Close up of homemade raw dog food including a raw fish in a stainless steel dog bowl

How To Feed Raw Dog Food For Weight Loss

Did you know that some people switch their pups from kibble to raw dog food for weight loss?

Yep, and it’s a valid reason too. Because when you think about it, starchy kibble is super rich in carbs and lacks protein, right?

The problem with that is that starchy foods often contain more calories compared to other nutrients like protein or fiber.

Additionally, they have a high glycemic index, which causes a rapid increase in blood sugar levels, which in turn promotes the storage of excess glucose as fat. And over time, this cycle can contribute to weight gain.

Now, raw dog food is the opposite – there’s only a fraction of the carbs you’ll find in kibble, and raw meat is the epitome of protein.

So, doesn’t that automatically translate into weight loss for dogs?

Well, yes, but only if you feed raw dog food a certain way!

If you don’t, you’ll still have a chubby pup.

So in today’s blog post, I’ll point out:

  • Factors that influence weight in raw-fed dogs
  • Tips for healthy weight management

Ready? Let’s jump right in!

How To Feed Raw Dog Food For Weight Loss

How to feed raw dog food for weight loss

Disclaimer: This blog post contains affiliate links. I may earn compensation when you click on the links at no additional cost to you.

When Raw Dog Food For Weight Loss Doesn’t Work

So while raw dog food is rich in healthy nutrients, there are still 3 issues that can cause weight gain in your raw-fed pup:

  • Too much food
  • Too much fatty food
  • Not enough exercise

Too Much Food

Here’s one of the main mistakes I’ve seen people make over the years.

Current Body Weight Instead Of Target Body Weight

When they make their dog’s homemade raw dog food, they do the math wrong.

They actually calculate their dog’s daily raw dog food allowance using their dog’s CURRENT body weight instead of their TARGET body weight.

Now, that’s the correct way of doing things if that dog is not overweight to start with!

But the problem is that almost 60% of all dogs in the US were overweight in 2022.

That’s 6 in 10 dogs.

So there’s more of a 50% chance that your dog is overweight.

Wrong Maintenance Percentage

The second mistake is that many people use the wrong maintenance percentage when they calculate their dog’s raw dog food allowance.

Again, this is for people who make DIY raw dog food themselves.

The average maintenance percentage used in homemade raw dog food is 2.5%.

But that doesn’t apply to all dogs, and certainly not to overweight pups.

Following Average Feeding Guidelines Of Manufactured Raw Dog Food

But of course there’s also people with overweight raw-fed dogs who feed premade raw dog food.

The problem here is that they follow the feeding guidelines on the packaging.

Those are geared towards dogs who are not overweight but at their target body weight!

So if you follow them although your dog is overweight, your pup’s going to put on weight.

Not Measuring Out The Raw Dog Food

This applies to people who feed DIY raw as much as it does to people who feed premade raw.

It’s really easy to scoop out too much food if you don’t use a scale or a measuring spoon of some sort.

Been there, done that myself!

Raw dog food meal prep at home
Raw dog food meal prep in my kitchen

Too Much Fatty Food

Another problem that contributes to overweight raw-fed dogs is that they’re eating too much fatty food.

Foods that pack a punch are:

  • Any ground beef that’s less than 85% lean (85% lean, 15% fat)
  • Chicken skin in general
  • Chicken thighs
  • Pork belly
  • Goose
  • Lamb
  • Duck

Of course it’s fine to feed your dog some of these cuts as well.

But you’ll want to create a healthy balance by alternating them with leaner cuts of meat.

For example:

  • 90% lean beef
  • Venison
  • Turkey
  • Rabbit
  • Quail

Not Enough Physical Exercise

Even if your dog eats the right amount of food including lean cuts of meat, they’re still going to be overweight if they don’t get enough physical exercise.

What’s enough exercise?

At least an hour of structured, physical exercise per day, but 2 hours are better.

This can be a (backpack) walk or a hike.

Yard time alone doesn’t cut it!

Back when I worked in the dog walking & pet sitting industry, I saw a lot of overweight dogs who weren’t even close to getting the exercise they needed.

One of my best (and most liked!) tips I gave people was to invest in a dog backpack.

If you do that, it intensifies your dog’s exercise even if you can only walk them an hour a day.

Good backpacks I recommend are the following, from flimsiest to sturdiest:

How To Assess If Your Dog Is Overweight

OK, now before you go about calculating your dog’s raw dog food allowance, do yourself and your dog a favor and assess their current looks.

And be honest with yourself and your dog!

You should be able to feel your dog’s ribs, and they shouldn’t be buried under a layer of fat.

Also, you should be able to see your dog’s waistline.

Boxer mix Missy has a perfect waistline
My late pup Missy’s waistline

If they don’t have a nice tuck under their waist, they’re likely overweight.

You can also check in with your vet and/or your breeder. Both should be able to give you a good idea of your dog’s target body weight.

Their target body weight is their ideal, non-overweight body weight.

