As human obesity rises, a comparable rise has been observed in pets, and while weight loss programs and inspirational quotes abound for pet owners, these techniques aren’t helpful for pets. Our team at Little Animal Hospital wants to motivate your pet’s weight loss by offering advice to make the process easier.

Weight watchers need to know their pet’s risks

Excess fat cells produce inflammatory proteins called adipokines, which cause chronic, widespread inflammation throughout the body. This chronic inflammatory state contributes to several dangerous health issues, including:

  • Type II diabetes — Commonly seen in obese pets, especially cats, type II diabetes is characterized by insulin resistance, progressing to hyperglycemia. This condition results in damage to the kidneys, eyes, blood vessels, heart, and nervous system. Diabetic pets can be difficult to manage, because they require a regimented exercise program, a specific diet, and daily insulin injections.
  • High blood pressure — Obese pets are at higher risk for hypertension (i.e., increased blood pressure), which causes arterial damage to several body tissues, resulting in issues that include stroke, retinal detachment, kidney failure, and congestive heart failure.
  • Arthritis — An obese pet’s joints are overloaded by the excess weight, resulting in cartilage breakdown. The inflammatory factors produced by the excess fat cells also target non-weight bearing joints, magnifying the problem.

Several other health concerns have been related to obesity, including certain cancers, respiratory issues, pancreatitis, gastrointestinal disease, and urinary tract disorders. The take-home point is that obesity negatively impacts your pet’s quality of life and longevity.

Weight watchers should monitor their pet’s weight

During your pet’s yearly wellness visit, our veterinary professionals will assess your pet’s weight status, and perform diagnostics to evaluate them for any underlying conditions that could contribute to their weight gain. Metabolic conditions, such as hypothyroidism and hyperadrenocorticism, can cause hormonal imbalances that result in a slowed metabolism. Medications can be prescribed to manage these conditions, once they are diagnosed. At-home monitoring is also important for managing your pet’s weight. Steps you can take include:

  • Weight — Once our veterinary professionals have determined your pet’s ideal weight, use a scale to weigh your pet regularly, to monitor their progress, and determine if their current weight management program is working.
  • Body conditioning score (BCS) — The BCS is a subjective rating used to assess your pet’s weight. A number is assigned to your pet based on fat evaluation at a few key locations on their body. Regularly scoring your pet is another method to monitor their weight.

Weight watchers should manage their pet’s diet

Most commercial pet foods contain high carbohydrate levels, which is contraindicated for overweight pets. High protein diets are typically recommended for pets who need to lose weight, but you should always talk to a veterinary professional before switching your pet’s diet. Once you have found a product suitable for your pet, ensure you feed them the appropriate amount by following these steps:

  • Feeding guide — Commercial pet foods recommend on the label how much you should feed your pet. This guide should serve as a starting point.
  • Calorie calculator — Adjustments may be necessary, depending on your pet’s age, neuter status, breed, and lifestyle. Calorie calculators can help you determine your pet’s individual energy requirements.
  • Food portions — Once you have determined how much food your pet needs, weigh the portion, until you know the correct food amount using measuring cups. Estimating the amount can lead to over- or under-feeding.

Weight watchers should exercise their pets

All pets need exercise, but their breed and size affects how much. Follow these guidelines:

  • Cats — Play with your cat as often as you can, for about 10 minutes at a time. Laser pointers and fishing pole-type toys are great for getting them to zoom around the room. Allow them to catch their prey occasionally, to ensure they don’t become frustrated.
  • Toy breeds — These dogs are prone to obesity, and should receive regular exercise. Indoor activities, such as fetch, blowing bubbles, and running stairs, are great options for these little ones.
  • Brachycephalic breeds — Dogs who have short, flat faces have trouble breathing. Keep their exercise light, and take frequent breaks. Avoid exercising them outside when the weather is hot and humid. 
  • Terriers — Terriers are extremely energetic, and need at least an hour of exercise daily.
  • Herding dogs — These working dogs crave vigorous activity, and have higher exercise needs. Exercising twice per day for up to two hours is recommended.

Weight watchers should limit their pet’s treats

Most veterinarians believe that overtreating is the main contributor to pet obesity. Treats should be given in moderation, to avoid overfeeding. Guidelines to follow include:

  • 10 percent — Your pet’s treats should make up no more than 10 percent of their overall calorie intake.
  • Meal adjustment — When you treat your pet, adjust their meals accordingly, to allow for the extra calories.
  • Vegetables — Veggies are a great healthy, low calorie alternative to store bought treats. Try offering your pet carrots, green beans, cucumbers, and broccoli. Fruits can be offered as well, but they have a high sugar content, and should be fed sparingly.

Managing your pet’s weight to ensure they achieve their ideal weight is the best way to protect them from serious health conditions. If you are concerned about your pet’s weight, contact our team at Little Animal Hospital, so we can devise a weight management program to help them lose the excess pounds.