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How to Help Your Pet Lose Weight According to a Veterinarian

A man throws a ball for a dog. A cat plays with a dangling mouse toy. A woman hikes with a dog.
ChuckIt!/Frisco/Tuff Mutt

We all love our pets, but sometimes, we might love them too much. If you’ve spoiled your dog or cat with a few too many treats or an unlimited supply of food, they might have packed on a few pounds. Here’s how you can help your pet lose weight.

If you’ve already met with your veterinarian—which is always a good idea before changing your pet’s diet or exercise routine—and want a few tips on helping your furbaby lose weight, we’ve got ’em!

We spoke with Dr. Katy Nelson, senior vet at Chewy, and found out everything you need to know about pet weight, your furry friend’s food, and the best toys and activities for them.

What Causes Pet Weight Gain?

This might seem like an easy question: it’s overfeeding, right? Well, according to Nelson, it’s not so simple. Genetics, environment, spay/neuter status, activity level, disease, and other factors can all lead to weight gain.

However, Nelson did cite overfeeding, too many treats, and a lack of exercise as the leading causes. She also said people often overlook their pet’s spay/neuter status.

“Pets that are spayed and neutered require fewer calories than intact pets,” Nelson said. “But many pet parents are unaware of that and continue to feed their pets per the bag’s recommendation and end up inadvertently overfeeding their pets on a daily basis.”

Why Should My Pet Lose Weight?

Tatyana Vyc/Shutterstock.com

According to Nelson, if your pet is overweight, you’re not alone. In the United States, 56% of dogs and 60% of cats are considered overweight or obese. Of course, just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s okay.

“As few as five pounds above your dog’s ideal weight can put him or her at risk for developing
serious medical issues,” Nelson said. “When a dog is diagnosed as overweight or obese, secondary conditions are almost guaranteed to arise.”

Nelson also cited high blood pressure, chronic inflammation, diabetes, and heart disease as just a few of the complications that can arise when your pet is overweight.

So, how can you help your pet lose weight? Nelson gave us lots of helpful recommendations. However, before you move forward with any of the following suggestions, she said it’s important to meet with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical issue that might be causing the weight gain.

Once those are ruled out, though, here are a few steps you can take at home.

Feeding Schedules

Jaromir Chalabala/Shutterstock.com

Free-feeding is one major source of weight gain in pets. If you’re unfamiliar with this practice, it’s when owners just leave food out at all times for their pet to graze on throughout the day. It’s a lot more common among cat owners, but plenty of dogs get the buffet treatment, too.

Nelson described it as the “day after Halloween,” when all that leftover candy is lying around for everyone to munch on throughout the day. Someone always eats more than they meant to. By the end of the day, all of that sugar and the calories are just too much. Portioning it out would be a much better idea.

Unfortunately, getting your pet off a free-feeding lifestyle can be difficult, but Nelson said it can be done within a few weeks.

“Start by measuring out the appropriate amount of food for each pet and establishing what will be that pet’s feeding area,” she said. “Initially, you may need to feed a few times a day to allow them enough time to get their required calories in. Over time, start putting the bowls down for shorter and shorter amounts of time, so they realize that they need to eat when they’re fed or else it goes away.”

A ca sits next to an automatic feeder.
PetLibro

Once you’ve weaned your pet from free-feeding and have them on a schedule, Nelson said automatic feeders are a great tool for helping regulate feeding times and portions. We like the following models:

PETLIBRO Automatic Feeder: Best for dry food, this feeder has an LED screen for easy programming. You can set up to four timers for four different meals, and it can dispense up to nine portions per meal. Plus, there’s a built-in feature that allows you to record a 10-second voice message for your furry friend before feeding.

Best for Dry Food

PETLIBRO Automatic Pet Feeder

Set up timed meals for your dog or cat.

A cat eats out of a feeder.
CatMate

CatMate C500 Automatic Pet Feeder: Even if your pet eats wet food, you can still utilize an automatic feeder. This model has two ice packs with a tight cover to keep wet food cool. It can hold up to five meals for cats and smaller-breed dogs.

Best for Wet Food

CatMate C500 Automatic Pet Feeder

Ice packs keep wet food cool.

Putting Your Pet on a Diet

If your pet isn’t free-feeding, dietary measures could be implemented to help them lose weight. Nelson explained that there has been an uptick in science-backed food sources designed to help with weight loss and weight management.

“Weight control diet food includes attributes such as grain-free, no corn, no wheat, no soy, high
protein, and limited ingredients,” she said.

