Is your cat looking a little “fluffier,” or your dog feeling a little squishier? If so, they are not alone—pet obesity is becoming a nationwide epidemic. More than 56% of dogs and 60% of cats are overweight, according to a 2018 survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. A combination of factors, such as giving too many treats, allowing pets to free feed, or sharing too many table scraps, can quickly lead to weight gain. If your pet has gained excess weight, identifying the problem before it becomes bigger—pun intended—is critical for their health.
Big problem, or no big deal?
So, how serious are a few extra pounds on your pet? If you consider that one pound is approximately 10% of the average cat’s ideal body weight, and five pounds equals the same for a typical Labrador retriever, it becomes obvious that a few pounds can quickly add up to a big problem for your pet. Similar to people, pets can suffer from weight-related issues, including:
- Heart disease
- Skin problems
- Chronic inflammation
Additionally, pets who are overweight have less energy, and are more likely to live a sedentary lifestyle. Pets who feel good and are active are far happier than those who nap their days away with energy for little else than an occasional trip to their food bowl.
Tips to help your pet lose weight
If your pet is overweight, you can help them shed the extra pounds and find a new zeal for life. Who knows, you may also find yourself feeling fitter if you partner with your pet to work toward a healthier lifestyle. Here are some helpful tips to get your pet started on their weight loss journey:
1. Schedule a weight assessment with our Palmer Vet Clinic veterinary team — Admitting your pet is overweight can be tough, but our team is here to help—without judgment. During your pet’s weight assessment, we will assign them a body condition score (BCS) that takes into account their overall proportions, fat distribution, and body shape. A BCS is better for assessing your pet’s health than a breed-specific weight chart that may not adequately represent your pet. Based on your pet’s BCS and current weight, we can set an ideal weight goal specifically for them.
2. Feed your pet an appropriate amount — Pet food packaging often overestimates the amount of food your pet should receive. Instead of relying on general feeding recommendations, ask our team to calculate the number of calories your pet should consume each day. We will consider your pet’s life stage and activity level before determining how much energy they need. Using the calorie density of your pet’s food, you can then calculate how many cups to feed your pet each day. It is important that you actually measure out each meal for your pet with a measuring cup—not a coffee mug or Big Gulp cup— to ensure you do not overfeed.
3. Don’t forget to account for treats — Life without treats is no fun, and we are not suggesting you should stop giving your pet their favorite cookies. But, a few rules should apply:
- Treats should account for no more than 10% of your pet’s daily calorie allotment.
- Opt for healthy treats, such as fresh veggies or lean chicken breast, instead of calorie-laden processed treats.
- Stay away from table scraps, which are typically full of fat and calories, and can quickly add up to an extra meal.
4. Get your pet moving — A successful weight loss plan includes a healthy diet and exercise. Regular activity will help your pet lose fat while gaining muscle, which will set them up for long-term good health. Any activity that encourages movement will work, so choose a routine that you and your pet will both enjoy. Whether you incorporate leisurely neighborhood walks, or opt for something more involved, such as a canine sporting event (e.g., dock diving, agility, or treibball), set a realistic schedule that ensures your dog exercises regularly.
Many people assume that cats won’t exercise, but if you appeal to your cat’s inner predator, they won’t be able to resist. Try wiggling a feather wand in front of your cat, or sending a battery-operated mouse across the room, to pique their interest.
5. Keep your pet busy between workouts — Don’t limit extra activity to once-daily exercise sessions—incorporate physical and mental workouts into as much of your pet’s routine as possible. For example, ditch your pet’s food dish and feed them from an interactive puzzle feeder instead. Working for their meal will keep your pet from wolfing down their dinner, and stimulate their brain as well. You can also hide pieces of kibble throughout the house so your pet has to “hunt” for their dinner.
6. Expect slow, steady weight loss — Healthy weight loss should occur gradually over many months, so never drastically cut your pet’s calorie intake, or put them on a crash diet. In fact, cats who experience rapid weight loss can develop hepatic lipidosis, a life-threatening liver disease.
Before starting any weight loss plan, have our Palmer Vet Clinic team evaluate your pet’s overall health. Contact us to schedule an appointment, or with any questions about your pet’s weight.