Is Your Pet’s Excess Weight Shortening Their Life?
Roly-poly pugs and chubby Chihuahuas may seem adorable, but the implications of being overweight are anything but cute to your pet. Excess body weight puts your pet at risk for a number of life-limiting diseases, and affects their daily quality of life. We are all aware of obesity’s consequences, yet find refusing our pets that extra treat, or a share of our evening snack, so difficult. Unfortunately, our need to show love to our furry friends with food has led to an obesity epidemic. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, approximately 60% of cats and 56% of dogs in the U.S. are overweight.
October 14 is National Pet Obesity Awareness Day—a day set aside to talk about how obesity affects pets, and how we can help overweight pets live a better life. Although the conversation about your pet’s weight should start with your family veterinarian, many of our Compassion-First hospitals have board-certified veterinary nutritionists on staff who can tailor an individual diet plan to help your pet get back to a healthy weight.
How does excess weight affect my pet?
You know that excess weight is bad, but its impact on your pet’s overall health is likely greater than you realize. Carrying extra pounds can predispose your pet to many life-shortening diseases, including:
- Diabetes mellitus
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Kidney disease
- Chronic inflammation
An overweight pet has less energy and is less active, which affects their daily quality of life. When you think of a happy pet, you likely envision a dog playing fetch in the backyard, or a cat pouncing on a toy mouse, rather than an overweight pet napping their way through the day.
You want your pet to live a long, healthy, happy life, and helping them maintain an appropriate weight is one of the most important ways you can do this.
How can I tell if my pet is overweight?
Since more than half of U.S. pets are overweight, it can be difficult to recognize when a pet has excess body weight. Using a body condition score (BCS) chart to assess your dog or cat’s shape is the easiest way to determine whether a weight loss plan is in order. As you look at your standing pet from the side, and above, ask yourself these questions:
- Does your pet have a discernible waist when viewed from above?
- From the side, can you see an obvious abdominal tuck?
- Can you easily palpate your pet’s ribs?
- Does your cat have an obvious fat pad?
- Does your pet have obvious fat deposits over the tail base, spine, neck, or limbs?
If your pet lacks a discernible waist and abdominal tuck, or has fat-covered ribs that are difficult to palpate or obvious fat deposits, they are likely overweight. Compare your pet’s shape to those on the BCS charts to determine whether they fall above the ideal BCS of 5.
How can I help my pet lose weight?
Similar to planning your own diet, your pet’s healthy weight loss plan should start with a visit to your family veterinarian, who can perform a more thorough assessment of your pet’s body condition, and determine how much weight they should lose. They may also screen for obesity-related diseases that can be treated to help your pet feel better and have a better quality of life.
Martha G. Cline,
DVM Diplomate ACVN
Red Bank Veterinary Hospitals (Hillsborough, Mount Laurel and Tinton Falls, NJ)
Your pet’s weight loss journey will take time and patience. Since most pets are smaller than people, we cannot expect them to lose a pound, or several pounds, each week.
According to Martha Cline, DVM, DACVN, a veterinary nutritionist who treats pets at all three Red Bank Veterinary Hospital locations, in Hillsborough, Mount Laurel, and Tinton Falls, New Jersey, “Our goal for weight loss is typically 1% to 2% of a pet’s body weight per week. This can take several months to more than a year for some pets.”
By instituting a steady regimen of healthy eating and exercise, along with regular weigh-ins and accountability coaching by your veterinarian, your pet should steadily lose weight and reach their goal. For pets who need additional support, or those with complex nutritional needs, consultation with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist may be warranted.
Which weight-loss diet should I choose for my pet?
Choosing your pet’s weight-loss diet can be challenging, since each pet’s situation is different, and your pet may have concurrent health problems that must be considered. Your veterinarian, or a Compassion-First veterinary nutritionist, can recommend a weight-loss diet that best fits your pet’s needs. They will also calculate the exact number of calories your pet needs daily to lose weight, and advise how much to feed your pet, using a precise measuring cup. Your pet’s weight loss plan can include treats, but treats should make up only 10% of the daily calorie allotment, and should include healthy options, such as fresh vegetables or fruit. Many dogs love fresh carrots, green beans, and strawberries, and cats often find cantaloupe chunks and pumpkin irresistible.
How can I help my pet get more exercise?
In addition to a healthy diet, your pet’s weight loss plan will include daily exercise—this is the fun part. Exercising with your pet can help improve your health as well, and provide fun bonding time with your furry friend. If your pet is unaccustomed to exercising, start slowly, and gradually work up to more intense exercise. Start with a short daily walk, game of fetch, or home-made agility course. As your dog—and you—becomes more fit, you can move on to more vigorous activities, such as learning a new sport together, or running a 5K.
Encouraging your cat to exercise can be more challenging, so tempt them by appealing to their inner predator. Use robotic mice or dangle a feather wand to entice your cat to give chase.
Incorporate exercise and mental stimulation into your pet’s daily routine with food puzzles, or by hiding their treats throughout the house, making them work for their food.
In honor of National Pet Obesity Awareness Day, start a conversation with your family veterinarian about your pet’s weight. Chances are, they’re carrying a few extra pounds that are affecting their overall health. For guidance on helping your best friend get back to a healthy weight, contact your local Compassion-First pet hospital.