The people at College Village Animal Clinic really care about Bearded Dragons. Our dragon, Ajax, is grateful.Read full story: Tim Pearson
Balanced nutrition and a healthy weight are important components in helping your pet enjoy a long life. Like us, overweight pets have a higher risk of many health problems. Overweight pets are at a higher risk for osteoarthritis, diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease, and musculoskeletal injuries such as cruciate tears and hip and elbow dysplasia. Despite all that we know about the benefits of maintaining a healthy weight, more than half of all cats and dogs are overweight to some degree. We know it is hard to navigate the deep waters of pet nutrition so our doctors have put together some helpful tips and websites to get you started towards a healthier, slimmer pet.
Before we get started, it is important to remember that obesity may be due to an existing health problem. If your pet has a ravenous appetite or you are unable to control your pet’s weight with a reasonable diet and exercise plan, a medical problem must be ruled out. Also, any rapid changes in weight (up or down) are a cause for concern. Ask us about blood testing to check for existing metabolic problems such as thyroid disease or diabetes mellitus.
Is it worth all the effort? You Bet! It has been proven that dogs and cats maintaining ideal body weight live almost two years longer (and with significantly less disease) than their overweight siblings. That is a lot of snuggle time to enjoy! OK – Let’s get started!
How to tell if your pet is overweight?
The best way is to stand above your pet and look down on them. You should see a taper at the waistline (between where the ribs end and the hips begin). This is where the term hourglass figure should come to mind. If they are more egg shaped than hour glass, they are overweight. Next, feel along their sides. You should be able to feel their ribs but not see them. If you can’t feel them without pressing, they are overweight.
Need more convincing? You can use a system called the body condition score. We use this system here at CVAC. Several different body condition scores can be easily found online, here is a link to the Hill’s one we use here in the clinic. This one asks you a few quick questions about your pet and then provides you with their body condition score and target weight.
The scoop on feeding your pet!
This probably seems pretty simple right? It’s just putting food in a bowl afterall. Well, yes, but here is where the importance of portion control must be stressed. It is important to determine what your pet’s daily caloric needs are, and then tailor their diet and feeding plan accordingly. This part can get tricky, understanding how much your pet should weigh isn’t always as straightforward as it could be. You may need to see your pet’s doctor to determine exactly what your pet’s target weight and caloric intake should be. If you would like help with this important step call the clinic today. Depending on when your last visit was, we may be able to do this over the phone! Here are a couple of charts that may help:
Once you know what your pet’s target weight is and how many calories they need to be healthy, it is time to look at how you are feeding your pet and how they are eating their food. This is where the challenge is for most pet owners. Can you change your behavior to get your pet what they really need? Unless your pet has a medical condition driving their weight gain, the way that you and your family interact with and care for your pet is the primary reason that your pet is overweight. The two biggest human behaviors that can lead to weight gain are:
- failure to properly measure food servings and
- failure to account for treats and human snacks in your pet’s total caloric in-take
Measuring your pet’s food is an absolute must in the effort to help them lose weight. Understanding that your pet’s caloric needs includes snacks and any human food they get during the day is very important. If your pet will get food scraps or treats, these calories need to be taken into account and their regular dog food adjusted down so that the total calories is for their target weight needs. This is why it is important for the whole family to be involved. Your pet’s weight loss can be sabotaged by good intentions so keep the whole family informed and involved. You will likely find it surprising just how much a few treats can make a difference. Check out this treat translator to see how many calories are in some common human treats we give our pets (especially interesting if you use a piece of cheese to hide your pet’s medications).
Some tips to keep in mind and to help everyone stay on the same page:
- Measured and timed feedings are a must! Get the whole family to agree on this concept.
- Substitute apple slices or green beans as treats instead of higher calorie items. There are low calorie commercial treats for both cats and dogs available in pet stores and here at the clinic (some even help reduce tartar on their teeth!).
- If your pet eats very fast there are several ways you can slow them down. You can purchase food puzzles and other delivery systems designed to slow them down, on line or at local pet stores. An easy and low cost way to slow down your pet is to spread their kibble out on a cookie sheet.
You knew it was coming…..What about exercise?
Just like in people diet alone isn’t always enough to help your pet lose weight, so until they come up with a Daily Burn – Pet Edition, here are some tips to help your pet stay active and lose weight.
- 4 short 15 minutes walks are just as effective as one hour long walk, and they’re easier on your pet’s joints.
- Play fetch, or other games inside the house when it’s too chilly to play with them outside. Hide-and-seek is a great game to try.
- For cats, get a laser pointer, and some feathery kitty toys and spend some time getting them moving.
- Enroll in classes, whether it be obedience, agility or nosework – they all get your dog moving, and learning. Two groups who can help you with this effort are: