5 Food Fixes to Help Your Dog Shed Pounds

You may need to boost the amount of protein in your dog’s diet, or adding flax may be the key.

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Let me begin by assuring you that this article is not like those human weight loss infomercials persistently plaguing our airwaves — the ones hyping various “miracle ingredients” that cause excess pounds to “simply melt off.”

I want to emphasize that calorie reduction plus healthy exercise will always be the safe, prudent equation for controlled canine (and human) weight loss. I’m not a big believer in magic bullets — and you should always double-check with a trusted vet before adding anything unfamiliar to your pet’s diet.

That said, evidence does appear to suggest that a range of food-based nutrients and enzymes can help support sensible canine weight loss and wellness. For that reason alone, you may decide that such options are worth exploring — even if you believe your pup’s weight is ideal.

Related: The Best Dog Foods of the Year

And by the way, “believe” is the operative word in that sentence. New research from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) shows that pet obesity is on the rise. The eighth annual National Pet Obesity Prevalence Survey found over half of U.S. dogs overweight — plus a whopping 95 percent of owners who describe those canines as having a perfectly normal weight!

While you’re double checking ideal weight ranges, remember that an overweight pup is more prone to a range of ailments, including heart disease, joint issues, and diabetes. Consider the results of Purina’s canine lifetime diet restriction research. This groundbreaking, 14-year study found that dogs fed 25 percent fewer calories than their free-fed littermates lived almost two years longer — and demonstrated fewer visible signs of aging. They also were three full years older before needing arthritis treatment.

Tail of the tape by Shutterstock.

The following list includes food-based compounds that may help support a sensible, vet-monitored canine weight loss plan.

1. Protein

Did you know? Ounce for ounce, protein and carbohydrates generally provide the same number of calories. However, the former tends to build lean muscle, while the latter often gets stored as body fat. Generally, our dogs don’t have a nutritional requirement for carbohydrates — they’re used in kibble because they’re cost-effective. Most pups thrive on protein and find it to be more satisfying. So when you’re trying to trim weight, cut carbs. Unless your dog is struggling with specific health issues like a kidney problem, my vet recommends looking for packaged foods with a minimum of 25 percent high-quality, human-grade protein. That means if a package label mentions “by-products,” toss it back on the shelf. You’re looking for clear, straightforward, single-word listings like “turkey,” “salmon,” “duck,” etc.

Simultaneously, my vet suggests aiming for fat proportions in the 10-to-16-percent range. Why? Fat satisfies the appetite, and cutting out too much can leave any mutt with the munchies. So feed a protein-fueled, moderate-fat diet — with smaller portion sizes.

2. Fish-based Omega-3 fatty acids

Most dogs adore fish oil — and there’s compelling scientific evidence that it loves ’em back. Omega-3 fatty acids in oil derived from open-water fish have a direct impact on something called mitochondria. These essentially help the body’s cells generate heat and energy from digested food substances.

Studies published in the Journal of Internal Veterinary Medicine suggest that Omega-3 fatty acids affect the part of the mitochondrion responsible for this heat/energy creation. This reaction, known as a “thermogenic process,” can help prompt fat burning. Remember, though, that the anti-inflammatory benefits of Omega-3s can interfere with proper blood clotting if you give too much — so moderation is key. For every 30 pounds of canine body weight, my family vet recommends a daily maximum of 1,000 mg fish oil containing a combined total of 300 mg EPA/DHA.

Some research suggests that krill oil is actually more effective for dogs and easier to absorb.

3. Flax

Raw, unprocessed flax seed oil and ground flax seed have long been used to help promote a soft, glossy canine coat and healthy skin. Flax delivers both Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. It can help provide immunity-boosting, inflammation-busting alpha-linoleic acid — and it also has a mild stool softening effect. That means conservative use of flax can help enhance digestion and get a weight loss program, ahem, moving in the right direction. Always start small until you see how your pup reacts. For dogs under 20 pounds, many vets suggest a maximum of 1.5 tablespoons per day. For larger dogs, work toward about 2.5 tablespoons daily. If you start seeing loose stools, cut back a bit.

Veggie dog by Shutterstock.

4. White kidney bean extract

This is known as a “starch blocker.” It inhibits the action of a digestive enzyme called alpha amylase, which helps break down starches into simple sugars. Without alpha amylase as an intermediary, starches are not broken down and assimilated into the body. One canine study sprinkled starch blocker on the meals of 17 overweight pups for nine weeks. Fifteen of the dogs lost an average of 4.61 percent bodyweight. But a word of warning: Consult with your vet or a qualified animal nutritionist on dosage. The study authors felt that dogs under 50 pounds could safely consume 500 mg of this starch blocker; but it’s crucial to factor your pet’s unique medical history and calorie needs into the overall equation before proceeding.

5. L-carnitine

This water-soluble amino acid derivative (found in meat, fish, and dairy products) has been shown to play a role in obesity reduction. In one IAMS study, 30 obese canines were divided into groups — each given different L-carnitine amounts, then observed for seven weeks. The groups that received 50 ppm and 100 ppm lost 6.4 percent and 5.7 percent of their body weight, respectively. The group that did not receive any L-carnitine lost 1.8 percent.

I’ve read the book Chow Hounds, in which APOP founder Dr. Ernie Ward suggests that dogs weighing less than 25 pounds can be given 250 mg twice per day; dogs weighing 25-50 pounds can be given 500 mg twice per day; and dogs larger than 50 pounds can safely consume 500 mg three times per day. Again, it’s always smart to check with a trusted vet or animal nutritionist if you’d like to give this a try.

Do you have vet-supervised experience using any of the food-based compounds mentioned here … or others? Share your insights below!

Marybeth Bittel

Marybeth lives in the Midwest with her wonderful husband, and her rescue dogs Grant and Maizy — all of them Heinz 57 mixed-breed types. A freelance writer and marketing consultant, she’s been rehabilitating severely abused rescues for over two decades. She’s currently working toward specialized certifications in animal nutrition counseling. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her family Instagram feed.


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