You're sitting on your couch, enjoying a relaxing snuggle with your pooch, and suddenly you think "Wait?! Fido is feeling a little squishier than normal... Is my dog getting fat?"Or maybe you’re experiencing the opposite. As you give your doggo a well-deserved belly rub, you notice that you can feel more of her rib cage than usual.
Healthy food habits are key to preventing serious health issues that can result from our pets being overweight or underweight. For this reason, finding the best weight management dog food for your pet can make the process much easier for you.
Whether your dog is looking a little pudgy or feeling a little too thin, there are many factors to consider. We will walk you through the best ways to manage your dog's weight and maintain a consistent healthy feeding routine. We will look at:
Choosing Appropriate Dog Food
Obesity in pets can be a very serious and potentially life-threatening issue, and in a 2017 clinical study, an estimated 60% of cats and 57% of dogs were either overweight or obese! Animals with weight problems are more likely to develop diabetes, hip dysplasia, and arthritis, all of which lower their quality of life and leave pet owners with hefty vet bills.
Having weight problems will decrease your pet’s lifespan and damage their well-being.
Just as with people, dietary requirements are not as simple as "calories in" vs. "calories out". What and how much you feed your dog will depend on the type and size of your dog, their activity levels, their life stage, any genetic predispositions and the type and quality of their food.
Foods for Different Life Stages
Using the appropriate type of food for your pet’s life stage can make a huge difference.
The standard timeline to switch your puppy off of growth formula is between 8 months to 10 months for small breed dogs, 10 months to a year for medium breed dogs, and 1-2 years for large or extra-large breed dogs.
Puppy formulas are often higher in calories, protein, and fat and have the potential to cause your pet to gain extra weight if fed for too long. If your pet is still growing into their adult frame, juvenile foods are an important source of quality nutrients to build muscle and provide energy for them to develop.
Using the 9-point Body Conditioning Score, you can routinely check your pets weight and development to indicate if you are ready to change from a growth formula to a maintenance food.
Pregnant or nursing dogs have a higher calorie requirement and we recommend that they be fed a juvenile formula in the later stages of pregnancy and while nursing their young.
When your pet reaches their senior years, which can vary depending on the breed's lifespan, it's recommended to feed an appropriate senior formula or all life stage food which has moderate to high protein levels, and increase omega 3 fatty acids to support brain function and metabolism.
Seniors and puppies have a higher requirement for omega fatty acids, so anything labeled as adult may be lacking in this vital nutrition. Appropriate life-stage or all life-stage formulas are recommended for puppies or senior dogs.
Avoiding Pet Food High in Fillers
Foods that are high in fillers, salt, animal by-products, and other poor quality ingredients can lead to chronic digestive problems including dehydration, increased stool output, and that feeling of never being satisfied, causing your pet to keep going back to the food dish.
Cornmeal, for example, is a very cheap ingredient found in abundance in many lower quality pet foods. Highly-processed corn such as corn meal is high on the glycemic index, which indicates how much it affects blood sugar levels, leading to scattered and inconsistent energy distribution.
High-glycemic foods are digested quicker than lower-glycemic foods, even though they may contain the same amount of calories. In this way, you may find your pet consuming more calories, feeling more hungry, and therefore gaining more weight on foods with a high filler content.
To Grain or Not to Grain?
Grain-free kibbles are often linked to the term low-glycemic, and are recommended to stabilize blood sugar and aid digestion, but watch out! Some grain-free formulas are still very calorie dense and not as low on the glycemic index as you may think. Replacing grains with white rice or potatoes will not lower the effect that the food will have on your dog's blood sugar levels.
Depending on your pet’s activity level, your pet may need more or less animal protein and fat in their diet, and the rest of the food is predominantly carbohydrates. Even in higher protein kibbles, carbohydrates can be quite high, which is why it's even more important to make sure that the carbs in your dog's food are low-glycemic and nutrient dense.
Instead of going completely grain free, try going grain friendly. Choose a food with healthy, lower glycemic, whole grain choices such as oats, barley, or rye. These ingredients will still provide energy, but will digest slower and distribute more evenly over time.
We call these foods grain friendly. Grain friendly foods can be just as healthy as grain free formulas. With any diet, look at each ingredient individually to determine if they're right for your pet.
