Overweight pets face the same associated health risks as humans. It’s up to owners to manage their fitness.
Think a personal chef would be the ideal way to eat healthy, control calories and lose weight? Seems logical, but success would depend on what of type of chef you had and what he was cooking. Our pets have personal chefs (us!), yet up to 40 percent of them are overweight. In most cases, pet obesity is a people problem, not a pet problem. We control their food and exercise.
There’s no question obesity is detrimental to the health and lifespan of our pets. We know a dog that is maintained at an ideal body weight will live almost two years longer than a moderately overweight dog. The difference in lifespan is even more pronounced when comparing a healthy-weight dog to an obese one. The reason is simple: Just as in humans, obesity predisposes to arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, organ dysfunction and many other major health issues. Overfeeding your dog or cat is literally killing them with kindness. If you want them to live as long as possible, there’s no substitute for a healthy diet, regular exercise and proper weight maintenance.
To determine your pets ideal weight, you should begin by feeling their ribs and waist. Pets at a correct weight will have ribs that are somewhat prominent and easily felt with little fat. Just like humans, the waist of a dog or cat is located between their last rib and their hipbones. Ideally you will observe an indention on both sides that resembles something like an hourglass when looking down at them from above. If you don’t see this hourglass, but rather a straight side or lateral bulge, then your pet definitely needs to lose weight. Your veterinarian can help determine a target weight, as well as eliminate any medical reasons for the increased weight such as hypothyroidism.
The formula for losing weight is uncomplicated: Burn more calories than you consume. While its simple in theory, it can be challenging to implement, even with dogs and cats. A brisk 30-minute walk several times a week is an excellent start. In addition, you can feed a reduced-calorie or prescription weight loss diet to help your pet lose pounds without having to eat less kibble. I highly recommend using a measuring cup to accurately calculate food amounts at each meal, as it can be very easy to misjudge.
Always take the suggested feeding amounts on the food bag with a grain of salt — they’re only intended to be a general starting point. Pets are individuals and their nutritional needs vary. Some may need less food than recommended to maintain a healthy weight, especially if they are older, prone to obesity or sedentary. If your dog or cat is hungry between meals, try feeding smaller meals more frequently or provide a crunchy, low-calorie snack such as carrots between meals. Lastly, remember that starvation is not an appropriate diet plan! Aim for a weekly weight reduction of between 1-2 percent for healthy weight loss.
Kent Bruner, D.V.M., is the Managing Director and Veterinary Services Coordinator for Canine Assistants, a Georgia-based service dog school. He is a graduate if Oklahoma State University College of Veterinary Medicine and has spent several years in private practice.