Reducing Woody’s Weight

Nobody’s perfect – and I’ve somehow let my own dog get too fat.


I have a reputation among my friends and family for telling people that their dogs are overweight – so it may come as a surprise that I have been struggling for a few months to reduce my dog Woody’s weight. He turned 8 years old in November, and it was about that time that I first noticed he was looking a little pudgy. Viewed from above, he still has an indented waist, but he’s just thicker everywhere than he used to be. A recent trip to the vet and a formal weigh-in confirmed what I already knew but had been in denial about: He weighs too much!  I need to get about 8 pounds off of his now-80-pound body.

Recently, I switched his food to a couple of lower-fat, lower-calorie products, and I’ve cut back the amount I am feeding him. I’m also making an effort to get us out for more walks (I have been struggling with weight gain, too!). I’ve also been pointedly using smaller treats for training and reinforcing his recalls and other good-manners behaviors on walks. But his weight has been staying stubbornly the same.

And, like many owners, I’ve noticed that my dieting dog is becoming increasingly food-obsessed. He clearly feels hungrier on the smaller portions.

My latest idea is to switch both dogs (Woody and Boone, whose weight is ideal) to once-a-day feeding, which has enabled me to cut their total daily portion size much more dramatically while increasing the size of the one meal per day they are eating. We’ve been at this trial for a week so far, and I must say, both dogs are taking the switch to the new regimen very well; they aren’t making a nuisance of themselves at their former dinnertime.

There is some evidence for the benefits of once-a-day feeding; I just hadn’t tried it before, as (again, like most owners), I enjoy feeding my dogs a meal when the family eats. And I should note that the study that provided information about those benefits also noted that because some of the dogs in the study may have been fed once a day for varying lengths of time, the researchers “cannot rule out the possibility that dog owners shifted to more frequent feeding in response to health conditions, and observed associations are due in whole or part to reverse causality.”

Nevertheless, given the mountains of evidence for the benefits of intermittent fasting in humans, I’m going to maintain this schedule for at least a few months – and try to increase our exercise, too – and see if it helps me get some of those excess pounds off of my darling Woody.

If you’ve managed to reduce your dog’s weight to a healthier one, how did you do it? Share your dog-diet tips!


  1. To reduce our dogs weight, we cut the amount, but added green beans and broccoli (blanched for 2 minutes if fresh – defrosted if frozen) so they felt as if they were getting the same amount. Also used the green beans and broccoli as treats.

  2. My 9 yr 8 mo. old Am Staff has not fluctuated weight since he was ~1 1/2 yrs. old. He eats a commercial raw diet with a few treats daily, no veggies (he won’t touch them). He eats breakfast at 6:30 am, dinner is 3:30 pm on most days, and 7 pm on days I work. He and I live alone, so no kids or spouses sharing pizza . One thing that I am sure has an effect: he is NOT neutered, something not taken into account in the study.

  3. My 9 year old female Lab/Golden was starting to look like a sausage. My 4 year old Lab is allergic to chicken. I had 2 different dry foods (one with no chicken and one low-fat) and also bought assorted canned foods. Our integrative vet gave me recipes to make their food. I now buy one bag of high quality kibble (no chicken) and make wet food and freeze it in containers that hold a day’s worth of food. Both dogs love it, look great and it is really not that hard to make. My female hates veggies but I put in organic blueberries (great antioxidents) and sweet potatoes (not regular potatoes) and she devours it.

  4. My husband and I adopted a husky mix that was dumped in our neighborhood about 2 years ago. He was very lean and was living off the land, we suspect. This tip offers an exercise tip, rather than a feeding regimen. We are both approaching 70 and this dog was obviously less than 2 and very active … LOVES to run. Though we walked him multiple times a day, he still had pent up energy, since we have no fenced yard for him. Neither of us is a jogger, and my husband’s efforts to run Gus on a leash while riding a bike ended in the unfortunate way I predicted (husband in the road with dog still pulling). After months of living with a hyper dog, we bought a golf cart. He runs beside us now: minimum of 4 miles a day, up to 8. We live on a lake and there is a loop around it, so we head out every morning and every night. His husky heritage means he loves to wear a harness and pull; he sometimes runs so fast he’s actually pulling the cart. It is such a joy to watch him dig in and “gallop” along; he clearly adores the whole process. We do not have any weight issues with him (he’s at an ideal weight of 60 lbs) and I believe that is because we discovered the perfect exercise for him.

  5. To keep dogs lean, feed real food, not highly processed food products such as kibble. “Diet” kibbles are often high in carbohydrates; high protein, low carb, and moderate fat foods are best. Don’t de-sex your dog, especially young. You can sterilize without removing gonads (ovaries or testicles). In most de-sexed dogs, metabolism and energy levels are adversely affected, and that makes sense as the reproductive system and the endocrine system are symbiotic (please don’t bother to tell me about your exceptions; the fallacy of exceptions is the bane of my existence). Letting a dog be overweight reduces his/her lifespan and increases his/her cancer risks, as well as risks of orthopedic bad development and susceptibility to orthopedic injuries, especially if they are de-sexed.

