loves to eat though, doesn’t he?

    Thanks, Matt.

  5. Chris on June 18, 2009

    Is there an optimal time for feeding your dog or a recommened time inbetween feedings? Should it be treated like a breakfast, lunch, dinner type of thing?

  6. Lindsay Stordahl Author on June 19, 2009

    Depends on what you are feeding your dog. A dog that eats raw food would be able to eat once a day or depending on how much he is getting. But a dog on a kibble diet will get hungrier faster and therefore two or three meals a day would help with that. I feed my dog in the morning and evening mostly for convenience sake and also for keeping him on a routine.

  7. Chris on June 19, 2009

    Thanks for the answers. But your answer spurred another question. What is your opinion on raw vs kibble diet? I’d assume that raw meat diet would be best, but how does kibble compare? Might make a good blog topic =)

  8. Lindsay Stordahl Author on June 19, 2009

    Raw food is 100 times better as long as it is done right. It’s not easy to do. Kibble is not so bad if you use the higher quality foods that are all natural such as Canidae or Innova. Some brands make raw dog food as well such as Nature’s Variety raw food. Honestly, my dog is eating plain old Purina One dry lamb and rice right now, which is just a brand I buy at any grocery store. I am looking into changing his diet soon.

  9. Amanda Steiner on June 20, 2009

    I just started feeding my dog raw food after he had some digestion problems with the dry dog food I was feeding him. I’m still mixing half raw and half dog food until I use up the rest of the bag. Everybody thinks i’m a little crazy, but I believe it’s a lot better for him. His coat is much softer, and he’s pooping half as much (which is nice for both of us). I did some searching online before I found a recipe that sounded decent. It’s 75% meat and 25% vegetables. Of the meat portion, 25% should be organ meat (liver, chicken gizzards, hearts ect.) It has been very easy doing this. There are some vegebles dogs can & can’t eat, so far I’ve been mixing in broccoli and carrots. They recommended feeding the same amount of raw food as dry dog food, but I think that might be a little much for my dog and I am going to start cutting back. I just made a batch last night that cost me about $5 and should last for a week…so far I’ve been very impressed with the difference in the raw diet!

    On the side of overweight dogs, I see a lot of them at the dog park and I feel bad because they can’t act like dogs. They want to run & play but they get too tired and overheated. Hopefully people will realize they are slowly killing their dogs.

  10. Lindsay Stordahl Author on June 20, 2009

    Thanks for the info about the raw diet. I’m glad it’s working out so far. When I switch over, I will definitely do it slowly while mixing it with dry food for awhile.

    I know what you mean about dogs at the dog park. Those dogs need to be going for actual walks and runs every day, and then visiting the dog park. They shouldn’t have to exercise themselves at the park.

  11. Chris on June 20, 2009

    What kind of price difference is there between buying kibble and fixing up a raw meat meal? Not that I think it should be the deciding factor, but I’m curious, seeing as how the dog will hopefully eat less often than a kibble diet. Just wondering if anyone else has kept track or noticed costs?

  12. Lindsay Stordahl Author on June 20, 2009

    It depends on what kind of kibble you are using. Kibble can cost very little or very much depending on the brand you go with. A raw diet is not going to cost more than the most expensive dry dog food.

    Here is a good link to some more info on a raw diet:

  13. Crystal on June 22, 2009

    We got a staffy cross and she loves food(a bit toooo much)
    I like your advice about water…”It’s a good way to temporarily feel full.”
    Thanks for your very good tip 🙂

  14. Lindsay Stordahl Author on June 22, 2009

    It works for me!

  15. Mayra Calvni on June 22, 2009

    Great article, Lindsay.

    My dog gained a lot of weight after he was operated. I cut 20% of his food, cut all the snacks, and walk hil one hour a day minimum. He hasn’t lost any weight. The vet says I have to cut his food by 60% or he won’t lose weight–that’s a small cup in the morning and another one in the evening.