Blanket terms like grain free are often used to give you the impression that the food is better for your pet than another, but the quality of the individual ingredients needs to be assessed to determine if they are right for you.
Diet Dog Food Formulas
For animals with more severe weight issues, a lower calorie, low-glycemic food may not be the only solution to consider. Weight problems can be the cause of inactivity, making it even harder for your pet to lose weight. Simply feeding a low calorie or weight loss formula can help regulate their daily caloric intake, but it still may not be enough for some dogs to achieve their weight loss goals.
Look for foods that are high in fibre as well as low-glycemic, and avoid fillers. Foods rich in peas, lentils, oats, barley or sweet potatoes are a better choice to improve digestion and help your pet feel fuller after mealtime, reducing cravings and begging.
These types of foods are not always marketed as weight management or low calorie, but are still full of these healthy ingredients and can help your pet manage their weight.
Diet formulas may seem like the holy grail of pet weight loss, but often dogs and cats still don’t lose weight on them. It's important to understand that how much you feed and how many calories are in each meal, are just part of the solution to obesity, and not the only factor.
Remember, many food claims on your pet food bag are just clever marketing tricks. Be savvy about the ingredients in your pet's food, and you can decide for yourself what would be a healthier choice for your pet’s weight control program.
For dogs that need to put on weight, look for a higher calorie diet. Read more about How to fatten up your dog.
The Less-Processed Difference
Processed foods just don’t compare with whole food ingredients. In addition, less-processed foods have a much higher moisture content than standard kibble, which ensure proper hydration and can help your pet feel more full.
While a homemade cooked or raw diet is not for everyone, the difference it can make in your pet’s health and weight can be significant. Even if you don’t have the time or tools to ensure your pet is getting all the proper nutrients in a homemade diet, there are ways to make less-processed, whole food choices when it comes to your dog.
Here are a few commercially made options:
Choosing any of these options, or incorporating them into your pet's diet, even as a supplement, can help your pet use calories and nutrients more effectively. These foods lose fewer nutrients during processing and as a result, are more healthful.
For more tips on finding the right dog food for check out our Dog Food Guide.
What does that mean for your pet’s weight? They can get more usable nutrients in fewer calories (we call this bioavailability in the industry).
You can also try incorporating whole dog-safe fruits and healthy vegetables as well as lean protein into your dog treat routine. Cooked eggs, plain yogurt, chicken, spinach, carrots, apples, and broccoli are just a few suggestions.
Just make sure nothing you feed is on this list of dangerous human foods for dogs.
Control Your Feeding
Every commercial pet food has a feeding guideline to help you determine how much you should be feeding based on your pet's weight, and occasionally their life stage.
This sounds really helpful, but it's important to note that this is just a recommendation and you should adjust to suit your unique dog.
Let's go through some of the common feeding mistakes that can cause your dog's diet to fail.
If you have a dog who is overweight, even by a little bit, it’s time to change. Check how much you are feeding your pet. Feeding guidelines on your dog food label are only recommendations, but they are also a good starting point. Your pet may need more or less food for varying reasons.
Here are some of the factors that aren't always represented in the recommended feeding guidelines:
- Activity Level
- Health Conditions
All of these factors can change how much you should be feeding. When adjusting feeding portions, go slow. We recommend cutting or increasing your dog's meals by no more than 10% at a time.
Below is a sample feeding guideline for a premium weight management dog food. Notice that there are two sets of guidelines, one for maintenance and one for weight loss. Weight management foods are marketed for weight loss but are also a great tool for maintaining healthy weight in pets that are prone to weight issues, seniors and pets with very sedentary lifestyles.
These guidelines are a great tool to start with and can be adjusted as needed to suit your individual pet's needs.
Weight of Dog (kg/lb)
Weight Maintenance (g/cup)*
Weight Loss (g/cup)*
5kg / 11lb
60g / ½ cup
60g / 1/2 cup
10kg / 22lb
120g / 1 cup
90g / ¾ cup
20kg / 44lb
180g / 1½ cups
180g / 1½ cups
30kg / 66lb
270g / 2¼ cups
240g / 2 cups
40kg / 88lb
320g / 2⅔ cups
300g / 2½ cups
50kg / 110lb
360g / 3 cups
360g / 3 cups
60kg / 132lb
420g / 3½ cups
390g / 3⅓ cups
*120 grams = 1 cup
The different guidelines for maintenance to weight loss
Be careful not to put your pet on a starvation diet. Cutting calories or reducing feedings too much, too fast, will not help your pet lose weight and keep it off, or worse you could be dropping weight off of your dog too quickly which can lead to malnutrition and muscle depletion.
