Weight Loss in Dogs (Part 2): A Step-by-Step Guide to Losing Weight With Raw Food
Updated: Nov 4, 2022
Last week we talked about “The Chubby Dog Epidemic” in our first blog on weight loss in dogs—if you haven’t taken a quick browse through it, we highly recommend it as we included detailed information on challenges and concerns in relation to overweight dogs.
Now that you have all the information about the complications you may run into with an overweight or obese dog, how can you really help your dog in his or her weight loss (and healthy maintenance) journey?
Skip Ahead, Step by Step Guide
Brief Recap: Challenges
As we talked about last week, it’s important to understand why obesity in our dogs is such an issue. There are a number of challenges we explored in-depth, including recognizing your dog is overweight (not just cute and fluffy), promoting unhealthy behaviours and relationships with food, and the difficulty of finding a good balance between diet and exercise.
To try and combat a number of these dilemmas, the best thing you can do is talk to your vet and make a weight loss plan with them!
Steps to Ensure Your Pet’s Weight Loss Plan is Successful
Your veterinarian should give you medical clearance and the following items once you have come to an agreement on a weight loss plan:
Your dog's Body Condition Score (BCS)
Their Numerical weight
An exact amount of kcals (kilocalories/calories) to be consumed per day
Knowledge of how to do a BCS on your dog at home.
An initial goal weight (which may change as you reassess your journey)
After finalizing your dog’s plan with your vet and receiving all of the required items above, all you need is to remain committed to the prescribed weight loss plan—although you may need to convince your dog that reducing their meals is a great idea!
*Please note this plan is for dogs already on raw food, if you are looking to transition to raw please see our feeding guide and transition guides for more information*
So how do you get started on a diet plan when feeding raw food to your overweight dog? Let’s dive in…
Step 1: Purchase an Accurate Scale and Weigh the Food
It is absolutely necessary to buy a food scale for your kitchen. Since calories are listed per weight on the packaging, you will need to weigh out meals accurately in order to stick to the caloric budget prescribed for your dog.
You will see calories listed as follows: eg. 1340 kcal/kg, which equals 1.34kcal per gram, so make sure your scale accurately weighs out in 1g increments or better, as this could make a big difference.
Using your brand new food scale, weigh out what you’re currently feeding and compare this to the amount allowed in the prescribed caloric budget. This does 3 things:
May give you a reality check that you are indeed feeding way too much
May give you some insight if a food change is needed
Gives you a starting point from which to gradually reduce the amount of food fed
Step 2: Consider What and How Many Times You’re Feeding
Next, you should consider what type of food you’re feeding your dog. Just like when you feed yourself, different ingredients will have more or fewer calories per serving amount.
If you’re currently feeding a higher calorie meal, like our Foundations Lamb or Foundations Wild Boar, the volume of food that should be fed to meet the new calorie budget may not be enough to fill your dog up on their weight loss plan. Especially if they are used to getting so much more food.
In this case, you may want to switch to Foundations Venison or Foundations Kangaroo. By feeding lower calorie meals, you can feed more grams of food while staying within the appropriate calorie amount.
If you’re in this situation with your pup, we have some food recommendations if you’re feeding our raw recipes:
For a poultry option, choose our Foundations Raw Turkey over our Foundations Raw Chicken
Of our Everyday Raw line, the Everyday Raw Wild Outback (kangaroo, lamb, and herring) is the lowest calorie, followed by the Everyday Raw Classic Harvest (pork, salmon, and turkey)
Another thing to consider is how many times a day you feed your dog. Feeding 3-6 small meals instead of 1-2 larger ones may help to curb those dogs that constantly try to convince you that they are wasting away. In this case, you’re able to feed more often... but remember, not more!
Step 3: Slowly Introduce an Exercise Routine
So, we’ve already talked a bit about the changes you’ll need to make regarding food! However, pairing your dog’s new diet with a proper exercise plan for your unique dog will help in your dog’s weight loss journey.