  6. Thank you Deirdre Doyle. You are absolutely right and I appreciate your clear explanation. Almost all neutered dogs invariably gain weight. I can usually tell if a dog is intact just by looking at its body shape and muscle tone. I also agree that real, unprocessed food is best, and has been shown to decrease the likelihood of bloat in large breed dogs. I’ve been feeding raw, once a day, for 23 years and never had an overweight dog, with the – yes, exceptions – of two who had to be neutered for medical reasons later in life. Both gained 10-13lbs and died a year later of bone cancer, which is another common outcome of neutering, but that’s another subject.

  7. How about Ditch the Bowl? That is what I use to keep my dog’s weight under control and still be able to train as much as I want. Calculate the dog’s daily allowance and then dole it out situationally as reinforcement, behavioral modification, passive enrichment in lickey mats or kongs, etc. This has the added advantage of increasing the value of the food to the dog, as they are contrafreeloaders, and thus also the value to them of the behavior being rewarded and thus the likelihood it will be repeated.

  8. Our Goldendoodle will be 10 next month. I feed her 3 small meals a day of high-quality Senior dog food. it is mixed with Senior canned and dry dog food. Her meals are weighed on a kitchen scale, includes .4oz of pumpkin. We keep a chart; with the time she eats and the number of calories of each meal. She is very active. Her vet agrees that she is in good shape, not overweight and healthy for her age.
    My husband walks her most days, we have a large, fenced yard she loves to associate with the neighbor dogs through the fence.
    Keeping the time she eats, helps us, her pet parents, determine about when it’s time for her to have another meal. Some days her meals aren’t always at the same time but near.
    The Excel chart is broken down of FOOD or TREAT. Excel totals all the calorie numbers so we can see if we are over treating or over feeding. I try to keep her near a weekly average of 1,100 per day.
    She is spayed.

  9. I have a 9 year old, fixed male Vizsla, Reilly. I had him fixed due to a abnormal testicle. The vet advised removal. So for the past 5 years have been trying to keep his weight normal. He is 66 lbs., a good hunter, but also is always hunting for something to eat!

    I am anxious to learn how your once a day feeding works out. I have a rescue Vizsla male, not fixed, that has very high energy, so feeding one once a day and the other twice a day may be an issue. I look forward to your progress and wish you a good new year!

  10. I have one dog that is on meds that needs to have food with her medication. I can’t imagine feeding her and not feeding our other dog. I manage weight by a lot of exercise and portion control. Both dogs are ideal weight according to our vet. Female is spayed and almost 12, male is neutered and is 7.

    I don’t think I believe that almost all neutered dogs invariably gain weight. I have never had an intact dog and never have had an overweight dog. Except for one Doberman who had a thyroid issue. Once on meds, that resolved, here she lost weight. And we have had many dogs over 35 years.

  11. Home cooked lean ground meat and steamed vegetables, an occasional egg – lots of variety, very little fat, a TINY amount of Himalayan salt only – no sugar or spices of course. Home cooked is always the best food. Add some high quality supplements – again: vary. I give a piece of veggie, fruit or meat as a treat. Most commercial treats are garbage and have allergy causing ingredients to boot. I adopt seniors with disabilities and they thrive on this. None of my dogs have ever had a weight problem.
    Important: test your dog for food sensitivities and feed accordingly.

  12. Many years ago the vet instructed my mother to feed the dog cooked vegetables. This is after her border collie had to be put on diet dog food and she was starving all the time. The cooked vegetables helped to fill her up and she did lose weight.
    Since then I have always measured out my dog’s daily food allowance. I break it into three parts – feeding one in the morning and one in the evening and the third part (much smaller portion) used as rewards during the day. I also give treats so when I measure out the daily allowance I measure and feed less than the bag instructs. This is to allow for the calories in the treats the dogs eat throughout the day.

  13. Last year my dog was diagnosed with Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA). She spent 8 days at the University of Pennsylvania Ryan Veterinarian Hospital where they literally saved her life. Her normal weight is about 13 pounds, but after being put on steroids for 6 months, she gained about 3 pounds which was about 20% over her normal weight. When she was being tapered off steroids she lost a little bit of weight but needed to lose more. I didn’t want to decrease her food intake since it was the recommended amount for her size, so I focused on exercise. I had to be careful taking her on walks or letting her be around other dogs since her immunity is down and she can no longer receive any vaccines. After checking them out, I decided to purchase a dog treadmill. It was the best decision I ever made. My dog does a brisk walk on the treadmill for 45 minutes every day. I start her on a slower speed and increase it gradually at the beginning and she has worked up to 3/4 miles a day. Her weight is now perfect and she is doing great.

  14. I feel you. Diana pawPrints’ ideal weight is 92 but I allowed her to balloon to 105. In my efforts to slim her down she ended up around 82. I spent six months increasing her food and the result at her last yearly physical? She’s still 82. The vet said she was a “healthy slim” but I know she is not happy at that weight as she is even more food oriented than normal. Like she is starving all the time. Because she sorta was. So I’m working at increasing her food intake a bit more. Freyja was also a bit overweight and has slimmed to a healthy 48. She doesn’t seem to be so food oriented as Diana so I think her intake is just about right. She still looks a bit chunky but I don’t feel any bones so she still has plenty of padding.

