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A majority of pet dogs are overweight or obese, putting them at an increased risk of arthritis, liver disease, heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. Managing your dog's weight, either through diet or activity, can make their lives longer and happier.
“Every extra ounce or pound can shorten their lifespans and lead to serious health problems in the future,” Lindsey Bullen, DVM, DACVIM (Nutrition), and a board-certified veterinary nutritionist at Friendship Hospital for Animals in Washington, D.C., told The Spruce Pets. “Weight loss can be life-extending for dogs.”
But weight loss isn’t just about reducing your dog's intake of calories, or even starting them on a “weight loss” pet food—more accurately called a weight management food—and should be pursued in consultation with your dog's veterinarian.
If your dog's veterinarian advises switching your dog's food in pursuit of a weight management goal, you'll want a food that is appropriate to their life stage, has complete nutrition, and provides ingredients or flavors that your dog will love. Our overall favorite is Purina Pro Plan Adult Weight Management Dog Food, which includes fiber to help your dog feel full, and probiotics to smooth their digestion. We also have recommendations for best wet food and the best options for different breed sizes.
We sought out the best weight management dog foods with advice from Dr. Bullen, and criteria listed by the American Veterinary Medical Association, American College of Veterinary Nutrition, the Association of American Feed Control Officials, and the Pet Food Institute.
Here are the best weight management dog foods, to help with your dog's weight loss while meeting their nutritional needs.
Best Overall, Dry Dog Food: Purina Pro Plan Adult Weight Management Dog Food, Shredded Blend Chicken & Rice Formula
Kibble size manageable for all breed sizes
Often recommended by vets
Popular formula so sometimes sold out
Purina Pro Plan Adult Weight Management Formula contains 15% less fat than the brand’s other similar adult formulas. The protein-to-fat ratio helps to maintain muscle mass as your pet drops weight, while fiber helps your dog feel fuller. The complete nutrition includes omega-6 fatty acids and Vitamin A, which benefits your dog's coat. The formula also includes probiotics, which aids in digestion.
The first ingredient in the Purina Pro Plan weight management formula is chicken, and it contains no artificial colors or flavors. While there is a variety with uniform kibble, we recommend the "Shredded Blend," which incorporates both crunchy kibble and tender, chewy pieces of chicken for a little variety.
Other ingredients include rice, whole grain corn, and fish meal, in addition to a full spectrum of supplemental vitamins. The full ingredient list is available online. There's also simple feeding instructions, with serving size determined by your dog's weight, and separate guidance offered for weight maintenance or 25 percent calorie reduction.
Purina Pro Plan's weight management formula is suitable for all life stages but is also available in small and large breed formulas. It is sold in 6, 18, and 34 pound bags.
Best Overall, Wet Dog Food: Hill's Science Diet Adult Perfect Weight Hearty Vegetable & Chicken Stew Canned Dog Food
Often recommended by vets
Appealing combination of textures
Cans too large for small dogs
Getting the correct serving size can be tricky
Wet food is often a good choice for dogs who are finicky or have dental issues such as missing teeth. Hill’s Science Diet Adult Perfect Weight Vegetable & Chicken Stew canned dog food offers complete and balanced nutrition in an enticing wet form. It also contains no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.
The Hill's Science Diet Perfect Weight formula has feeding instructions aimed at maintaining a healthy diet for adult dogs that have grown less active, or reduced serving sizes for weight reduction, which is formulated to show results within 10 weeks. The guidance neatly demonstrates one of the downsides to wet food, since dietary guidance often results in servings that are fractions of a can. How, for example, can you accurately serve 7/8 of a can without extra measuring effort?
However, with a blend of both broth and chunks, your dog is likely to love eating the Hill's Science Diet wet food. Primary ingredients include chicken broth, pork liver, carrots, and green peas.
