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Vet-Recommended Best Weight Management Dog Food in 2021

Does anyone like the idea of dieting? I don’t and I’m pretty sure most dogs think dieting for weight loss is a form of demonic torture. 

But extra weight can cause disease or make existing problems worse. So it’s super important to get your dog to a healthy weight and keep her there. Today I’ll discuss the best weight management dog food for your obese or obesity-prone dog. 

The best weight management dog food contains all the nutrients your dog needs to stay feeling healthy while still being low enough in calories to induce weight loss in a reasonable amount of time. It’s not a good idea to simply feed less of your dog’s current dog food since he won’t be getting all the protein, fats, vitamins and minerals he needs with that approach.

How to Tell If Your Dog is Fat 

Your overweight dog is certainly not alone. Researchers estimate that 30-60% of pet dogs across the world are overweight (7).

What qualifies as an overweight dog? Most experts classify a dog as overweight when they are 15% or more over than their ideal weight. Dogs are classified as obese when they weigh 30% or more than their ideal body weight. (Hand)

This obese beagle could benefit from best weight management dog food
Beagles are a breed prone to obesity.

Another tool to assess whether a dog is overweight is a visual scale called Body Condition Score. This is either a 9 point scale or 5 point scale with descriptions and illustrations of different dog body conditions. 

For example, an ideal weight dog is 5 out of 9 points when you can feel but not see his ribs and he has a slight abdominal tuck. A dog who is 8 out of 9 has a heavy fat cover over the ribs, fat deposits over the lower back and no discernable waist. 

Every one point of increase or decrease on the scale is equivalent to 10-15% change in body weight. For example, if your dog currently weighs 70 pounds and fits the 7/9 Body Condition Score profile. Since 5/9 is ideal, she’s 2 points higher than ideal. That means she’s about 20-30% overweight. Her ideal weight is somewhere between 49 and 56 pounds. (70 lb. x 70%=49 lb. or 70 lb. x 80%=56 lb.)

The scale is helpful but relies on subjective analysis, so it’s not perfect. 

Why Is Your Dog Overweight?

Many factors contribute to weight gain in dogs. Some are things you have no control over while others can be influenced by dog owners’ choices. Here are a few of the factors that make dogs fat: 

  • Genetics/breed propensity toward obesity: Beagle, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Cairn Terrier, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Sheltie, Scottish Terrier, Dachshund, Cocker Spaniel, Rottweiler (7)
  • Inactivity-secondary to lifestyle, age, other diseases like arthritis. Also, Animals resist weight loss by reducing their energy expenditure while eating weight loss diets.
  • Overfeeding-common, one study showed dog owners made mistakes in measuring their dog’s food by up to 152% (2)
  • Hormonal abnormalities (Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism… <1% of dogs have this)
  • Neutering/spaying-controversial cause of overweight in dogs that may cause changes in feeding behavior with less activity. 
  • Medication side effects–steroids and anticonvulsants

Overweight Dog Problems

Being overweight or obese has far-reaching effects on a dog’s health. (5, 7) Here is a list of canine health problems that can be caused by or made worse by obesity:

  • Arthritis
  • Bladder stones
  • Brachycephalic airway syndrome
  • Cancer
  • Decreased immune function
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Exercise and heat intolerance
  • Musculoskeletal disease
  • Oral disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Dog’s lifespan is shorter
  • Skin disease
  • Tracheal collapse

How to Get Your Dog to Safely Lose Excess Weight 

There are many approaches to dog weight loss that might work for your dog. Some are easy and cheap while others require more money and effort on your part. Your choice will depend partly on how overweight your dog is and how resistant he is to weight loss. 

The principles veterinarians recommend to get your dog to lose weight are simple:

  1. Rule out underlying diseases like hypothyroidism that could make weight loss difficult.
  2. Get the whole family on board with your dog’s health plan.
  3. Calculate your dog’s current calorie intake.
  4. Feed 10-25% fewer calories each day using weight management dog food.
  5. Measure dog food carefully with cups or a kitchen scale.
  6. Feed 2-3 meals rather than free feeding so you can monitor food intake better.
  7. Increase moderate exercise gradually. Walking 10 minutes twice a day might be enough at the beginning.
  8. Use low calorie food for treats. Limit snacks to one green bean or one Charlee Bear® dog treat twice a day. 
  9. Check your dog’s weight monthly and change feeding strategies if he hasn’t lost at least 0.5% of his body weight. 
  10. Be prepared to have your dog on a diet for 6-12 months or more if he’s obese.

Recommended Nutrient Profile of Weight Management Dog Food

There is no one food that works for every dog to induce weight loss. However, there has been a lot of research done on the topic and we know what works for most dogs. Diet dog food will be lower in fat and higher in fiber and higher or equal to the protein level in typical dog food.