    Diana is 5 and still active but I will have to watch her weight when she starts to slow down a bit.

    Weight changes are so gradual sometimes it is hard to notice the gain or loss until it is really noticeable. That is how it was when Ramses got old. With him he simply lost his appetite the last year (likely due to the cancer.) With Candy it was more due to fluid retention as in the end she had congestive heart failure. We never knew because my parents aren’t as conscientious with their vet visits as I am with mine. Candy had been overweight for years so it was easy to miss that she was losing muscle but retaining fluid.

  15. The problem with techniques such as “Ditch the Bowl” is that when you have a very small dog, they aren’t getting many pieces of kibble to start with. So trying to spread their daily allowance out for training, reward reinforcement, etc. doesn’t give very many! I’ve tried alternating with cut-up green beans, tiny pieces of apples, etc. but when the dog doesn’t get more than 1/4 cup of food per day (high protein, low fat of 7%-10%), you aren’t talking much food at all!

  16. I’ve been lucky. Our 12 year old (today!) lab/hound mix, Clancy, has stayed at 70-72 pounds his entire adult life. We walk a couple miles a day on average, though less now since he has some age-related lameness that crops up with longer walks. He gets a cup of high-quality senior kibble twice a day augmented with cooked veggies and the occasional treat. I wish I could claim his trim figure! I’m in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” camp as far as his diet. He’s in great shape aside from some arthritis. I give him K9 Excel (omega 3 supplement) and Dasuquin for his joints. Hope I have him with me for many more years!

  17. I do green beans in their food. I feed once a day, in the morning, and to their small portion of canned food, I give some cooked chicken breast, a blob of canned pumpkin, their joint and omega supplements, and cooked snipped into little pieces frozen green beans, all added to their individual containers. I let the portion of green beans thaw on a plate while I do other things, and then snip them up with kitchen shears into small pieces into a bowl, and microwave for about 90 seconds and then add them to their food. The whole mess gets mixed up with some warm water and then added to their food dishes with some kibble, the amount varying with the size of the dog. I have 3 of them so it’s an assembly line process getting everything done, but it works for us.

  18. I have fed raw since 1997 and have had 63 dogs since 1990. All have been golden retrievers, a breed with high cancer risks (especially hemangiosarcoma), high orthopedic risks, and an average lifespan of 10 -12. Of course, there are many exceptions, in both directions – younger than that and older than that; just like the fact that women generally live longer than men has many exceptions, but which holds true despite that. I’m proud to say that the average lifespan of my goldens is 14.3 years, and it’s been an ascending arc. I had a lot to learn, but I have tried my best to. For the first 12 years of my teaching career, I also worked as a vet tech/receptionist, part time, because I was a teacher and broke. My experience was that most dog owners allowed their dogs to be obese, not just overweight, and a fit dog was a a rare thing. I always praised owners with fit dogs. The vets were pretty lax in the weight department – what I thought was overweight, they thought was fine, obese to me was overweight to them, etc. Often they only brought it up with the owner if the dog was morbidly obese. Most of the dogs were de-sexed, because the vets were trained to be kind of militant on that point. The purpose was reducing pet overpopulation, and it certainly works for that. But it was presented as healthier for the dogs, and that is simply not true. To be fair, most of the vets were trained that way. They believed it. In order to get people to do it, they made outrageous claims as to health and behavior benefits that have no real evidence to support them (a panel at UC Davis Veterinary School discredited many of these studies in 2012, and subsequent studies have mostly surprisingly different results). I think there is good support for the hypothesis that cancer is a metabolic disease, enough that I keep my dogs lean. I’m super helped in this endeavor by their being intact and fed minimally processed foods, but I’ve seen a number of overweight intact dogs, too, so it’s no magic remedy. But overall, every issue with dogs is usually caused by people doing stupid things, careless things, even cruel things. These people would very likely NOT be subscribing to WDJ. You need to be mindful with dogs, though I’m blown away by the people who are so exact that they weigh and measure everything. Wow!

  19. I have a Beauceron whom was very bony and was eating 2 pounds plus a day of raw food. I could not put weight on her and the summer she was turning 4 years old she gained 14 pounds in less than 2 months! It took a couple of years to lose that weight, first reducing her food until she stabilized, then going a bit under that.
    I always use a scale to measure my dog’s food, so I know exactly what they get, therefore if they gain or lose a bit, I can adjust their food accordingly. Lately I reduced her food by 1/2 an ounce per meal and she seemed to have stabilized, she was feeling a bit pudgier (she is 9 1/2 y.o. now), so I tackled it right away. I learned how difficult it can be to get them to lose those extra pounds and I rather not let it become a big project.
    I also believe that slow is best and the best advice is PATIENCE. You know what to do, you’ll get there.

  20. My two dogs are 8 years old and getting pudgy. Feeding them lower calorie food once a day and smaller portions of dry food replaced by Green beans and pumpkin are helping. I purchased a state park pass and am walking with them more often. I think we’re all getting in better shape!