A Little Extra "Love"

One of the most common conversations I have with pet owners is in regards to their pet's weight. Greater than 50% of adult dogs are overweight or obese and that percentage increases in among older pets. Whenever I inform a pet owner their pet is overweight, I usually receive one of two different responses: "Doc, he/she just has a lot of extra love on them" or "he/she is just big boned". FALSE!

As a Veterinarian, it is our job to inform every pet owner of anything that might be harmful to their pet including their weight. The fact is that being overweight predisposes a dog or cat to a number of health conditions such as: diabetes, osteoarthritis, respiratory disease, heart disease, and even some types of cancers. A pet that is overweight is also at an increased risk under anesthesia if they were to need a surgical procedure or something else requiring anesthesia. Many overweight pets have a lower energy level and are unable to be as active as they once were.

Causes of Weight Gain

  • overfeeding and free-feeding

  • lack of exercise

  • age/breed

  • whether or not the pet is neutered/spayed

  • diseases (hypothyroidism, diabetes mellitus, Cushing's disease)

  • feeding people food

  • high blood pressure

  • kidney disease

  • chronic inflammation

Is Your Pet Overweight?

Knowing how to assess your pet's weight is the first step in establishing if they are overweight or at an ideal body condition. Whether you have a dog or cat, size and breed does not matter, you should be able to feel their ribs but not see them. If you stand over your pet and look down at their back when they are standing up, you should be able to see the last rib which indicates the back of the rib cage. From that point moving towards the tail, you should see the body become more narrow. This is their "waist". If you cannot see a defined waist, your pet is likely overweight.

When you look at your pet from a side profile, you can locate the back of the rib cage again. From this point, your pet's abdomen should be slightly tucked up. If the abdomen is running parallel with the bottom of the rib cage, your pet is likely overweight. You should always be able to see this abdominal tuck.

In the Veterinary hospital, we use a scale called a body condition score to have an objective measurement of your pet's weight. Be sure to ask your pet's Veterinarian where they are on the scale.

Control The Feedings

We have all heard the saying "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach". I will second that! I love food! It is safe to say that this also applies to our pets. Over time, that extra kibble in the bowl each meal or that extra treat can really start to pack on the pounds. We all love to spoil our dogs but we have to know when to draw the line.

Keeping track of both your pet's meals as well as their treats can give you a better picture of the calories that are adding up. Although commercially produced pet foods must meet AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) nutritional standards, which ensure that they contain protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water in certain proportions, treats are often not nutritionally complete and balanced and can contain a lot of calories.

Every time I speak with a client about their pet being overweight, I always ask how much they are feeding them. Most will respond with "I am feeding X number of cups per day". My next questions is "What does that cup look like". One cup from an actual measuring cup is far different than 1 cup from a Tumblr glass. It is important to use a measuring cup and follow the feeding chart on the food bag. Most pets are overfed due to lack of exact measuring of the food for each feeding. Make sure that whoever is feeding the pet knows the exact amount the pet should be receiving for each feeding.

Say Yes To Exercise

To keep Fluffy slim and trim, you also need to give him plenty of opportunities for regular exercise, keeping in mind what’s appropriate for his age and health status, of course. If your vet gives you the all clear, a vigorous daily walk is a great place to start for many dogs. While you might not have much luck getting your kitty to walk on a leash, regular play periods with fun toys, such as a light pointer or tossed ball, can help keep him active, healthy and happy.

Dogs are excellent work out partners. A recent Northwestern University study indicates that dogs and people can help each other lose weight. Three groups were compared: people-only, dogs-only, and dogs-with-their-people. Participants in each group were given diet and exercise plans based on body mass index. Results indicate that human-dog teams are more likely to stick with a weight-loss program. The completion rate of the group with dogs and people were much higher than the other two groups. Grab the leash and get outside!


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