Weight Management for Pets

An estimated 50% of the pet population in the United States is considered overweight or obese. Here are some ways to help your pet maintain an appropriate weight and live a happy and healthier life. 

How to Help Your Pet Lose Weight.

Choose the Right Food.

There are several varieties of diets to encourage weight loss in dogs and cats. Many ‘weight-management’ formulas are low calorie, low fat, high fiber foods that are specifically formulated to make pets feel full while reducing calorie intake. These work well for many pets.

If your pet struggles to lose weight on these traditional weight loss diets, an alternative is to feed a higher meat, higher protein, but reduced fat and calorie kibble. Higher meat content diets generally contain higher levels of protein than a traditional weight loss diet. Protein is important to prevent the loss of lean muscle mass while the pet is losing weight. Higher meat diets are also inherently lower in carbohydrates. These simple carbohydrates stimulate additional insulin secretion, which tells the body to store unused calories as fat. Lower carbohydrate diets help keep blood sugar and insulin levels stable and help maintain lean muscle. Higher meat content usually comes with more calories, so watch serving sizes to feed the appropriate amount.

In addition to kibble, feeding raw or canned food are great alternatives for a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. Due to their high moisture content, these foods are less calorie dense than kibble and can help pets feel full while reducing the number of calories. Decrease the amount of kibble and add in some canned pumpkin or raw food. You could also switch completely to a new diet. See our Transitioning Your Pet’s Food brochure for more information.

Feed the Right Amount.

Feed the recommended amount of food for your dog’s ideal target weight, not their current weight. Your veterinarian can help you figure out what your pet’s ideal weight should be and even how many calories they should be getting each day. Often times the amount recommended on a food’s feeding guidelines is too much for the average pet. Different energy and metabolism levels change calorie requirements even in dogs that are the same size. Divide the total amount of food into 2-3 smaller meals per day. This helps keep blood sugar levels stable and prevents the pet from getting too hungry.

Pick the Right Measuring Cup.

It’s important to use an actual measuring cup. Don’t use a coffee mug, drinking glass, or other scoop. Keep in mind that the amount on the feeding guidelines is a TOTAL per day, not per meal. If you have a small pet that needs a little portion, use a smaller measuring cup. 

Weight Management Means Better Health.

Veterinarians consider obesity to be the most common preventable disease in household pets.

Related Health Problems.

Excess weight can cause and exacerbate many health conditions including:

1. Diabetes Mellitus.
Excess food consumption causes an increase in blood glucose levels, which in turn increases insulin production. In a diabetic pet the pancreas can’t produce sufficient insulin to stop glucose production and the blood glucose level gets too high. Diabetes can cause excess thirst and urination, unhealthy weight loss, cataracts and a host of other health concerns. 

2. Arthritis.
When connective tissue is damaged under the stress of excess weight, painful arthritis can occur. Excess weight can also increase the probability of an ACL or other ligament tear.

3. Heart Disease.
The extra work the heart must do to pump blood to more tissue in the body can lead to congestive heart failure.

4. Shortened Lifespan.
Studies have shown that feeding to maintain a proper body weight can increase pet’s lifespan up to 2 years. 

Causes of Weight Gain.

There are a number of reasons for weight gain. Some are more obvious than others. 

Overfeeding. Owners often overestimate the amount of food a pet needs. Some food may also have too many calories for a less active dog. 

Treats Count Too. Treats should not be forgotten when totaling daily calorie intake. Treats should account for no more than 10% of a pet’s total diet.

Lack of Exercise. Reduced activity should correlate to a lower calorie intake. Many indoor pets lead sedentary lifestyles. Slowly increasing activity level can spur weight loss and increase energy level.

Disease. Weight gain without a diet or lifestyle change could be the result of an underlying medical problem. Consult with your veterinarian for any unexpected weight loss or gain. 

Age. Older pets are often less active so they require fewer calories.

People Food/Human Treats. Giving pets bites of leftovers on your plate can really add up, so watch how much and what you share. This is especially true for small breeds. Limit human foods to healthy treats like green beans or baby carrots.


If You Are Unsure if Your Pet is Overweight.  

Visit a veterinarian. They will examine your pet and assess their body condition.