Larger portion restrictions to your pet’s food should be a last resort and done as per a recommendation from your veterinarian. Otherwise, you could be denying your pet crucial nutrients or limiting the amount of energy that their bodies have to work with.
Remember that diet works best in combination with exercise, and you can't expect your dog to increase activity levels if they don't have enough energy to expend.
If you haven’t yet, switch to a higher quality food, and try incorporating daily muscle-building exercise (otherwise known as an active game of fetch at the park or a healthy walk or two around the block).
Many pets, especially food motivated ones, will often gorge themselves. Either they get too excited at the prospect of eating, or they feel that another animal in the house might sneak in and steal a few bites of their precious food.
How they digest their food can be affected by how quickly they are inhaling it. Dogs who skip chewing or take enormous mouthfuls at a time are much less likely to properly digest and utilize the calories.
Slowing them down will improve their digestion and maximize their weight loss program. Slow feed bowls, treat puzzle toys, and a variety of other feeding toys can be very useful to help your dog take smaller bites and encourage chewing. Learn more about how to correct your dog’s behavior of eating too fast in Chapter 5 below.
Chapter 3: Lifestyle Changes
While it's a big part of your pet’s healthy weight, food is not the only factor. An active lifestyle is recommended for all pets as a necessary step to weight loss and maintenance.
Getting into a routine of physical activity is not always easy for overweight pets, but every little bit counts. Find fun ways to increase your pet’s daily physical activity.
Both mental and physical activities can help contribute to a more active lifestyle. Find games that your dog can get excited about and make them a daily activity.
The most effective part of any healthy routine is strict, or as strict as possible, scheduled feeding times. Each of us has our mealtime routines that keep us active and ready to face our day, and our pets need the same.
However many meals that you are feeding per day, those times should be as consistent as possible. This helps their bodies adapt to the caloric intake as well as the increased activity.
Not all pets will be as thrilled about their new routines or portion sizes as you are, but with time, they will adapt and be better for it. This should make mealtime easier and quicker for you and for your dog.
Cravings will begin to diminish as they adjust and you won't feel the guilt caused by those sad, sad puppy eyes.
Just like any diet or lifestyle change, there is a matter of will power involved, but in this case, it's not our dogs that need to summon the will power, it's us!
Chapter 4: Dealing with Poor Eating Habits
Managing your dog’s weight can be tricky when he has poor eating habits. While young puppies are easier to train, older dogs may need extra help correcting bad behaviors that arise during meal times.
A couple of the most common eating habits that are important to nip in the bud early on are eating too fast or being a picky eater. If you have a doggo that devours her meal like she’s trying to beat a world record or one that refuses to eat the same thing twice, the following information will help you stop these habits from affecting your dog’s health.
Why is My Dog a Picky Eater?
If your dog is a picky eater, then you have probably spent some time trying different foods, adding tasty toppers, and maybe even cooking your dog’s food at home just to coax them into eating at least some of their dinner.
We can assume that your efforts have been less than effective thus far. We know it’s frustrating, but don’t give up. Once a bad habit has been built, it takes time and patience to rebuild a healthier eating routine for your dog.
Maybe your dog will only eat if some tasty table scraps have been added to the meal. Or perhaps he demands variety day-to-day. Either way, your dog’s picky eating habits are likely caused by one or more of these common situations:
- Over-treating and table scraps – if your dog knows that he gets a tasty snack anytime he gives you his puppy dog eyes, then he’ll quickly learn to ask for those things instead of his doggy chow.
- Overfeeding – For dogs that eat some meals but turn their nose up at others, they could be telling you that they aren’t hungry. Take a second to assess your dog’s feeding guidelines and activity level. He might be overeating at one meal, leaving him too full for the next.
