Obesity in Pets

Obesity in Pets

We all know the effects of obesity in humans. With the pandemic present, perhaps some of us are eating perhaps more than usual. And with a majority of pet parents working from home, “a little bit of this” and “a little bit of that” to our furbabies adds on unnecessary pounds to them. Obesity is a disease and unlike most diseases, obesity is completely manageable AND reversible!

In 2018, The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates 60% of cats and 56% of dogs are overweight and obese. Overweight dogs are more likely to suffer from joint disease, high blood pressure, respiratory disease and other preventable conditions. Most overweight and obese dogs over 40 lb are most likely to tear their cranial cruciate ligament (similar to a human’s ACL) which can be expensive to surgically correct. Overweight cats can be at risk for diabetes, arthritis and various liver diseases. 

How can owners know whether their dog or cat is overweight or obese?

First, you should be able to easily feel – and count – your dog’s ribs when you lightly run your fingers across the side. Essentially, you should be able to “feel” your dog’s ribs but not visibly “see” them.
Next, when you look down on your pet from above, you should see an hourglass figure or an indentation near the midsection. If your pet looks like a blimp from above, it’s probably overweight or has obesity.

Finally, when you observe your pet from the side as it stands, you should see a slight tuck or upward slope of the tummy. If the abdomen hangs low and drags near the ground (like a really big fat pad in cat for instances) indicates the most dangerous and biologically active form of fat, abdominal fat, is present.  

How many calories should I feed my pet each day?

We have to be very specific when understanding what you’re feeding your pet. This INCLUDES treats! As a practicing veterinarian, I tell all my pet parents to log out for 24 hours what they’re feeding their pets. This includes measuring their food, include their usual treats and to be honest in writing down any “additional treats” they are receiving. This holds pet parents accountable and makes them recognize that they may be overfeeding their pet. In other words, they may be contributing to their pet’s obesity problem. 

Eventually, you and your veterinarian will need to know the precise numbers of calories and nutrients your pet needs. That way, regardless of the type, brand, or formulation of food you feed, you can determine how much to feed. This is a subtle, but incredibly significant difference. Healthy nutrition is about feeding your pet proper NUTRIENTS not NUTRITION. 

Your veterinarian should then ask you a few lifestyle questions, perform a couple of calculations, and give you a narrow range of daily calories you should feed. Memorize this number. Find out how many cups or cans of your pet food this equals. Feed that amount. Don’t forget to include any treats in your daily caloric counts. 

Those tiny “calorie grenades” can swiftly sabotage the best dietary plans.
Just like humans, certain dogs and cats are prone to obesity. Regardless of what you feed them, how much exercise you provide them, certain pets (the golden retrieiver for example) are prone to it. This is an important component when having that discussion with your veterinarians. 

How much weight should my pet lose in a month?

If your pet is like the majority of dogs and cats, it’ll need to shed a few unhealthy pounds of excess fat. You need to ask how much weight your pet needs to shed and how long will it take to reach a healthy weight. Remember, a few ounces of intentional weight loss over a month in an obese chihuahua is fantastic! A few ounces of intentional weight loss in an obese Labrador retriever is not enough. It’s all relative to their size. Monthly weight checks are practical and reasonable for even the busiest pet owners. A weight loss plan’s performance is critical to track and monitoring monthly trends is an accurate indicator of success or stagnation.

In general terms, a dog can safely lose 1 to 3-percent of its body weight and cats 0.5 to 2-percent per month. Many dogs can lose 3 to 5-percent and most cats should aim for about a half-pound per month. Your veterinarian will work with you in creating a step-weight loss plan. This plan also requires behavioral changes the pet parent has to make. For example, instead of giving them a “treat” from coming in from the backyard yard, you give them a baby carrot or their prescription weight loss kibble instead. 

Exercising your pet

Exercising your pet depends on the species. Running with your cat won’t cut it! Running with your obese tea cup poodle won’t cut it either. It truly is based off of your pet’s species, breed, age, gender, and current physical abilities. Using the laser pointer for cats is fantastic. Encouraging environmental enrichment and stimulation is even better. Walking, swimming, agility, chase, ball retrieving and more are just some of the excellent ways you can help dogs lose weight. And even better, you get the exercise yourself! Everyone wins. The general recommendation is that dogs need at least 30-minutes of physical activity a day and cats should strive for three 5-minute intense play periods.
There are now pet activity monitors that can help provide pet parents with real time information on their smart phone. This, in conjunction with dietary modifications and exercise, is an excellent plan for intentional weight loss in pets. 

We want our furbabies to live as long as possible. We live in a society where food is love but we have to choose wisely. Pet’s longevity and quality of life depends on it. Though they may not be with us forever, how we choose to feed them, interact with them and exercise them provides an increased time of love, wags and kisses!

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