Here’s a good quote on that topic by Dr. Ian Billinghurst:

The Amount to Feed An Overweight (Over-fat!) Pet Is Based On Its Target Weight

If your pet is overweight, (that is, carrying too much fat and not enough muscle), estimate what its true weight should be and feed at that level. Also, cut down on the amount of fat in the diet. … Do remove any grains, pasta, bread, rice, sugar etc.

Dr. Ian Billinghurst, The Barf Diet, p. 90.

On that note, what’s in grains, pasta, bread, rice and sugar? Carbs!

I’ll explain how to do the raw dog food math for an overweight dog in the next section.

Tips To Ensure Raw Dog Food For Weight Loss Works

Ok, now that you know what contributes to weight gain in raw-fed dogs, here’s some solutions.

Raw Dog Food Portion Sizing

Remember, the first thing to do is to take an honest look at your dog and determine if they’re overweight or not.

If They’re Not Overweight

If they’re not overweight, you can get away with feeding the recommended daily amount of raw dog food that’s printed on their premade raw dog food.

For DIY raw, calculate their daily allowance using their CURRENT body weight and the following maintenance percentage:

  • 2.5% for active dogs who exercise 1-2 hours per day
  • 2% for moderately active dogs who exercise 30-60 minutes per day
  • 1.5% for inactive dogs and couch potatoes who exercise less than 30 minutes per day

Example: A 65 lb adult dog exercises 2 hours per day and is at his target body weight.

To calculate his daily raw dog food needs, divide the 65 lbs by 100, then multiply with 2.5%.

65/100 = 0.65 x 2.5 = 1.625 lbs = 26 oz

So that dog would need to eat 26 oz per day.

If They’re Overweight

If your dog IS overweight and you’re feeding DIY raw, calculate their daily allowance using their TARGET body weight.

Remember, that’s their ideal, non-overweight body weight.

Lower the maintenance percentage you’ve been using by 0.5% for starters and see how they’re doing with that approach.

If they’re severely overweight, lower the maintenance percentage by 1-1.5%.

Example: If that 65 lb dog is overweight, calculate his food allowance with 2% instead of 2.5%, and use his target body weight too.

Let’s assume it’s 60 lbs:

60/100 = 0.6 x 2 = 1.2 lb = 19.2 oz

That’s a difference in 6.8 oz daily!

Also, remember to weigh out the raw dog food using a scale or a measuring spoon!

For more in-depth information including pre-calculated raw dog food feeding charts, check out my raw dog food math ebook:

Raw Dog Food Ingredient Rotation

This is one of my favorite topics and I could talk about it

Ingredient and protein rotation is really important in raw feeding and applies both to DIY raw and manufactured raw dog food.

That's because different cuts of meat have varying levels of nutrients and fats.

And so do different animals!

For example, take a look at the different fat percentages of the following cuts of meat:

  • 10.2 % fat: Chicken breast with skin
  • 2.5% fat: Chicken breast w/o skin
  • 7.2 % fat: Turkey breast with skin
  • 1.48% fat: Turkey breast w/o skin
  • 15% fat: 85% lean lamb (grass-fed)
  • 15% fat: 85% lean beef (grass-fed)

As you can see, the fat levels range from close to none in skinless turkey breast to 15% in ground beef & lamb.

Also, turkey hearts have considerably more Vitamin A and Vitamin D than beef hearts, chicken hearts, lamb hearts and duck hearts.

We're talking 305 iu/100 g (=3.5 oz) of Vitamin A vs:

  • 0 (beef and lamb)
  • 30 (chicken)
  • 32 (duck)

And 17 iu/100 g (=3.5 oz) of Vitamin D vs:

  • 4 (beef)
  • 5 (chicken)
  • 6 (lamb)
  • 10 (duck)

And while liver is incredibly rich in Vitamin A in general, lamb liver has much more Vitamin A than livers from other animals.

We're talking 38000.0 iu/100 g (=3.5 oz) of Vitamin A vs:

  • 11984.0 (duck)
  • 16900.0 (beef)
  • 20000.0 (chicken)
  • 26901.0 (turkey)

But out of all those livers, lamb liver has the lowest Vitamin D value.

We're talking 4 iu/100 g (=3.5 oz) of Vitamin D vs:

  • 33.6 (chicken)
  • 50 (duck)
  • 58.8 (beef)
  • 116 (turkey)

I could go on and on because I find that stuff fascinating, but I'll stop here!

You don't have to remember any of these values, just remember that ingredient rotation is important in raw feeding.

In all dog foods, actually.

So use common sense and switch it up between your cuts of meat, recipes and brands, regardless of whether you feed DIY raw or premade raw!

Physical Exercise

I've already briefly talked about the physical exercise needs of dogs, but I'll mention it again.

Because species-appropriate, raw dog food really goes hand in hand with species appropriate exercise!

That said, feeding raw dog food for weight loss is not going to work unless you combine it with physical exercise.

