According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, “An Estimated 59% of Cats and 54% of Dogs in the United States are Overweight or Obese”. Just as overweight humans are at higher risk for disease, the same is true for pets. Depending on the breed and size of your pet, as little as a couple extra pounds can put your pet at serious risk. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention states the following as the Primary Risks of Excess Weight in Pets:
- Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes
- High Blood Pressure
- Heart and Respiratory Disease
- Cranial Cruciate Ligament Injury
- Kidney Disease
- Many Forms of Cancer
- Decreased life expectancy (up to 2.5 years)
Additionally, another significant consequence of excess weight is decreased quality of life. Overweight pets have a hard time being active, they may interact less with their humans, and overall have less energy.
HERE’S HOW TO TELL IF YOUR PET IS A HEALTHY WEIGHT:
- Ribs are easily felt
- Tucked abdomen – no sagging stomach
- Waist when viewed from above
HERE’S HOW TO TELL IF YOUR PET IS OVERWEIGHT:
- Difficult to feel ribs under fat
- Sagging stomach – you can grab a handful of fat!
- Broad, flat back
- No waist
SOLUTIONS FOR OVERWEIGHT PETS
- Visit your Veterinarian
If your pet is overweight, the first thing you should do is have them evaluated by a Veterinarian. This will ensure that there is not a medical condition causing your pet to be overweight.
- Know your pets ideal weight
See this resource for dog and cat ideal weight ranges. Some dogs and cats may have a healthy weight outside these ranges, therefore, it’s also beneficial to ask your Veterinarian for their advice for a healthy weight for your specific pet.
- Feed the appropriate amount of food
It is very important to not withhold meals from your pet. They must eat every day, just less food and treats. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, dogs and cats who don’t eat for as little as 2 days can develop a life-threatening form of liver disease, hepatic lipidosis. However, it is not necessary to feed a “diet” pet food. Just as it’s not necessary for humans to eat diet food to lose weight, just fewer calories, pets do not need to rely on diet food for weight loss either.
For the amount of food to feed, start with the recommended feeding guidelines on your pet food package. But note, these are guidelines and sometimes you may actually need to feed a little more or less than the feeding guidelines. This is the case with one of our cats. She’s a healthy 8 pounds (she is a small framed petite kitty) and we feed her based on the guidelines for a 5 pound cat, otherwise she gains weight. Some factors that may affect the amount you need to feed include your pet’s breed, activity level, age, genetics, and overall health.
Start by feeding the guideline according to your pet’s healthy weight for their breed or mix, not their overweight current amount. If your pet is overweight, you will want to gradually decrease the amount of food they eat. For example, if your dog weighs 50 pounds, but should weigh 40 pounds, you will want to initially feed them based on the guidelines for 45 pounds for the first week, then decrease to the feeding guidelines amount for 40 pounds for the second week, and continue to follow this decreased amount of food, until there is weight loss and they have reached their ideal weight. Please note it is very important that your pet not lose weight too quickly. A safe general guideline is 3-5% of their overall body weight per month. For example, for a 50 pound dog that would be 1.5 to 2.5 pounds per month and for a 15 pound cat that would be not even a half a pound per month. Slow and steady is best.
- Feed less treats
You will want to cut down on the amount of treats you feed and also probably change the treats you feed. Many commercial pet treats are high in calories and not the healthiest. Feed small amounts, 1 to 2 pieces of healthy real food treats 1-2 times per day. See Our Pets’ Kitchen Blog: People Food for Pets – Healthy or Dangerous, for healthy treat ideas. Many pet parents feed more treats to their pets then they realize. Try putting a penny in a jar every time you feed a treat to your pet. See how many pennies are in the jar at the end of the day or week. You may be surprised.
- Weigh your pet frequently
You will want to weigh your pet weekly and keep track of the amount you’re feeding and his or her corresponding weight. If you have a small dog or cat you can weigh them on your home scale. To do this, follow these simple steps:
-Step on your scale yourself. Record your weight.
-Pick up your pet and hold them as you normally do.
-Record the combined weight of yourself and your pet.
-Subtract your individual weight from the combined weight of yourself and your pet. This is your pet’s weight.
Here’s an example: Pet Parent weight = 150 pounds. Pet Parent weight while holding pet = 165 pounds. 165 pounds – 150 pounds = 15 pounds (your pet’s weight)
To get the weight of a larger pet you can use the scale at a pet store. Almost all the big box pet stores have a scale and don’t charge to use it. Also, many Veterinarian’s offices have the larger pet scale in their lobby and most won’t require an appointment just to weigh your pet. Since each scale is slightly different, use the same scale for weigh ins. Compare your pets weight from week to week to ensure a slow and steady weight loss, until they are at an ideal weight. Even if your pet is an ideal weight, or after your pet reaches their ideal weight, it’s a good idea to weigh them monthly to ensure they are not gaining weight.
Walk your dog at least once per day for a minimum of 20 minutes at a good pace. Play with your pet as much as possible, at least 10 minutes once a day, but preferably more often. There are many great toys on the market that get both cats and dogs moving. Use squeaky toys, moving toys, feather toys, laser pointers, flashlights, paper bags or balls, anything they find interesting and gets them moving.
- If your pet is underweight, increase their food intake slowly, based on the amount that they should weigh. For example, if your pet weighs 40 pounds but should weigh 50, feed them the recommended amount for 45 pounds for about a week and then gradually increase the amount they are fed to the 50 pound recommendation.
- Please don’t free feed or use a self-feeding dish, where the pet can eat as much as they want as often as they want. If for some reason you must use a self-feeder, please use one that dispenses a pre-set amount.
- Feed at least 2 meals daily or multiple mini-meals.
- If you’re in a multi-pet household make sure the overweight pet is not eating the healthy pet’s portion of food. Feed pets in separate rooms if necessary.
We know it’s hard to resist the pleading eyes, whimpers, or behavior issues of pets who want food. It may even be beneficial to work with a positive reinforcement Trainer to help during this transition. Our pets don’t understand that their excess weight is harming them. It’s up to us as caregivers to protect them from harm and not unintentionally contribute to their unhealthiness. We will be more than happy to help you develop an ideal feeding amount and a plan for getting your pet healthy. Contact us today!
Note: This information is a general guideline only and is not meant to replace your Veterinarian’s advice.