    His tyroid is ok, by the way.

    So I’ve cut down by 60% but now all he does when we walk is scavenging for food! The other day he stole a baguette that was meant for the birds! LOL

    It’s sad to see him so hungry all the time… but of course his health is more important.

  16. Lindsay Stordahl Author on June 22, 2009

    He might like to eat some vegetables. That would fill him up some without the calories. Worth a shot. Try carrots.

  17. Biggie-Z on June 24, 2009

    Hey! Thanks for the shout out about raw! I’m just catching up on my blogs, so I was all set to add a comment about RAW!

    Yes, raw food is so much healthier and it’s not that much harder to make. My dog is super food-oriented and even feeding him the “right” amount of kibble (2 cups for a 95-100lb 2-year old dog) makes him look chubby compared to when he’s on raw.

    The coat, his physique, are just that much more impressive on a raw diet, and he is very lean and fit. (yada yada, you can go to the link Lindsay posted).

    Another thing is that treats need to be factored into the total consumption – if you’re giving your dog treats, then they need to get a little less at their meals. We ONLY use treats for training, and we use tiny amounts. Dog biscuits are broken into pea-sized or slightly larger pieces, and cheese is given in pea-sized bits.

    And veggies are very helpful too!

  18. Lindsay Stordahl Author on June 24, 2009

    No problem, Biggie!

  19. Robin on July 13, 2009

    Thanks for the advice. I’m always looking for ways to keep DeeDee’s weight down. She is obsessed with food.

  20. Lindsay Stordahl Author on July 13, 2009

    I hope some of these ideas help!

  21. Grace Davis on February 17, 2011

    I feed my dog treats just foe existing. He is the center of my world! my big baby boi!

  22. Grace Davis on February 17, 2011

    ive tried to feed my dog vegetables, he turns his nose up at them.

  23. Lindsay Stordahl Author on February 17, 2011

    Treats are fine until the dog gets too fat! My dog likes vegetables. He likes carrots and green beans.

  24. table scraps is the main offender- stop that all together, its difficult, but well worth it when you see the weight coming off.

  25. Lindsay Stordahl Author on November 12, 2011

    I agree with what you are saying except it is not hard for me to stop feeding my dog table scraps. It just encourages him to beg, so I don’t feed him food from my plate very often.

  26. Heidi P on November 22, 2011

    Where was the photo taken of Ace on the rocky shore w/ snow? It looks like Ace is having second thoughts about getting in!

    We had our Lab in L. Superior in late May … no hesitation at plunging in the first time but after that? She wasn’t quite so enthusiastic! She was shivering cold. Like Ace, Esme doesn’t have a lot of body fat so I’m sure the cold goes right through.

    Enjoy your articles!

  27. Lindsay Stordahl Author on November 22, 2011

    That picture was taken on Lake Superior at a resort near Lutsen called Solbakkens P)

  28. Linda B on December 24, 2011

    I have a 3 yr old Pom and she is so overweight. I am giving her 1/4 c dry (weight loss)
    Iams dry food am and pm. My sister said to give her three (dipping size) carrots with her food. Will the carrots make her gain weight?? She does not get enough excersize, probley one walk a day.
    Thanks for your help.
    FYI: She should weigh 10lbs and weighs 12.2

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 24, 2011

      Feed her less. Give her 1/4 C. once a day and 1/8 C. once per day. And walk her more often. If she starts to lose more weight than you would like, then you can increase her food again. Poms are small, and they do not need to eat very much, so don’t feel guilty about cutting her back. You could also check with the vet to make sure there is no other physical problem.

      You could also switch her to a natural, higher quality food such as Evo, Nature’s Variety or Canidae. These foods contain little or no grain. The downside is these brands cost more and they are not available in your average pet store or grocery store.