Here's what it's good for:

  1. Muscle Tone and Strength: Exercise helps in developing and maintaining strong muscles. This is crucial for the proper functioning of a dog's body and contributes to their overall strength and endurance.
  2. Cardiovascular Health: Aerobic exercise, such as running, playing fetch, or swimming, promotes a healthy cardiovascular system. It strengthens the heart, improves blood circulation, and enhances respiratory function.
  3. Joint Health: Regular, controlled exercise helps to keep joints flexible and reduces the risk of arthritis and other joint problems. It's particularly important for large breeds and older dogs who are prone to joint issues.
  4. Mental Stimulation: Physical activity is not only about the body; it also stimulates the mind. Dogs need mental stimulation to prevent boredom and behavioral issues. Activities like fetch, agility training, and puzzle toys engage their brains and help keep them mentally sharp.
  5. Behavioral Benefits: Regular exercise can help prevent or alleviate behavioral problems like excessive barking, chewing, and digging. It helps to release excess energy, and reduces the likelihood of destructive behaviors that are caused by boredom or frustration.
  6. Prevention of Health Issues: Regular physical activity can contribute to preventing various health issues, including diabetes, certain types of cancer, and digestive problems.

And of course we can't forget about the awesome bonding opportunity between our dogs and ourselves!

So let's make it a point and spend some extra time outside with our furry besties - that regular movement is good for us, too!

And yep, that includes walks in colder weather.

Walking my Feist mix Wally in the woods
Outside in the woods with my Feist mix Wally

Should I Walk My Dog Before Or After He Eats?

I have one last note on the timing of your dog's physical activity.

As a general rule of thumb, it's best to keep an hour between exercising and mealtime.

This helps prevent bloat where the stomach flips on itself and cuts off your dog's oxygen supply.

Bloat can happen to all dogs, but breeds with large, broad chests are the most at danger. For example, Great Danes, Bloodhounds, Rottweilers, Weimaraners, Boxers, etc.

To learn more, check out my blog post:

How to avoid bloat in dogs: When not to exercise your dog.

Medical Considerations

I'd like to spend a few last words on medical considerations, especially if you've done your homework otherwise.

So if you feed the appropriate amount of raw dog food along with daily exercise, but your pup is still not losing weight, they could be suffering from a disease.

For example:

  1. Hypothyroidism: This condition occurs when the thyroid gland doesn't produce enough thyroid hormones. A common symptom is weight gain, even with a reduced appetite.
  2. Cushing's Disease (Hyperadrenocorticism): Cushing's disease is characterized by an overproduction of cortisol, a steroid hormone. Weight gain, especially in the abdominal area, is a common sign.
  3. Insulinoma: This is a tumor of the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Dogs with insulinoma may experience weight gain due to an overproduction of insulin, leading to increased appetite and fat storage.
  4. Hyperlipidemia: Elevated levels of fats (lipids) in the blood can contribute to weight gain. This condition may be associated with other diseases, such as diabetes mellitus or pancreatitis.
  5. Certain Medications: Some medications, such as corticosteroids or certain anti-seizure medications, can cause weight gain as a side effect.
  6. Ovarian Remnant Syndrome: In female dogs that have been spayed, a condition called ovarian remnant syndrome can occur if ovarian tissue is left behind during the spaying procedure. This can lead to hormonal imbalances and weight gain.
  7. Neutering/Spaying: While neutering or spaying itself doesn't cause weight gain, it can lead to changes in metabolism and activity levels. If caloric intake isn't adjusted accordingly, dogs may gain weight.
  8. Heart Disease: Dogs with heart disease may show signs of weight gain due to fluid retention, especially in the abdomen (ascites).
  9. Certain Tumors: Tumors, especially those in the abdomen, can lead to weight gain. This is often due to the mass of the tumor itself or its effects on hormone production

It's always better to be safe than sorry, right? So take your pup in for a medical exam if you suspect that they may be dealing with health problems.

To find a holistic vet near you, check out this link of the AHVMA.

How To Feed Raw Dog Food For Weight Loss: Bottom Line

So, can you overfeed raw dog food and contribute to your raw-fed dog's weight gain?

Absolutely, and here's a quick recap of how to avoid doing that:

  • Assess your dog's body condition
  • Based on that, use the correct maintenance percentage when you're making homemade raw dog food
  • Do the DIY raw dog food math with your dog's TARGET body weight
  • Don't just rely on feeding guidelines from premade raw dog food wrappers
  • Measure out your dog's food
  • I'll throw in one more: Don't give in to those pleading, "starving" doggie eyes, at least not on a regular basis!

Also, make sure to properly exercise your dog on a regular basis.

Because overall, the combination of a balanced raw dog food diet and regular exercise contributes to a longer, healthier life for dogs.

And remember to take your pup in for a vet visit if you suspect that they could be dealing with health issues that contribute to their weight gain.

Now all of that said, I hope you gained some more clarity on the topic of raw dog food for weight loss!

Are you currently dealing with weight gain issues in your raw-fed dog? Or did you recently overcome them?

Let me know in the comment section below this blog post!

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Barbara launched her blog K9sOverCoffee in 2014 and has been feeding her dogs raw dog food since 2015. As a former professional dog walker, she’s passionate about balancing species-appropriate exercise with healthy dog nutrition. Barbara is raw dog food nutrition certified from “Dogs Naturally Magazine” and the author of several e-books about minimally processed, balanced raw dog food.







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