Does your furry feline or cuddly canine companion need to lose a few pounds? Studies have shown that nearly 55% of all pets in the United States are overweight. While we can all get a few laughs from seeing online videos or photos of overweight pets, obesity in our cats and dogs can have serious health consequences. Today we will help you understand why a healthy weight is important for your pet, how to tell if your pet is overweight, and what to do about it if your pet is overweight or obese.
Health consequences of pet obesity
Just a few extra pounds on our beloved pets can lead to serious health consequences. In both dogs and cats extra weight can lead to diabetes, heart and respiratory disease, arthritis, high blood pressure, and possibly even some forms of cancer. In addition to these diseases, overweight pets tend to be less energetic and playful with us. Studies have shown that pets that are overweight or obese have significantly shorter lifespans than pets that are at a normal weight. While these facts may be frightening, helping your pet lose weight doesn’t have to be! We can help you determine if your pet is overweight, and if they are, how to best help them to lose weight.
How to tell if your pet is overweight
Determining if your dog or cat is overweight is easy in just a few steps. First, your dog’s or cat’s ribs should be easily felt under their skin. If you can see the outlines of all the ribs, they are too thin! If you can feel the ribs easily, but not see each one, they are probably at a good weight. If there is a layer of padding over the ribs that makes them hard to feel, your pet is likely overweight. Next, your pet should have a “waist” after their ribs when viewed from above and a “tucked up” abdomen when viewed from the side. If they do, they are at a good weight. If their abdomen cannot be easily distinguished from their ribs by sight, they are probably overweight. Different breeds of dogs have more of a waist or tucked up abdomen than others. A greyhound will definitely have a more defined waist than a Dachshund! Here are pictures of a cat and a dog with ideal body weights. The link below for the AAHA chart also provides pictures of underweight, ideal weight, and overweight pets.
Source: PurinaSource: Purina
Veterinarians use a scoring system, called the Body Condition Score. This helps us to determine if your pet is overweight, since not all dogs or cats should weigh the same. This AAHA Body Condition Score Chart will help you understand the Body Condition Score for your pet. An ideal body condition score for a dog or cat is a 3 on the 5-point scale, or 5 on the 9-point scale. When Dr. Wood examines your dog or cat and determines its body condition score, she will use their current weight in pounds to determine an ideal weight for your pet.
What comes next for overweight pets?
Just like with people, weight loss for pets is all about calories taken in versus the calories used each day. Once we’ve evaluated your pet, we will give you an ideal weight for your pet based on its current weight and its body condition score. We will tell you how many calories your pet should be eating each day. Then we’ll help you determine what the best diet is for your pet, and discuss appropriate daily portions. We will also ensure that there is not a medical reason for your pet being overweight, such as hypothyroidism in dogs.
We all enjoy giving our dogs and cats treats from time to time, and it’s okay to do so – as long as treats do not comprise more than 10% of your pet’s daily calories. Some types of people food are even okay, such as most fruits and vegetables (avoid garlic, onions, grapes, and raisins–they’re toxic!) and plain popcorn.
The other key part of helping your pet to lose weight is exercise. Whatever exercise your dog or cat gets now is great, so the goal during weight loss is to increase the amount. In dogs, this can be done by a few extra walks around the block or adding set amounts of time playing fetch and running around the backyard each day. With cats, we have to be a bit more creative about increasing daily exercise. For cats who enjoy playing with chase-type toys (think feather toys, lights, paper balls), two 10-minute play sessions per day is a good goal. Another way to increase your cat’s activity is to move its food to different locations, requiring the cat to always be walking or “hunting” for its food. However you are able to increase your pet’s activity level, it will greatly improve the likelihood that your dog or cat will lose weight!
Your pet should lose its extra weight gradually, ideally at about a pound per month. The links under “additional resources” at the end of this article also provide great additional information about weight loss in your dogs and cats.
The 10th Annual National Pet Obesity Awareness Day
Recently, Veterinary Services participated in the 10th Annual National Pet Obesity Awareness Day survey. We collected information on all the pets we saw in one day (age and breed of pet, number of pets in household, weight of pet, and body condition score) and submitted this information to the Association for Pet Obesity Awareness. This group then compiles survey results from across the country. The results in 2015 showed that 58% of all cats and 54% of all dogs in the United States are either overweight or obese. Our hope is to raise awareness of pet obesity in order to improve the lives and health of our pets.
Dr. Wood and the staff at Veterinary Services can help guide you through the process of weight loss in your pets, so they can live a long and happy life. If you have questions about overweight pets or would like to make an appointment to have your pet’s weight evaluated, please call us today!