- Lack of Variety – Dog food is designed to be fed as a sole diet, and over the years, we've been tricked into believing that dogs don’t need any variety in their diets. Your dog may be feeling ennui over the same old kibble day in and day out. Variety is not just about flavour either. Every ingredient contains different types and levels of essential nutrients. Eating the same formula over and over could lead to missing or limited nutrition.
- Behavioural – This one is a little vague because it can cover a lot of underlying issues. Anxiety, stress, excitement, and even a good old fashion hissy fit can cause your dog to lose their appetite. Consider any recent changes to your dog's routine or environment. Acting out could be a response to an unwanted change in their life, like a new family member, or a missing one.
If any of these sound familiar, then we have some tips to help reignite your dog’s love of food and help get you and your dog back to a normal eating routine.
Illness and Disease
To get serious for a moment, loss of appetite can be a symptom of a serious health issue. If your dog’s picky patterns are sudden, or if your dog refuses to eat at all, then you need to connect with your vet to rule out illness or disease. It could be as simple as slight constipation, but it could be as serious as an intestinal blockage. It's always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your pet's health.
Dogs of a more advanced age are likely to begin losing their appetite as they become less active. Make sure you have scheduled regular check-ups to make sure your old dog is maintaining a healthy weight, and try your best to gear down feeding guidelines to match physical activity.
Getting Your Picky Eater to Eat
The following tips can help you build healthier eating routines, but they won’t always be easy. You won’t see immediate results, and it will take time to change your dog’s picky eating habits. However you proceed, you need to be patient and consistent, just like any other aspect of training.
This one is, hands down, the hardest tip for pet owners to wrap their heads around. That’s why we I started with it. If your dog is holding out for a bite of your dinner, or a handful of treats, then you need to eliminate temptation.
This means cutting out or limiting goodies and snacks. Treats and table scraps should only be used for training, if at all. No more “just because” treats. If you feed kibble, try switching your dog snacks for pieces of kibble instead.
No matter how much they beg, or how sad they look, you and everyone in your house need to stay strong! It will take some time to rewrite this routine, but your dog will adjust.
If this poor eating habit continues, your pup may end up with weight issues. Eating high calorie, fatty, or sugary treats and snacks too often can cause your pet to gain unwanted weight, store fat, and interfere with proper digestion. Make sure your dog's calories come from a complete and balanced diet to help manage his weight properly.
The first time they walk away from their food, it seems innocent to try offering them something else. Maybe it’s just a new flavour of the same food, or perhaps you added a little bit of broth to spruce up the meal.
For most dogs, that’s fine, but dogs are smart. They learn through repetition, so when it happens again, and they get something new, something tastier, that’s how you create a snack addict. Now they know exactly which heartstrings to tug to get the good stuff.
Stop switching up their diets at the drop of a hat. It’s safe and recommended to change animal proteins occasionally, but trying a new food every week, or even every day, can contribute to this behaviour issue.
Make Meal Time Great Again
One often-overlooked solution is to make their food fun. Just like kids, pets can be easily convinced to eat if the food is exciting. Puzzle feeders and games can be used to make your dog’s dinner an exciting event, instead of a boring old bowl of kibble.
Make sure that you are showing excitement too. Your dog feeds off your energy, so show some enthusiasm when you are setting up the puzzle and celebrate when they find the food and eat it.
If the standard puzzles don't seem to be exciting enough, it's time to get more creative. Make your dog work for their food, and work up an appetite. Try some indoor exercises before meals to help get your dog in the mood to eat. This will burn some calories, making them hungry, and help to build healthy muscle tissue.
Careful of Competition
For multi-pet households, you need to be aware of how your pets interact at mealtimes. The competition may not be so friendly, and your pooch may feel bullied away from his food bowl. Feed your pets apart from each other so that everyone feels safe.
When it comes to dog/cat households, your dog may be more interested in what’s in the cat food bowl, as cat food tends to be higher in protein and fat. He could be ceding his meal to leave room for theirs. Keep other pet food out of your dog’s reach to eliminate the temptation.
Don’t Dine With Your Dog
Most of us schedule our dog’s meals around the same time as our own. While that schedule is handy for most of us, it means that your dog is given his food around the same time that you’ll be sitting down to your delicious-smelling meal.