Best for Large Breed: Purina Pro Plan Adult Large Breed Weight Management Chicken & Rice Formula Dry Dog Food
Supports joint health, a common issue in large or overweight dogs
Large nuggets difficult for dogs with dental issues
Only available in one flavor
Big dogs, generally considered those who weigh more than 50 pounds at maturity, have somewhat different nutritional needs from smaller dogs. For example, they may be more prone to orthopedic issues than little dogs, so this food contains glucosamine to support joint health.
The formula contains 15 percent less fat than the brand’s other similar adult maintenance formulas. The protein-to-fat ratio also preserves lean muscle mass while your pet loses weight.
Best for Small Breeds: Hill's Science Diet Adult Perfect Weight Small & Mini Chicken Recipe Dry Dog Food
Small kibble size for toy and small dogs
Also available in larger kibble size for larger dogs
Some owners say it has an odd smell
More expensive than some other brands
Little dogs require more calories per pound for maintenance, and this formula is specially designed for their metabolisms to help them lose weight. By following the feeding instructions for weight loss, you should see results in 10 weeks or less.
Smaller nuggets also make it easy for toy and small breeds to crunch the kibbles. This is especially important if they have dental issues, which are common among small breeds. It’s available in either 4-pound or 15-pound bag sizes so you can choose the right bag size that won’t get stale before your toy or small dog can finish the bag.
Best Grain Free: Blue Buffalo Freedom Grain Free Dog Food, Healthy Weight Chicken Recipe
Suited for both food allergies and weight management
Bag size too large for small breeds to finish before it becomes stale
Kibble size is large for small dogs
Food allergies in dogs are uncommon, and there’s no need for most dogs to be on a grain free diet. However, if your pooch has been diagnosed with food allergies by your vet—and needs to drop a few pounds, too—Blue Freedom Grain-Free Healthy Weight Chicken Recipe may be the right option for your dog.
This food contains no corn, wheat or soy and no artificial flavors or preservatives. It’s suitable all breed sizes, but it’s also available in a small breeds formula with smaller nuggets.
Life Stage: Adult | Available Flavors: Chicken | Sizes: 4 or 24-pound bags | Primary Ingredients: Deboned chicken, chicken meal, peas, potatoes, pea starch, tapioca starch, pea fiber, potato starch, natural flavor, dried tomato pomace, flaxseed, chicken fat, pea protein, powdered cellulose
Our top pick is Purina Pro Plan Adult Weight Management Formula Dry Dog Food, Chicken & Rice Shredded Blend because it’s approved for all breed sizes and is reasonably priced. If your dog prefers wet food or is a finicky eater, Hill’s Science Diet Adult Perfect Weight Vegetable & Chicken Stew Canned Dog Food combines broth and chunks for an enticing texture in a weight management food.
What to Look for in a Weight Loss Dog Food
AAFCO Nutritional Adequacy Statement
The Association of American Feed Control Officials, or AAFCO, identifies safe ingredients and recommends nutrient profiles for pet foods based on the most recent research. However, they do not inspect, approve, certify or regulate pet foods. Instead, the organization provides a standard for each state’s feed laws.
However, in order to be marketed as “complete and balanced,” foods must meet nutritional standards outlined in AAFCO’s minimum requirements. The statement is based on either meeting AAFCO’s minimum standards or by doing animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures. While there’s no AAFCO official standard for calling a food “weight loss,” there are criteria for labels that indicate a food is “light,” “low calorie,” or “low fat."
Complete and Balanced
The label should state that the food is ‘complete and balanced’ for the life stage the diet is designed to feed. It's important to select a nutritionally balanced dog food that's specifically designed for weight management, rather than just reducing your dog's portion sizes. Weight management foods compensate for fat-to-protein balance found in typical dog foods, increasing not only protein, but vitamin and mineral proportions.
Pet foods are developed for specific stages in your dog’s life. Diets are formulated for Growth and Reproduction (puppies and pregnant dogs), Adult Maintenance (adult dogs), or All Life Stages. Because there’s no AAFCO official standard for “weight loss” foods, the label on weight management foods will say “for maintenance of adult dogs.”
