Tips for Dog and Cat Owners on Managing their Pet's Weight

Written by Dr. Sarah Abood, DVM, PhD, AAVN Information
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Whether you've made your own assessment or heard it from a friend, the groomer or your veterinarian, it's worth paying attention to your pet's body condition. Regardless of the age of your pet, carrying extra weight can put stress on bones and joints, force the heart and lungs to work harder, and/or put your pet at greater health risk than dogs/cats in lean body condition. Body condition scoring is an evaluation tool, used routinely by veterinarians to assess lean muscle and fat stores in animals. Body condition scores are set on a scale, usually 1 to 5 or 1 to 9, where the low number equates to thin or emaciated and the highest number equates to morbidly obese. With some practice, any pet owner can become good at assigning a body condition score to their pet. Ask about how to get started at your pet's next visit to the veterinarian!

Dogs and cats with a body condition of 6 (or greater on a scale of 1-9), or greater than 3 (on a scale of 1-5), might benefit from losing a little weight. Although it's often easier to say than to do, the simplest way to shed pounds is to take in fewer calories than are needed. The flip side is to increase the activity level of an animal high enough so that more calories are burned than the pet consumes each day. Before starting any weight loss program for a pet, owners should seek the advice of their veterinarian.

You'll want to make sure your pet has been examined and that there are no underlying problems before you and your veterinarian discuss the best weight management plan for your pet. In addition to a thorough physical examination, getting a complete diet history will be important. Knowing exactly what is being fed, who's doing the feeding, and how often will allow your veterinarian a clearer understanding of which recommendations will work best for you and your pet.

Here are some suggestions worth considering and talking about with your veterinarian:

  1. start by estimating how many calories your pet needs to maintain its current weight; a general equation for animals greater than 2 kg and less than 50 kg is [body weight in kg x 30] + 70 = (kilo)calories per day
  2. determine the caloric content of the food(s) you are feeding (or wish to feed); this can be done by looking on the package or contacting the manufacturer directly
  3. keep a food diary for at least 5 days and pay close attention to documenting every item of food that is offered, how much and when each item is fed
  4. use only an 8oz measuring cup to portion out dry kibble each day; 8oz measuring cups are the size used by pet food companies when reporting calories per cup
  5. consider feeding several small meals over the course of a day, rather than only once or twice; this may reduce an animal's desire to scavenge
  6. identify those snacks and treats that are high in calories and replace them with no-calorie or low-calorie treats, such as fruits, veggies and rice cakes
  7. treats and snacks should be portioned out in small amounts, no bigger than the size of your thumbnail
  8. all food, treats or snacks should be fed from a food bowl, not from your hand
  9. require your pet to perform a trick or complete an obedience command before offering a treat or snack; make your pet work for everything!
  10. consider placing the food bowl at the top or bottom of a staircase, so that you pet must climb stairs to reach its food (you get a little exercise this way too!)
  11. when exercising outdoors is not an option, have your dog do some doggy sit-ups before each meal or for a treat ("sit" and "lay down" repeated three times)
  12. Purchase a toy that can hold small pieces of kibble and use it as a means to provide exercise and some of the pet's daily calories.
Not all of these tips will work for you and your pet, but some of them might and now is a great time to try! Rather than waiting until nicer weather comes along, pay attention now to how much, what and when you're feeding, if and how your pet gets exercise, as well as what kind of body condition your pet is in. Learn how to do a body condition check and do it once a month, along with weighing your pet.

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