Compared to typical adult dog food, weight management food should have

  • 75% fewer calories 
  • 30% more protein 
  • 15% less fat
  • Up to 3 times more fiber 

 Recommended weight management dog food profile:

NutrientRecommended Percentage of Dry Matter
Protein25-30%
Fat5-15%
Fiber5-20%

Some dogs do well eating wet dog food rather than dry. The extra volume created by water in the food might help them feel fuller. 

Can You Just Feed Less Normal Dog Food?

If your dog is mildly to moderately overweight, you can justfeed less of your dog’s current food. If your dog is obese, it’s better to use dog food specifically made for weight loss. Malnutrition can occur when feeding less of his normal dog food over a period of months.

Decrease your pup’s daily food allowance by no more than 25%. Any less and there’s a chance he won’t be getting enough protein to thrive (6). 

Best Weight Management Dog Food: Non-Prescription

Most of my clients start with non-prescription weight management dog food. These low fat foods help your dog lose weight by having fewer calories and more fiber than average dog food. At the same time, a higher protein level keeps your pup from feeling hungry all the time. 

Since most dogs lose weight pretty slowly, I’ve always been concerned about feeding weight management dog food for an extended period (months to years). I wondered if a dog might suffer from malnutrition eating such a limited amount of food. 

I contacted several major dog food manufacturers and was assured dogs will get all the nutrients they need even while eating the “weight loss” amount of these over-the-counter weight management dog foods. 

If I had to choose one non-prescription weight management dog food, it would have to be Purina Pro Plan Weight Management Adult Dry Dog Food & Wet Dog Food. 

PROS

  • Purina has a long track record of excellence & quality in animal nutrition 
  • Veterinary nutritionists formulate and monitor recipes
  • Available without prescription
  • Fits the recommended nutrition profile recommended for weight loss
  • Dry and canned food versions available
  • Version available for large breed dogs
  • The first ingredient is chicken (or turkey)
  • Affordable: Only costs around $22/month to feed a 30 lb. dog
  • Dogs like it!

CONS:

  • Calorie content might not be low enough to induce weight loss in all dogs
  • Make sure to choose “shredded blend” version because it has fewer calories

Nutrition Facts (for dry food)

NutrientPercentage of Dry Matter
Protein31%
Fat7.5-10%
Fiber7.7%

Calories: 330/cup for shredded blend, 364/cup for regular

Other Good Non-Prescription Food Options:

DRY FOOD

  • Hill’s Science Diet Adult Perfect Weight Chicken Dry 
  • Blue Buffalo True Solutions Fit & Healthy Weight Control Formula 
  • Merrick Grain-Free Healthy Weight Recipe Dry Dog Food

WET FOOD

  • Hill’s Science Diet Adult Perfect Weight Hearty Vegetable & Chicken Stew Canned 
  • Solid Gold Fit & Fabulous Chicken, Sweet Potato & Green Bean Weight Control Recipe Grain-Free Canned

OTC weight management food usually has two different feeding recommendations on the label. One amount is meant for dogs who need to lose weight and the other amount is meant for weight maintenance.

Hopefully, you will calculate the right amount of a non-prescription dog food like this one to get your dog to lose weight. But I’ve known of many dogs who eat this sort of food their entire adult lives and are still overweight. 

If your dog fails to lose at least 0.5% of their body weight after eating non-prescription weight management food for a month, it’s time to consider prescription weight loss dog food. 

Best Weight Management Dog Food: Prescription

Some dogs are naturally resistant to weight loss. They don’t respond to eating less of their normal diet nor do they lose weight with OTC weight management dog food. Prescription weight loss food might be the answer!

Before starting a prescription diet, it’s a good idea to run some lab tests including CBC, chemistry panel and a thyroid panel. These tests can identify unsuspected problems that make it hard for your dog to lose weight. 

Prescription weight loss dog food contains all the nutrients your dog needs to stay healthy while having fewer calories to cause weight loss. Like non-prescription versions, they usually contain less fat, more fiber and more protein than average dog food.

 The difference is the calorie count is more restrictive while all essential nutrients are present to keep your pup healthy while dieting. 