Your dog knows that he’d rather eat what you are eating, so it’s that much more challenging to convince them to focus on their own dish. Try adjusting your dog’s feeding schedule to be offset from yours. If there is nothing better to beg for, then their own food is going to look more appealing.
Pencil Sharpie in Your Dog’s Mealtimes
Having a strict feeding schedule is essential. We don’t just mean putting food out at a certain time, either. Most picky eaters are holding out for something better, so they’ll let their food sit until they are sure that you won't give them something different.
First - Don’t offer them anything else. This is their food, and if they are hungry, they’ll eat it.
Second – Only leave the food out for a short amount of time. 30 minutes is typically a reasonable time frame. It gives them a chance to try to woo you into upping the stakes (or steaks), and it also gives you time to say no.
Once that 30 minutes is up, take the food away. At their next scheduled feeding, put the food back out for them, again using the 30-minute time limit. By now, your dog should be feeling hungry enough to have a few bites at least. Your dog may not be happy with this system, but it is the most effective way of breaking a picky dog of their poor eating habits.
One of the biggest challenges with picky eaters, especially if they’ve been fussy for a long time, is making sure that they are getting all the nutrients that their bodies require.
My Dog Eats Too Fast
It's dinnertime, and your pet is chomping at the bit. You barely get the bowl to the floor before they voraciously start eating their food way too fast. You think to yourself, "Slow down! Don't you need to breathe?!?", but before you can intervene, your pet has basically inhaled their entire meal.
For many pet owners, this is an all too familiar routine. If you are concerned that your dog eats too fast, or if you notice that your cat is regurgitating their food shortly after meals, then slow feeder bowls, or other slow feed methods, might be the perfect choice for you.
Side Effects of Eating Too Fast
Lots of dogs and cats love food, and they often gorge themselves as if food is going out of style. It may seem cute or funny, but this poor eating habit can actually cause more problems than you think!
These are some of the most common repercussions of your pet eating too fast:
- Bad Breath
- Loose stool
- Nutrient Deficiencies
- Weight Problems
No matter the quality of food, if your pet is basically inhaling it, then it's most likely going to cause at least a few of these problems.
Help Your Dog Eat Slower
Now that we understand some of the reasons to take our pet’s hurried eating seriously, let's take a look at some of the most fun and engaging slow-feed options for dogs and cats- as well as some of the coolest and easiest DIY versions. Here are our favourites:
- Slow Feed Bowls
- Puzzle Toys and Treat Balls
- Foraging Mats
- Cookie Sheet Method
Keep in mind that most of these methods work best with kibble or similar textured foods. Although other styles of foods can be used, like canned and raw, they will create a much bigger mess and may not be suitable for all slow feed options.
Slow Feed Bowls
Slow feed bowls come in all shapes and sizes, all with the purpose of helping your pets pace themselves during mealtime. Try to choose the size and style that are best for your pets face shape and food format.
Offering a slow feed bowl that is the wrong size or style, may result in your pet becoming frustrated and refusing to eat, or on the contrary, it may defeat the purpose by not being challenging enough.
These bowls are not always...well, bowls. There are many styles of slow feeders to elevate the challenge of getting out the food.
Most commonly we see dishes that have a raised track pattern or raised pegs that separate portions of food in the bowl, encouraging the pet to use their tongue, and only allowing for a small portion of food to be grabbed at a time.
For some pets, this can be frustrating at first, but they should get the hang of it pretty quickly! Another benefit to slow-feed bowls is that they also provide some welcomed mental stimulation for your playful pet!
DIY Slow-Feed Bowls
It’s really quite amazing how many ways you can create a slow feed bowl using simple household items. The most basic method is to grab a tennis ball, a rock or even a smaller bowl and place it in your pet’s food bowl. This eliminates the majority of the space that would allow them to grab food by the mouthful.
Some sneaky pets will figure out your tricks by simply picking up the object and removing it from their bowls.
That’s OK, we’re even sneakier! Simply use non-toxic hot glue or silicone to permanently adhere the object to the bowl, and your pet will have to figure out how to work their way around the obstruction.
Puzzle Toys and Treat Balls
Contrary to their name, treat balls can be used for more than just snacks. For pets suffering from obesity, a treat ball is a great way to feed a full meal (kibble being the ideal format) and really make them work for their food.
This will encourage more mental and physical activity, while still dropping their eating speed significantly.