  29. Linda B on December 24, 2011

    Thanks Lindsay. I am trying to walk her at least once a day and the goal is for two times a day. I will cut the food down though and give her only half the carrots.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 24, 2011

      The carrots would be good to give her as snacks or treats that do not have a lot of calories. You can give her as many carrots as you want.

  30. May Affre on April 3, 2012

    Like you, I give my dog bones (which I boiled and removed marrow as only fat) and or antlers which he loves to chew and consider “treats”. I exercise him a lot as he needs it. I also recommend for dogs that eat too much and seem to never feel full to add 2 tablespoons of pumpkin puree (all natural no sugar added) to their kibble as a way to make them feel fuller. This has worked for me. I tried green beans and carrots, my dog won’t touch them or he will take them out of the dish before eating his kibble.

  31. Antoinette on June 22, 2012

    Just wondering what I could feed my 11mth lab to make her feel more full without gaining weight. She is overweight at 33kg, and we’ve just taken in an underweight lab cross puppy, about 6mths old and 16kg. The problem is, feeding my dog less while feeding this dog more makes her jealous, and she gets very snappy around food and had even started scavenging in the kitchen bin.
    Would cooked or raw vegetables be best? She has plenty of water, and I give her raw ham bones probably more often than I should.

  32. sandra on July 28, 2014

    why is it so difficult to find out how many calories a day i should be feeding my 10 year old american cocker spaniel who is overweight? Now I feed him 3/4 cup a day of Blue wilderness Healthy Weight. 396 kcals per cup. Between meals I may give him a tablespoon of canned pumpkin or 1/4 cup of no salt green beans. That is 296 calories a day. Add 50 calories for green beans and 50 calories for pumpkin. He gets one or the other for dinner with his dry food. His green beans are instead of the little dog treat cookies he use to get. He became overweight when my mom in law came to live with us at age 92. She is now 96. My dog ate at the same time with gramma every day at 8am-12pm-6pm. i made his dog food at that time. Boiled chicken breast and white rice and green beans and carrots and broccoli. with Gold vitamins sprinkled in it. 1/4 cup 3 times a day. I could not leave mom by herself so i could never walk my dog. So now he is 42 pounds. My dog had surgery in November for torn meniscus. He was doing well but I still did not play catch with him or go for walks. He has not been allowed to run. 5 months later his knee is snapping again. He acts like he is starving to death. I cannot feed him less. This dog food is 30% protein, it does not say how many carbohydrates. He has his fiber along with what is in the dog food. He gets a 15 minute walk two times a day around the yard. He had 5 hydrotherapy sessions. What else can i do without starving him?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on July 29, 2014

      I’m sure it’s frustrating. It’s hard to cut them back when they’re acting so hungry. I’m sure you’ve talked to the vet about it, but a vet would have a good idea on the amount of calories for your specific dog. I think one reason it’s so hard to recommend a standard amount is because each dog is so different as far as activity level, amount of energy, body type, etc., just like humans.

      Are you giving him three small meals per day? If not, maybe doing that would help him feel better since he would get to eat three times a day, even though they are small meals. Also, putting the dry food in food-dispensing toys will help him eat a little slower.

      Just brainstorming here. Sorry to hear your pup feels hungry all the time.

      • sandra on August 8, 2014

        Yes I do feed him 3 times a day.Every morning I fill his measuring cup with 3/4 dry food. I give him 1/4 cup in morning. mid afternoon I sprinkle 1/4 c on his dish and save the rest for his dinner. So yes he eats 3 times a day. He got so use to eating at 8, 12, and 6 everyday with gramma. Now that she is in an assisted living facility I changed his hours of eating. But he sure does know when it is 6am for his breakfast and 6pm for dinner. Every time my husband puts something in his mouth my dog goes crazy. If any of us eat something, he should be eating also. He yells at us. If my husband comes home for lunch I give my dog greenbeans one at a time by hand.
        I make him chew instead of swallowing whole. He vacuumes his food instead of chewing.