How can I tell if my dog is overweight?
It can be tough, especially with dogs who have thick or fluffy coats, so you should do both a visual and a hands-on evaluation of your dog’s body condition score (BCS). Looking from above, your dog should have a gentle hourglass shape or tapered waistline, not a belly that bulges outward. From a side view, you should see an abdominal tuck, or curve, starting from where the ribs end. In addition, run your hands along your dog’s ribs. You should be able to feel the ribs with light pressure, like what you’d use to squeeze a peach or avocado to tell if it’s ripe, says Dr. Bullen.
In slightly overweight pets (those who score 6/9 on the BCS), you may be able to make minor tweaks to your pet’s diet, such as cutting out treats or trying an over-the-counter light or low-fat dog food to achieve weight loss. But if your dog needs to lose a significant amount of weight, you and your vet or a veterinary nutritionist should work as a team on a slim-down plan, which may include prescription food and treats and increased activity. If your vet isn’t versed in weight loss, he or she also may refer you to a veterinary nutritionist. Many of these specialists will do online consultations if there isn’t one located near you.
But be patient! “We need to have realistic expectations. Your pet didn’t gain weight overnight, so it will take roughly twice as long to lose the weight,” says Dr. Bullen. “It can take years in some pets.” Still, the effort is worth it to keep your fur baby healthy and delay or reduce the risk of conditions exacerbated by excess weigh, such as diabetes, kidney disease or arthritis.
Is grain-free dog food good for weight loss?
No. Grain-free diets are not meant for weight loss for the average dog, only for pets who have been diagnosed by a vet with food allergies. While proponents of grain-free foods claim it’s healthier, there’s no reliable evidence or nutritional studies that support the use of grain-free foods in dogs that haven’t been diagnosed with food allergies.
In addition, it’s not recommended to give your dog a grain-free diet because it has been associated with an increase in dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs, a potentially fatal condition. In fact, the FDA and other organizations are now investigating an increase in dilated cardiomyopathy associated with grain-free diets. However, if your dog has been diagnosed with food allergies and needs to lose weight, your vet may recommend a grain-free weight management food.
How much food should I feed by dog for weight loss?
The answer isn’t simple. If you just start reducing the amount of food you feed your dog, your pet may develop behavioral issues, such as becoming destructive, because he or she is hungry!
Also, calorie needs vary based on criteria such as age and activity levels. Finally, dogs need specific nutrients so simply reducing the amount of food you’re giving him or her also reduces the essential proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals your dog is getting, which can lead to nutrient deficiencies.
“Every single pet is a unique individual with a unique weight loss journey. You need to plan a strategy with your vet or veterinary nutritionist so that your dog gets the right balance of nutrients while losing weight at a safe rate,” Dr. Bullen says.
Work with your vet or veterinary nutritionist to devise an overall plan with specific calculations about how much food your dog needs based on age, breed size, activity levels, and other considerations. Your dog also may benefit from a prescription weight loss diet, based on how much weight he or she needs to lose, especially if he or she has other underlying health conditions such as kidney disease.
Is high protein dog food good for weight loss?
Maybe. Some weight management dog foods do contain higher amounts of protein than other brands, and protein takes more energy to convert and supports lean muscle mass, which improves metabolism. But there’s no guarantee of weight loss on a specific food because every dog is an individual. You and your vet must also work together on incorporating other aspects of weight loss, too, such as reducing or eliminating the number of treats and increasing activity levels, says Dr. Bullen.
Why Trust The Spruce Pets?
This article was written by Arricca SanSone, a lifelong dog lover, who shares her home with two papillons who stay fit with marathon play sessions. She researched the market based on an interview with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and criteria from the American Veterinary Medical Association, American College of Veterinary Nutrition, the Association of American Feed Control Officials, and the Pet Food Institute. She is a health and lifestyle writer for Prevention, Country Living, Veranda, House Beautiful, PureWow, and many others.