Puzzle toys tend to have more steps than a treat ball, providing even more of a challenge for smart pets. Offering meals or even snacks in a puzzle toy will encourage your pet's problem-solving instincts, allowing them to use their nose and paws to figure out how to reach the food.
DIY Puzzle Toys
Depending on your creativity, DIY versions of either treat balls or puzzle toys can be as simple or as complicated as you want. Here are a few for you to try.
Tennis Ball TreatsA really simple method to make your own treat ball is to make a few incisions in a tennis ball and stuff it with kibble. This will be slightly more challenging than a typical treat ball because your pet may have to move the ball a little more aggressively to get the food out.
Puzzle toys can actually be quite simple to make too. Grab a muffin tin and put some food in each of the empty cups. This will force your pet to empty each cup separately, limiting the amount of food they can grab at one time.
To make a more challenging game out if it, cover each muffin cup with a tennis ball. This way, your pet will have to use their mouth or paws to remove the ball before they can start chowing down on the food. This method is best used with larger dogs.
For an option that is a little more cat and small dog-friendly, rinse out a plastic bottle and make 1-3 holes of varying sizes. Try not to make the holes too large; you don’t want the kibble to pour out of the holes too easily!
Try to find a square or boxy bottle to increase the difficulty level. Screw the lid back on the bottle and let you pet bat the bottle around to get the food out.
This same method can also be applied to a box. Cut some holes in it to allow food to fall out, or for cats, cut large enough holes for them to use their paws to reach the food. Larger boxes will allow for more challenging options.
Foraging mats, also called snuffle mats, are a unique way to slow feed your pet. These mats are typically square or rectangular grated mats, made of plastic or rubber, with thin pieces of fabric tied in between each grate.
Pour your pet's kibble right onto the mat and give it a little shimmy to allow the kibble to sink down in between the strips of fabric. Your dog or cat's natural foraging instincts will tell them to head to the mat, nose first, and start foraging for buried treasure.
DIY Snuffle Mats
Snuffle mats are actually pretty simple to make, but they are a bit more time consuming than most of our DIY projects. Plastic or rubber pieces of grated mats can be purchased from hardware stores by the square foot, and strips of fabric can be recycled from old t-shirts, towels or socks.
Each piece of fabric can be tied in a simple knot around each grate in the mat, and Ta-Da! You’ve got yourself a foraging mat.
The closer together or thicker the fabric is, the more challenging the activity will be. To encourage your pet to really dig, try adding a few small pieces of their favourite treats, preferably something with a strong scent to catch their attention.
Let Them Play With Their Food
Sometimes is it just that simple! Let your pet play with their food and not only will they enjoy themselves, but it will slow them down enough to give their bodies a chance to properly digest.
One final way to encourage this is to simply toss your pet’s food directly onto the floor, preferably a clean floor. This will give you a maximum spread and will increase the time that your pet will have to hunt for each piece of kibble.
This method may require supervision and some cleanup, so it may not be the best option for you, but it's totally free, and it works for many pets.
Many puzzle feeders and slow feed bowls are relatively basic, and your pet is eventually going to figure out the fastest method of getting to their snacks. To keep the excitement fresh, rotate your toys and slow feeders to prevent them from losing their appeal.
Your pet will be more excited to “play with their food” when they frequently have new and challenging formats to choose from.
To prolong the life of these toys, whether they are store-bought or homemade, is to wash them regularly. All pet foods, including kibble, are oily and oils can go rancid. Keep yourself and your pet safe by routinely disinfecting them.
Perseverance = Success
Food is so important to your pet's healthy weight. Make smart choices about the quality and type of food you offer your pet as it is the best preventative against health issues that can arise from poor weight management.
The choices you make for nutrition today can affect your pet for a lifetime. Not every routine is right for every dog, so don't be afraid to try something new and see if the results meet their needs.
Most importantly, give it time to take effect. There is no easy button for weight loss or weight gain. Any change can be a struggle, but it's important to not give up if you aren't immediately seeing the results that you desire. If possible, weigh your pet weekly to better monitor progress and make small adjustments as needed.
Small victories and goals can help you see the benefit and progress of your pet's transition. Find little victories to help motivate you to continue working towards your pets healthiest weight goals.