Pet Obesity and Weight Management
Wednesday, October 12, 2016 is National Pet Obesity Awareness Day. According to research conducted by The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention in 2015, 58% of cats and 54% of dogs in the United States are overweight or clinically obese.
Obesity is a common health problem for dogs and cats of all ages, increasing the risk of serious diseases and health problems, such as diabetes, arthritis, and cardiovascular, respiratory, and muscular-skeletal disorders.
Because animals vary dramatically in body size and shape, an ideal weight cannot be determined by the number on the scale alone. In veterinary medicine, we visually assess your pet’s ideal weight based on a standardized Body Condition Score (BCS).
As you can see in the images below, the BCS for both dogs and cats is scaled from 1-9. Using these scales, we can notice subtle changes in your pet’s weight and make dietary and exercise recommendations based on their age, lifestyle, activity levels.
(You can also download a copy of the Body Condition Score Handouts. They are located at the bottom of the “Related Links” page on our website.)
Although some medical conditions can cause obesity (like an underactive thyroid gland in dogs), overfeeding is usually the culprit. If you do not adjust or monitor your pet’s food intake, weight gain is likely to result.
For pet’s that are already overweight, a weight loss plan should be considered. First, it’s important to have your pet examined by your veterinarian to rule out any medical conditions that may be causing the weight gain.
Generally, recommendations for weight loss in dogs and cats are very similar to recommendations for people seeking to lose weight. The doctors at Leesburg Veterinary Hospital recommend the following:
Like us, weight loss plans will involve limiting the amount of calories consumed. Make sure to follow the guidelines on your pet’s food bag and measure your pet’s meals with a dry measuring cup. If your pet is used to “grazing” throughout the day, try feeding two or three small meals (instead of just one large meal) daily. This will help increase your pet’s metabolism as well as the energy expended to eat the food; it will also help prevent your pet from getting too hungry throughout the day. If you are unsure how much food your pet needs on a daily basis, please ask your veterinarian.
For cats, try canned food. Because cats are true carnivores, they metabolize their food better if it is high protein, low carbohydrate, and moderate fat. Most canned foods contain 30-40% less carbohydrates (and more water content) than dry foods and can help aid in weight loss.
One of the biggest mistakes pet owners make is offering their pets too many treats. Treats like jerky and milk bones for dogs and Pounce snacks for cats are similar to us having a candy bar. (And we usually don’t limit the pet treats to one per day!) Instead, try offering healthy alternatives. For dogs, this includes baby carrots, snap green beans, ice cubes, apple wedges, plain rice cakes (with no salt or sugar added), or even just 4-5 of their daily allotted kibble per day. You can also mix plain canned pumpkin and non-fat plain yogurt in equal portions and freeze it into bite-sized snacks! If is important to remember that too much of anything can be bad, so still offer these healthier treats in moderation. Please stay away from grapes, onions, macadamia nuts, and raisins, as they can be toxic.
The “Green Bean Diet”
Most dogs do enjoy green beans as a treat. As you decrease the amount of kibble that your dog is eating, he or she may act more hungry. You can offer either frozen green beans or no salt added canned green beans along with your pet’s meals. This will help to add filler to your pet’s diet and allow your pet to feel more full without ingesting too many calories. In general, 1 can of green beans is equivalent to approximately 1 cup of dog food. Therefore, if you decrease your pet’s food by ½ cup, then you can offer ½ can of green beans instead.*
For cats, look for low calories snacks or try offering plain, canned pumpkin. Many cats will eat 1-2 tsp of pumpkin per day. This is a high-fiber, low-calorie snack for any pet!
Selecting a food for your pet has never been easier thanks to recent advancements in pet nutrition. Pet foods are now available that been formulated with fewer calories, more protein, antioxidants, and vitamins and for pets of all activity levels and ages. There are also diets specifically formulated for weight loss.
*When modifying your pet’s diet, it is important to not decrease their regular food intake to a level where they would be receiving inadequate amounts of nutrients and minerals. We highly recommend discussing any diet changes with your vet at your pet’s semi-annual or yearly wellness exam.
Increasing exercise to burn more calories will also help your pet lose weight. Exercise increases energy use, promotes more efficient calorie burning, and tones muscles. Before starting any exercise program, check with your veterinarian to make sure your plans are suited to your pet’s physical condition.
For dogs, a simple walk in the park may be just what they need to help control weight and stay in shape. Here in Loudoun County and Northern Virginia, we are fortunate to have many beautiful parks and green spaces to walk and hike with your dog. You can read about those places in our blog article here.
For cats, encourage active playtime at home with toys, jumping towers, or have them chase laser lights. Some cats can even be trained to walk on a harness!