How often have we lovingly called our pets thick, big boned, fluffy, chunky, or any manner of other cute phrases related to their weight? While an overweight pet isn’t anything to be ashamed of, a poor reflection on you as a pet owner, or a judgement of your lifestyle choices, it also is no laughing matter. According to a 2018 study conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 59.5% of cats and 55.8% of dogs in the U.S. are overweight or obese. Packing on the pounds makes your pet more likely to suffer from kidney dysfunction, metabolic or endocrine problems, skin or respiratory diseases, or certain cancer types, so you need to pay attention to your pet’s weight rather than sweeping it under the rug. Check out these five tips to help manage your furry friend’s waistline.
#1: Prevent pet obesity when possible
Your pet will stay more healthy if they never become overweight or obese in the first place. Select a nutritionally balanced food appropriate for your pet’s life stage (i.e., puppy food for a growing puppy, or senior food for an older kitty), and adjust the amount you feed based on your pet’s current needs. A pet who walks or runs several miles in the summer but sets only a paw outside in the winter when it’s absolutely necessary, will need fewer calories in the winter to avoid becoming overweight. Once your puppy or kitten is neutered or spayed, they will require fewer daily calories, as will a dog on cage-rest while an orthopedic injury heals.
#2: Recognize if your pet is obese or overweight
When you see your pet every day, you may not notice weight changes and, because of the sheer number of overweight or obese pets, you can easily be fooled into thinking that overweight is the new normal. These methods can help assess your pet’s weight:
- Body condition scoring (BCS) — This system assigns pets a score of one through nine, with a score of four or five representing an ideal weight. Use these cat and dog BCS scoring tools to determine how your pet measures up.
- Use your eyes and hands — Can you feel your pet’s ribs with gentle pressure, and see a distinct waistline when viewed from the top and side? If not, your pet is probably overweight or obese.
- Pull out the scale — Our Caldwell Animal Hospital team weighs your pet at each visit, and some pets are amenable to hopping on your bathroom scale. Comparing their current weight with past weights can help you see if your pet’s weight is steadily trending upward, and is a great way to track weight loss progress.
#3: Modify your pet’s diet to optimize weight loss
The basic premise of weight loss is that calories burned must exceed calories consumed, so weight management starts with diet. A multitude of over-the-counter and prescription weight management diets are available, and our team is always happy to discuss the diet best-suited for your pet, and calculate the recommended amount they should be fed each day. Once you have your pet’s diet plan, ensure you accurately measure the food with a standard measuring cup or food scale, to ensure you do not accidentally feed your pet more than the intended amount.
#4: Exercise your pet
Exercise is a great way for your pet to burn more calories and lose weight, while preserving muscle mass and building good long-term habits. Dogs can benefit from daily walks, hikes, swims, games of fetch, or dog sports such as agility. Cats may enjoy chasing a laser pointer, stalking a feathered toy, batting a ping pong ball around in a large box, or playing with a toy. Older pets or those with orthopedic problems may need exercise modifications, so consult our Caldwell Animal Hospital team before starting a pet exercise program.
#5: Find solutions to pet weight loss pitfalls
If your pet is acting like they are starving, tugging at your heartstrings with their sad eyes, or raiding another pet’s dish, sticking with their weight management plan can be difficult, but these strategies can help:
- Spread out the food delivery — Break the allotted food amount into several small meals throughout the day, hide food around the house for your pet to find, ask them to do tricks in exchange for food, or use a puzzle feeder to help your pet engage their brains, be active, and feel content and full longer.
- Select low calorie treats — If your dog lives for treats or you love to treat your dog, simply swap out the junk food treats for low calorie healthy alternatives such as fruits and vegetables.
- Manage multiple pets — If you have several pets, feed them in separate rooms, use collars that allow each pet to access only their own dish, place the cat’s food up high, or use a baby gate to keep the dog away. In some cases, you can put all your pets on the same food.
- Develop a support network — Everyone in the family and all guests need to be on board, so no one sneaks your pet extra treats or food. You could consider committing to a fitness program with your pet, finding a friend or neighbor who will join you and your pet for socially distanced exercise, hiring a dog walker, or enrolling your dog in doggie daycare if the exercise component is a challenge.
Contact our Caldwell Animal Hospital team for help developing a weight management plan that works for you and your furry friend, no matter their size.