Canine Health & Body Condition

Athletic dogs may need to eat more food to support the high caloric demand of their sports. Owners should monitor their dogs to be sure they maintain a lean body condition, which will help to reduce the risks of developing painful, and potentially life-threatening, weight-related health problems. 

The benefits of keeping dogs in a lean body condition were demonstrated by the Purina Life Span Study; the first completed canine lifetime diet restriction study, conducted from 1987 to 2001 by Nestlé Purina researchers1. The study showed that feeding to maintain an ideal (lean) body condition over a dog’s lifetime can help significantly extend a dog’s healthy years (1.8 years for dogs in the study). 

The lean-fed group also had a two-year delay in loss of body mass, with the average age of the onset of decline being 11 years versus 9 years for the control dogs. Lean-fed dogs maintained significantly lower body condition scores, with a mean score of 4 to 5, which is considered ideal. Notably, the age when 50 percent of the control dogs required treatment for a chronic condition was 9.9 years, whereas this age was delayed to 12 years in the group of dogs fed to maintain a lean body condition. 

Body condition impacts a dog’s health and well-being throughout life and it provides a convenient means of estimating a dog’s degree of body fat. Consequently, it is used to estimate a dog’s individual energy requirement and aids to determine how much food to feed. Regularly monitoring your athletic dog’s body condition is one of the most important things you can do and is important to knowing if your dog is getting too many calories during the day. 

Dogs that are overweight or have a “higher than ideal” body condition while participating in an active lifestyle are eating excess calories than what their body needs for the day. The first and easiest strategy to helping get your pet to his ideal body condition, if he is overweight, is to reduce the amount of food he gets every day. How much? A good rule of thumb is to lower his daily portion by 10% and reassess the potential change in body condition on a weekly basis. Weight loss is best achieved as a slow and steady reduction to minimize loss of muscle and help the pet adjust to a lower feeding portion. Another strategy is to have structured feeding times during the day (once or twice daily) with set amounts initially based on the feeding recommendations provided on the dog food bag. Adjustments can be made based on your own dog’s individual metabolism and lifestyle. 

Active dogs that have an ideal body condition appear to have a metabolism that favors fat metabolism, and when a dog’s body fat is slightly increased, the metabolism shifts to rely more on carbohydrates, which is not optimal for exercise2. This exercise study also revealed that overweight dogs have a higher loss of water, which presumably would increase the risk of dehydration during exercise if not adequately hydrated. 

Dogs that are overweight could also be fed a nutritionally complete and balanced dog food containing fewer calories to help them achieve ideal body condition. Purina Pro Plan developed Adult Weight Management Formulas to have an optimal protein-to-fat ratio to help overweight and less-active, adult dogs achieve ideal body condition. These weight management formulas can help your pet shed the extra pounds prior to beginning an exercise regimen if you want to have your dog become more active or participate in athletic activities. These formulas can also be used in conjunction with a mild exercise regimen to assist in weight loss. Once an ideal body condition is achieved, you can comfortably transition your pet to Purina Pro Plan Sport Active 26/16 Formula and likely reduce their feeding portion, as the calorie content will be slightly higher compared to the Weight Management formulas, to continue their active lifestyle and maintain their ideal body condition.


    • Dogs should be fed an amount of food that is appropriate to maintain an ideal body condition, with owners adjusting the amount, as necessary, in small increments.
    • Did you know a dog’s food should be matched to his activity level? Active dogs need a balance of key nutrients that help to optimize their performance and support their recovery.


To learn more about maintaining dogs in ideal body condition, you may check out the article above as well as these scientific articles.

    • Laflamme DP. Obesity in Dogs and Cats: What Is Wrong with Being Fat? Journal of Animal Science. 2012;90:1653-1662.
    • Murphy M, Lusby AL, Bartges JW, Kirk CA. Size of Food Bowl and Scoop Affects Amount of Food Owners Feed Their Dogs. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition. 2011. DOI:10.111/j.1439-0396.2011.01144.x.
    • Hazewinkel AW, Corbee RJ. Obesity and Osteoarthritis: Causes and Management. Proceedings of the 2011 Nestlé Purina Companion Animal Nutrition Summit. Tucson, AZ.
    • German AJ. Management of Obesity in Dogs and Cats – Maximizing Success. Proceedings of the 2011 Nestlé Purina Companion Animal Nutrition Summit. Tucson, AZ.
    • Heuberger R, Wakshlag J. The Relationship of Feeding Patterns and Obesity in Dogs. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition. 2010;95:98-105.
    • Boutlegourd JC, Kelly M, Clety N, et al. Effects of Weight Loss in Heart Rate Normalization and Increase in Spontaneous Activity in Moderately Exercised Overweight Dogs. The International Journal of Applied Research in Veterinary Medicine. 2009;7(4):153-164.
    • Nguyen P, Siliart B, Diez M, et al. How Is Obesity a Disease? Proceedings from the 2006 Nestlé Purina Nutrition Forum. Lausanne, Switzerland.
    • Jeusette J, Compagnucci M, Romano V, et al. Effects of High-Protein or High-Carbohydrate Diets on Weight Loss in Obese Dogs. Proceedings of the 2005 Nestlé Purina Nutrition Forum. St. Louis, MO. (Abstract)
    • Kealy RD. Factors Influencing Lean Body Mass in Aging Dogs. Proceedings of the 1998 Nestlé Purina Nutrition Forum. St. Louis, MO.
    • Hannah SS. Role of Dietary Protein in Weight Management. Proceedings of the 1998 Nestlé Purina Nutrition Forum. St. Louis, MO.


1 Kealy RD, Lawler DF, Ballam JM, et al. Effects of Diet Restriction on Life Span and Age-Related Changes in Dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2002;220;220(9):1315-1320.

2 Reynolds AJ, Reinhart GA, Carey DP, Simmerman DA, Frank DA, and Kallfelz  A. Effect of protein intake during training on biochemical and performance variables in sled dogs. American Journal of Veterinary Research. 1999: 58;1252-1256.