Pet obesity is one of the most common health issues seen by veterinarians. Obesity is more than just a cosmetic problem, as overweight pets are at a higher risk of disease and injury.
Managing your pet’s weight is a crucial part of maintaining a better quality of life and long life expectancy. Fortunately, with a little dedication, managing your dog or cat’s weight isn’t difficult.
How to Tell if Your Pet’s Weight is Healthy
A healthy weight is more than just a number on the scale. Even two pets of the same breed may be healthiest at different weights, so it’s important to consider your pet’s body composition rather than how much he or she weighs.
Take a look at your pet from above. He or she should have a visible waist behind the ribs. When viewed from the side, your pet’s waist should tuck up behind the ribs. For most breeds, if your cat or dog does not have a defined waist, it’s a sign of being overweight.
To further determine if your pet is at a healthy weight, try feeling the ribs. The ribs should have a slight layer of fat over them and be easily felt with a little pressure. If you cannot feel the ribs at all or need to use significant pressure to feel them, your pet needs to lose a little weight.
You can repeat this process on other parts of your pet’s body such as the spine and hips. As with the ribs, you should be able to feel the bones through a slight layer of fat. If the bones cannot be felt, your pet is overweight. If the bones are prominent with little fat cover, your pet is too thin.
However, it’s important to note that some breeds may have more prominent hip and spine bones than others. Sighthounds, for example, have a different body type than most breeds of dog and may show more bone while still being at a healthy weight.
Additionally, some breeds, like Labrador Retrievers, may not show the same waist tuck from the side as a Greyhound might. This does not mean that the dog is overweight, but you will need to use other methods, such as feeling the ribs, to determine the dog’s condition.
If you are not sure whether your pet is at a healthy weight, be sure to ask your veterinarian. Your vet will also be able to make specific recommendations on maintaining a healthy weight based on your pet’s current condition.
Pet Weight Loss
Before beginning any weight loss program, it’s important to have your veterinarian screen your pet for any underlying health issues that may be causing changes in weight. Once your pet has been cleared by the vet, you can begin to determine what changes need to made in order to reach a healthy weight.
It’s important to note that weight loss is not a quick process, nor should it be. To avoid illness and injury, weight should be lost slowly over a period of several weeks or months. Your veterinarian will be able to give you an accurate estimate of how much weight your pet needs to lose and how long it should take.
Your Pet’s Diet
One of the most important aspects of weight management is feeding your pet a healthy diet. There are several brands of pet food on the market formulated with lower calories to promote weight loss, but it’s recommended to feed a high-quality diet high in meat content.
The key in promoting weight loss with any pet food is to reduce portion sizes. Remember, the portion sizes listed on the food bag are only a recommendation and you may need to adjust it to suit your pet’s unique needs.
Although some pets are able to maintain a healthy weight with food available at all times, free feeding is not recommended for most pets. It’s better to give them healthy portion sizes at regular mealtimes, usually twice per day.
When considering your companion’s portion sizes, it’s important to include any treats that he or she receives in a day. A small biscuit a few times per day in addition to regular meals can add unnecessary calories and slow down weight loss progress.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t give your pet treats, but just remember to include them in any calorie calculations. Edible chews should also be included as some can be high in calories.
Exercising Your Pet
In addition to decreasing portion sizes, you should be increasing your pet’s daily exercise. However, this needs to be done slowly as your companion will need to gain fitness over time, especially if they have a very sedentary lifestyle to begin with.
For dogs, increasing exercise can be as simple as walking around the neighborhood. Even walks as short as 15-20 minutes a few times per day can be enough to begin burning calories. Low impact exercise such as swimming is also recommended, especially if your pup experiences joint pain.
Cats can be a bit harder to exercise, but it’s not impossible once you figure out your feline’s preferred play style. Interactive toys are a great way to get your cat moving, but be aware that you may need to start with short play sessions and build duration over time.
If your living situation allows, providing your feline friend with cat furniture to climb can help build strength and fitness. Outdoor spaces are also great for building fitness, as long as they are enclosed and can keep your kitty safe.
Training sessions are also a great way to increase your animal’s activity and exercise his or her brain. If your pet is food motivated, you can use a portion of each meal’s kibble as training treats. You can also find many low-calorie training treats at your local pet store or favorite online retailer.
If your pet suffers from any health issues that limit their mobility, you may also need to consider adding joint supporting supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin, or CBD oil. Easing joint pain can encourage your pet to be more active to shed those extra pounds.