Overweight Pets; Fighting the Obesity Epidemic

Chances are if your pet is overweight, you don’t even know it. At least that’s what a survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) says. Roughly 45 percent of pet owners with an overweight or obese pet thought their animal was at a healthy weight.

The majority of dogs and cats in U.S. households are now overweight, with 52.5 percent of dogs and 58.3 percent of cats above their ideal weight. Dr. Brandy Vickers of Avenues Pet Hospital in San Francisco says it’s something she sees all too often.

“I would say two-thirds to four-fifths of the pets I see for regular check-ups are overweight to obese,” Dr. Vickers says.

dachshund pit bull mix
Sundown is at an ideal weight, according to the Nestle Purina weight chart. If you compare this picture to the chart below, you’ll see he matches up with the side view of the number 5 dog.

Overweight and obese animals are subject to the same diseases as humans and there has been a sharp increase in pet disease, including diabetes, hypertensions and cancer. But all these debilitating conditions are preventable by keeping your pet at a healthy weight.

You might be overwhelmed if you have an overweight pet, so we’re laying out the professional tips for getting your furry friend back in shape.

Assess Your Pet

Dr. Vickers recommends this Nestlé Purina Body Chart to assess your pet’s BMI, which uses a 1 to 9 scale. Your pet should be a 4 or 5 on this scale (click on the picture to enlarge).


Tips for Assessing Your Pet’s Weight:

1. You should be able to feel the ribs easily behind the elbows.

2. When viewing the pet from above, there should be a smaller waist behind the ribs. When viewing from the side, there should be a tuck behind the ribs.

3. The ribs and spine should not feel bony, which means your pet is too thin.

The best bet is to see your veterinarian and have them assess your pet’s weight. Your doctor can also provide you with a weight-loss plan if your pet is overweight, including feeding and exercise requirements.

Too Many Calories

Much like their overweight human counterparts, pets are simply taking in too many calories. From dense pet food to table scraps to treats, our pets are taking much more than they actually need.

“It’s fun to feed treats but it’s suprising how fast those calories add up,” Dr. Vickers says. “A lot of pets still want more food even after they have consumed enough calories to maintain their weight and it can be hard to withhold food when a cute pet is begging.”

dog food suggested serving sizeMake sure you know your pet’s weight and pay attention to the suggested serving sizes on kibble bags and canned foods. Use measuring cups to dish out food; don’t just eyeball it.

But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all serving-size suggestion.

“A calculated calorie requirement can only be used as a starting point because of individual metabolism,” Dr. Vickers says. “The most accurate strategy for an ideal-weight adult is to feed a specific amount and weigh-in every one to two weeks. Then adjust the amount based on whether your pet is gaining or losing. You’ve hit the right amount when your pet’s weight is stable.”

But if your pet falls into the overweight or obese category, you’ll need to cut back those added calories.

Tips for Starting a Doggy Diet:

1. Decrease total calories by 20 percent and weigh every 1 to 2 weeks.

2. Decrease calories even more if they continue to gain weight or hit a plateau.

3. Once ideal body condition is achieved, raise the amout of food to maintain weight, once again guided by weigh-ins.

Another common feeding mistake is leaving a food bowl out at all times, including automatic food-dispensing bowls.

“That will work for self-limiting pets, but those pets are the minority,” Dr. Vickers says. “A bowl of food left out is like an all-you-can-eat buffet every single day.”

It’s better to regulate your pet’s meals and to break up his daily allotment of food into several smaller servings. Dr. Vickers says this is especially true for cats, who are made to hunt and eat ten times a day.

Here’s an example of how to break down the food: Yellow Dog eats one cup of food on a normal day, so we split it into two half-cup servings, one in the morning and one in the evening. If he gets a really long walk or is especially active at the park, he’ll get an extra half cup of food for the day after his exercise.

Yellow is also a treat hound, so we make sure to reduce his kibble intake when he gets lots of treats. Don’t forget to factor those cookies and other treats into your pet’s overall caloric intake for the day!

Not Enough Exercise

The flip-side of the obesity coin is exercise. Pets are simply not moving enough to burn off all those excess calories.

“A lot of people underestimate the amount of exercise a pet needs, or do not have the time, ability or motivation to provide it,” Dr. Vickers says.

So exactly how much exercise does your dog need? It depends on the type of dog you have.

“Herding breeds need to go to the park daily to run or play for an hour or more,” Dr. Vickers says. “I would say a 20 to 30 minute walk twice a day is a minimum even for tiny dogs.”

The APOP study also found a correlation between obesity in animals and in children. The doctors found both to be inactive and eating poorly. They suggest encouraging the kids to walk the dog to get both up and moving.

If you have a hectic schedule, try to squeeze in a 15 to 20 minute walk before and after work. Your dog will be calmer when you leave for work and healthier to boot!

Treat Alternatives

Many store-bought treats are loaded with unhealthy fat and additives. It can be a task figuring out exactly what’s in some of the commercial foods on the market.

If you’re looking for healthy and safe treats, there are a few human options worth trying. Veggies like green beans, peas and carrots fill pets up without adding too many calories. Make sure if you use the canned variety you buy the veggies in water, with no added salt, garlic or onion. Chicken without the skin, drained cooked low-fat beef, and turkey are also good additions, but keep the portions small and factor them into the overall calorie intake for the day. Yellow Dog also likes tomatoes, so we give him a cherry tomato every now and then.

Now you’re armed with the tools to get your dog or cat back into shape. Obesity and the diseases that come with it are highly preventable. Battling the bulge now will help your pet live a longer, healthier and happier life.

Note the advice in this article is not a substitute for seeing your veterinarian and getting an assessment for your pet. Your vet will provide you with the best diet and exercise instructions for your individual pet and monitor his weight.

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