Obesity is a complex disease with influences of genetics, environmental factors, and other diseases. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimates that 54% of the pets in the United States are overweight or obese. Why does this matter? Pets that are overweight or obese are at risk for several diseases, including osteoarthritis (OA). Obesity is ultimately caused by consuming more calories than needed. The excess calories are stored are then stored as fat. Hormones and chemicals related to inflammation are released from this fat, causing chronic diseases such as OA. Cartoon cats with a fancy for pasta are not aspirational for our pets. Just like people, a weight loss journey is never all that simple and easy. However, in the end will lead to a more enjoyable life for your companion.
How Do I Know If My Pet is Overweight?
One of the first steps to evaluating a pet that is overweight or obese is a thorough physical examination and laboratory tests. Your veterinarian will help you evaluate your pet’s Body Condition Score (BCS) which evaluates body fat by observation and palpation. There is a 5-point scoring system and a 9-point scoring system. For most pets a body condition score of 3 on a 5-point system and 5 on a 9-point system is a good goal.
Some signs your pet is at a healthy weight are:
- Dogs: Ribs are easily felt with little fat covering. When viewed from above a waist can be seen. From the side, a stomach tuck is present.
- Cats: Ribs are easily felt with little fat covering as well. The lower spine can be clearly seen. There is an obvious waist behind the ribs with minimal stomach fat.
Tips for Weight Management
Below are some ways that can help make your pet’s weight management more beneficial and easier for the both of you:
- Weight loss foods high in protein will help encourage weight loss and a lean body while those high in fiber will keep your pet feeling full while consuming fewer calories.
- Be sure to calculate treats within your pet’s diet plan, save 10% for treats.
- Some good options are: low calorie treats and certain fruits and vegetables.
- Supplements may also be used for treats to simultaneously reward you pet and create healthier joints (Examples: Flexadin Advanced, Flexadin Plus, etc.)
- Incorporating an exercise plan is important to help your pet lose weight and relieve joint pains. Walking is always a convenient and inexpensive way to exercise. Duration, frequency and intensity can all be adjusted based on the individual pet’s needs.
- Typically a pet needs to eat 20% to 30% fewer calories than it would need to maintain weight.
- Monitor weight loss. Weigh your pet every week or so and write down the number. If weight loss stops, reevaluate what you’re doing.
- Underwater treadmill walking has also been successful for many obese cats and dogs that have a difficult time walking on their own. (Check for availability in your area.)
- Don’t expect a rapid drop in weight, but slow and steady weight loss. Pets will gradually lose weight overtime with the slowest being in cats.
Feeding a weight loss food, using supplements to maintain healthy joints, and exercising several times a week are all key parts to a good weight management program. However, the most important step each pet owner needs to take is recognizing that there is a problem and to take action. We sometimes use excuses of “she’s just fluffy” or “he’s big boned” but honesty is needed to recognize positive changes that will better the quality of your pet’s life. It isn’t easy but helping your pet lose weight and maintaining an ideal weight will make them feel better in the long run.