Introduce increased activity gradually and within your four-legged friend’s tolerance level. Start with 5-10 minutes of a more intense exercise like a brisk walk, or a short swim. Then you and your dog can work up to longer periods of 10-15 minutes or more (of more intense exertion) twice a day1,3. Ideally, dogs should get 20-30mins of aerobic exercise (intense enough so they are panting heavily for the duration), but this may not be possible with every dog, so work within any limitations they may have, and get creative with their “work-out” routine.
Other exercise options for your chubby dog can include play sessions with toys; and for those that are really reluctant to move, doing things like moving food bowls to different areas of the house is a good idea. By doing this, even a reluctant dog will have to get up and move around to access their daily meals 3!
Warning: Take care not to increase intense exercise too soon! Your dog’s extra weight puts undue stress on muscles, tendons, and joints; therefore, the risk of injury is higher with an overweight pet. Maintaining this physical exercise once the weight is gone is also key, so this is really a fun lifestyle change for you and your dog!
Step 4: Begin Gradual Food Reduction
As your dog gets used to the new routines around the house, you can start reducing the amount you are feeding your dog. Aim to reduce their meals by 10% every 1-2 weeks until you get to the prescribed caloric intake for weight loss.
Gradually reducing your dog's intake (instead of doing it all at once) will hopefully not leave them hungry or induce begging behaviours. Remember to stay strong if begging does appear—they will subside! Instead, offer playtime in place of food to encourage exercise and distract them from begging.
Step 5: Consistently Track Your Dog’s Progress
You’ve been doing all this hard work to help your dog become healthier and lighter, so it’s very important that you keep track of your progress!
You should weigh your dog and do a BCS every 2-4 weeks to keep on track. If it’s necessary, visit the vet to do this. Whether you’re doing it at home or need the assistance of a professional, do not skip this step as it’s crucial!
We recommend keeping a weight loss journal where you record these numbers. Also record other measures of success, like improved energy, or your dog jumping in the car when they previously would not. It will allow you to easily see success or make you aware that a restructured plan may be needed.
Step 6: Make Changes If Needed
Once you are feeding at the prescribed caloric amount, continue with your weigh-ins and BCS every 2-4 weeks. Reaching your dog's initial goal weight will take time! Some dogs will get there faster than others but you should be seeing at least a 1% of body weight loss each month.
If you’re not seeing weight loss after 4-6 weeks, then reduce what you are feeding by another 10%. Continue to do this until your dog reaches the first goal weight. If you are not seeing weight loss by the second month, then it is best to seek veterinary advice for a possible diet change or re-evaluation of the current weight loss plan.
It’s very important that you do not continue to reduce amounts past 2-3 months if you’re not getting results without veterinary guidance. It is possible to get to a point where the amount of food that is being fed is so small that minimum nutritional requirements are not being met. In this case, veterinary recommended supplementation or a diet change may be needed.
Step 7: Veterinarian Re-Assessment
Once you believe your dog has hit their goal weight loss, have your dog re-assessed by your veterinarian to do a final BCS, as well as a Muscle Condition Score (MCS). Also, confirm that they are at an ideal weight. If this is not the case, further caloric reduction may be necessary to get there, so go back to step 6.
Congratulations if your dog has made it to their goal weight! Pat yourself on the back because it was a long, hard journey, but you made it and it’s all worth it to see your dog healthier and happier.
Now the good news… At this point, you can increase the amount that your dog is currently eating by 2.5-5% to maintain their new svelte weight and BCS.
Step 8: Continue Monitoring and New Lifestyle Changes!
Monitor closely once you have increased the maintenance amount of food to be sure you are not seeing any weight creep back on or any continued weight loss. If so, adjust as necessary. You can try reducing or increasing the amount you’re feeding by 2.5%-5% and monitor from there.