My top pick for veterinary prescription dog foods for weight management is: 

PROS

  • Hill’s has a long track record in veterinary prescribed dog food 
  • Veterinary nutritionists formulate and monitor recipes
  • Fits the recommended nutrition profile recommended for weight loss
  • Dry and wet versions available
  • Lamb version or chicken version
  • The first ingredient is lamb meal or chicken meal
  • Calorie content is comparatively low 
  • Most dogs love it

CONS:

  • Available by prescription only
  • High fiber content may cause increased flatulence (gassy farts!)
  • Relatively expensive: costs around $45/month to feed a 30 lb. dog

Nutrition Facts (for lamb version dry food)

NutrientPercentage of Dry Matter
Protein27%
Fat12%
Fiber13.4%

Calories: 256/cup for lamb version dry dog food

Other Good Options for Prescription Food:

DRY FOOD:

  • Hill’s r/d Dry (BEST PRICE PER CALORIE!)
  • Hill’s Metabolic Chicken Dry
  • Purina OM Dry
  • Royal Canin Satiety Support Dry 

WET FOOD: 

  • Hill’s Metabolic Chicken Canned 
  • Purina OM Canned
  • Royal Canin Satiety Support Canned 

Monitor Your Dog’s Weight Loss

Periodically weighing your dog might be the most important determinant of his weight loss success or failure. Use the same scale to check his weight every two to four weeks. 

If you have a big dog, ask your vet if it’s okay to stop by every couple of weeks to use their scale. Most veterinarians will be happy to oblige. 

If your dog is not losing at least 0.5% (preferably 1%) of his body weight after a month or so of trying, please get your veterinarian involved. They can make more specific recommendations and help you get your dog in better shape safely. 

It’s very rare that we can’t get dogs closer to their optimal body weight, but sometimes it’s more complicated than you realize at the beginning.

High Protein Low Carb Dog Food for Weight Loss

Another strategy for getting dogs to lose weight is to feed them a high protein, low carbohydrate diet. Humans have been turning to low-carb diets to drop a few pounds for at least the last couple of decades. 

Researchers have found that while low carb diets don’t make dogs lose weight faster, they may keep dogs from losing as much lean muscle body mass while dieting as they would on low fat dog food. (3) This kind of food might also reduce a dog’s hunger level while dieting. 

This style of pet food is usually not the first option vets recommend for an obese dog. But if you’ve already tried low cal/high fiber food, you might take a look at the so-called “Atkins Diet” style of eating for your dog. Ask your vet for help choosing a food because some dogs are super sensitive to the high fat levels in lower carb dog food.


You might like this article: Low Carb Dog Food


Summary

Weight management dog food can help your dog lose weight by providing fewer calories. And it combats excessive hunger with a high fiber level. High protein levels aid prevent lean muscle loss while dieting.

If you are a skeptic like me, you might be wondering whether prescription weight loss dog food is worth the extra money. In this case I wholeheartedly recommend using prescription weight loss dog food for dogs who are significantly overweight.

Prescription weight management formula food is specially formulated to make sure your dog is getting the right level of every nutrient while eating fewer calories. Compared to over-the-counter weight management dog foods, prescription products have a higher level of protein with a lower level of calories.

Prescription dog food is more likely to provide adequate nutrition while restricting calories enough to induce weight loss. It could mean the difference between three month of dieting vs. six months of dieting on non-prescription food. If your dog needs to lose more than 10% of his body weight, prescription dog food is definitely worth the extra cost!

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  1. Burkholder WJ, Toll PW. Obesity. In: Hand MS, Thatcher CD, Remillard RL, Roudebush P, Morris ML, Novotny BJ. editors. Small animal clinical nutrition, 4th edition. Topeka, KS: Mark Morris Institute. 2000; p. 401–30.
  2. Coe, J. B., Rankovic, A., Edwards, T. R., & Parr, J. M. (2019). Dog owner’s accuracy measuring different volumes of dry dog food using three different measuring devices. Veterinary Record, 185(19), 599-599.
  3. Diez, M., Nguyen, P., Jeusette, I., Devois, C., Istasse, L., & Biourge, V. (2002). Weight loss in obese dogs: evaluation of a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. The Journal of nutrition, 132(6), 1685S-1687S.
  4. Fritsch DA, Ahle NW, Jewell DE, et al: A High-Fiber Food Improves Weight Loss Compared to a High-Protein, High-Fat Food in Pet Dogs in a Home Setting. Int J Appl Res Vet Med 2010 Vol 8 (3) pp. 138-145.
  5. German, A. J. (2006). The growing problem of obesity in dogs and cats. The Journal of nutrition, 136(7), 1940S-1946S.
  6. Linder, D. E., Freeman, L. M., Morris, P., German, A. J., Biourge, V., Heinze, C., & Alexander, L. (2012). Theoretical evaluation of risk for nutritional deficiency with caloric restriction in dogs. Veterinary Quarterly, 32(3-4), 123-129.
  7. Lund, E. M., Armstrong, P. J., Kirk, C. A., & Klausner, J. S. (2006). Prevalence and risk factors for obesity in adult dogs from private US veterinary practices. International Journal of Applied Research in Veterinary Medicine, 4(2), 177.

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