With these changes, however, Nelson said it’s best they’re done in tandem with a veterinarian who can identify your pet’s ideal weight. Once that’s done, you can work backward and set a target daily caloric intake as recommended by your vet

“I recommend feeding your pet in accordance with their target weight, as established with your veterinarian, not their current weight,” Nelson said. “From there, pledge to track the amount of food and calories you give your pets each day. Calories are fairly easy to keep an eye on, as pet foods are required to list calories on the package.”

While some weight management food will require a prescription from your vet, several brands offer food designed to help pets maintain a healthy weight.

A bowl of cat food sits next to the packaging.
Purina

Purina Pro Plan Weight Management: Nelson said that low carbohydrate diets are good for cats as they’re mostly dependent upon meat for their calories, and their metabolism is not adept at process carbs. Purina Pro Plan is high protein and real meat in its formula. Plus, it’s designed to help maintain a cat’s muscle mass as they lose weight.

Purina Pro Plan Weight Management High Protein Adult Dry Cat Food

With a high protein concentration, your cat will get all the nutrition they need.

a package of dog food.
Hill’s Science Diet

Hill’s Science Diet Perfect Weight Dry Dog Food: Hill’s Science is likely a name you recognize for its clinically-tested formulas and place among veterinarians’ offices. This weight management formula takes the brand’s existing research on dog nutrition and creates a blend specifically for weight loss.

Hill's Science Diet Perfect Weight Dry Dog Food

As a favorite among vets, Hill's Science might be a great switch to make.

Activities & Toys

While feeding schedules and diets are important, keeping your pet active and entertained is not only a way to help them lose weight but also a method of keeping the pounds at bay.

“Just like with people, regular, steady exercise is best for weight loss,” said Nelson. “If a pet is overweight, start slowly to build exercise tolerance—don’t just start with a 3-mile run. Walking, running (eventually), hiking, swimming, and just regular play can burn significant calories, but always take into account any injuries or illnesses a pet may have, ambient temperatures, and any other
safety hazards.”

A cat patio sits on a porch.
Zoovilla

ZooVilla Cat Climber: For cats, Nelson recommended a multi-level catio for mental and physical health. You can purchase already-created, outdoor-ready versions of catios and simply place them on your porch or patio. Many of them, like the one below, are already fenced in so you won’t need to worry about Figaro escaping while getting some exercise.

A cat plays with a mouse toy full of food.
Doc & Phoebe’s

Doc & Phoebe’s Cat Co. Indoor Hunting Cat Feeder Kit: Hunting feeders are another option for cats to stay active. With them, feeding time becomes an active game. You measure the appropriate amount of food for your cat into each toy feeder. Then, you strategically hide them around the home encouraging your cat to get moving while it hunts for its food.

A cat plays with a dangling bird toy.
Frisco

Frisco Bird Teaser with Feathers Cat Toy: Finally, Nelson said options like feather toys and laser pointers are great ways to get cats moving. If you’ve ever watched a cat lunge at a red dot on the wall or jump sky high to sink its claws into a stuffed animal on the end of a string, you know how well these beauties work.

As for dogs, things are a bit more simple. While you can (and people do) train their cats to walk on leashes, they’re not exactly known for going on leisurely walks. For dogs, on the other hand, outdoor activities and toys are great.

A walk hikes through a stream with a dog.
Tuff Mutt

Tuff Mutt Hands-Free Bungee Leash: Nelson recommended hands-free leashes for walks, hikes, and runs with your dog. The tool clips onto your waist and attaches to your dog’s collar to keep them nearby. For particularly active owners, this item is ideal.

ChuckIt!

Chuckit! Classic Launcher Dog Toy: When it comes to toys, a good game of fetch is a perfect way to get your dog moving. Nelson said Chuck It! toys are the way to go. These plastic ball holders allow you to throw the ball longer distances, and as a benefit to the human, you can use the tool to pick up those slobber-covered balls.


While we all love to slide a few table scraps and treats our pets’ way and take a nice long nap after work each day, keeping our furry friends active and feed the proper amount is one of the best ways to protect their long term health. If your pet has put on a few pounds, clearly, there are options out there and ways to get them back on the right track. So grab a leash and take your pup for a walk or pick up that laser pointer for your cat and to exercising.

Shea Simmons Shea Simmons
Shea Simmons is an Atlanta-based writer who has written about everything from whether Crisco is a good moisturizer to how to KonMari your space. Her work has appeared in Bustle, My First Apartment, and Make It Grateful. Read Full Bio »

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