Remember: Your dog's battle with the bulge is not over! Dogs that have a propensity towards obesity often continue to have lower caloric needs even after they lose weight, so this is important to keep in mind when changing foods, or introducing a new tasty treat even after the ideal weight is achieved1,7.
Other Important Takeaways
We’ve gone over a lot in both this blog article and Weight Loss in Dogs (part 1); however, we just have a few other key points about dog weight loss that is important for you to be aware of:
It is ok if an otherwise healthy dog misses a meal or two: Fasting, especially if the dog chooses it, is a great way for the digestive system to rest and reset, not to mention that it significantly reduces caloric intake for the day. Some dogs may have medical conditions that preclude them from fasting, so please make sure it is safe if your dogs miss a meal now and again by checking with your vet.
Raw food can sometimes help weight loss: Often with the higher protein and moisture content, raw food is favourable for weight loss, but each pet is different! If you’re looking for guidance about switching to raw food, especially if it’s to help in weight loss, we offer consultations with Dr. Jules Mantler, a qualified holistic veterinarian with years of experience with raw food!
If you’re looking at RDBK recipes, choosing to rotate proteins with our lower calorie options like Foundations Raw Kangaroo, Foundations Raw Bison, and Foundations Raw Venison may help accelerate your pet's weight loss journey
RDBK’s Foundations Raw Turkey is also lower calories than our Foundations Raw Chicken for a poultry option
From the Everyday Raw line for dogs, the lower calorie options are the Wild Outback (kangaroo, lamb and herring), followed by the Classic Harvest (pork, salmon and turkey)
Looking for bone options? We recommend trying out RDBK Kangaroo Tails or Buffalo Knuckles. Avoid bones that have lots of marrow as it is the fattiest and denser calorie source (like Femurs)
Looking to make the transition to raw? Learn from our easy-to-follow guide that breaks it down into 10 easy steps!
It’s important to know what successful weight loss is: In dogs, we can consider weight loss to be successful if they’re shedding 1-2% of body weight per month. However, some dogs can even lose weight by 3-5+% safely. Remember, if weight loss is too fast or too slow, seek veterinary advice before going any further.
As we mentioned before dogs that have issues with weight gain and obesity will often have lower caloric needs: This remains true even after they lose weight. This is important to acknowledge because a calculation for an "average" dog may always be too high for your dog. The key takeaway here is to be careful when changing foods or looking into other products and adjust as needed (sometimes 50% less or more is needed)!
Best of luck on your weight loss journey with your dog. Anything worth doing is difficult, but this one could not be more rewarding! You are giving your dog the gift of longevity, disease prevention, and improved quality of life!
Please be sure to check out https://petobesityprevention.org/ for more helpful information on weight management for your pets.
Association for Pet Obesity Prevention website: https://petobesityprevention.org/pet-weight-check accessed on March 23/22.
Association for Pet Obesity Prevention website:https://petobesityprevention.org/news/2017/8/19/the-secret-life-of-pet-and-human-obesity accessed on April 14/22
Association for Pet Obesity Prevention website: https://petobesityprevention.org/weight-loss-dogs accessed on April 14/22
Chandker M, Cunningham S, Lund Em, et al. Obesity and Associated Comorbidities in People and Companion Animals: A One Health Perspective. J Comp Pathol 2017;156:296-309
German Aj, Holden SL, Wiseman-Orr ML, et al. Quality of life is reduced in obese dogs but improves after successful weight loss. Vet J 2012;428-34
Salt C, Morris PJ, Wilson D, Lund EM, German AJ. Association between life span and body condition in neutered client-owned dogs. J Vet Intern Med. 2019 Jan;33(1):89-99. doi: 10.1111/jvim.15367. Epub 2018 Dec 11. PMID: 30548336; PMCID: PMC6335446.
Rollins AW, Shepherd M. Pathophysiology of obesity: Metabolic effects and inflammatory mediators. In: Obesity in the Dog and Cat, First ed. Taylor & Francis 2009.