For we humans, it’s that time of year–time to hit the gym, watch our intake, and burn off those extra turkey calories! It’s also a good time to ask yourself if your dog or cat couldn’t also benefit from a bit of the same discipline.
We know weight loss is tough for anyone: two- or four-legged! However, losing weight and getting in shape can add years to your pet’s life (or yours); it can also make those extra years more enjoyable. We are just now learning how serious and threatening a few extra pounds can be for both humans and our furry companions. Helping your pet lose weight requires understanding the need for weight loss and fitness, attention to detail, commitment to your pet’s exercise plan, and simple assistance from your veterinary healthcare team.
Pet Fat Facts
Most pets are quite a bit smaller than people. Just a couple of pounds, that would hardly show on a human frame, can represent a substantial obesity risk for a cat or dog.
- A 12 pound Yorkie is the same as a 5’4″ woman weighing 218 pounds.
- A 90 pound female Labrador retriever is equal to a 186 pound 5′ 4” woman or a 217 pound 5′ 9” man.
- A fluffy feline that weighs 15 pounds is equal to a 218 pound 5′ 4” woman or 254 pound 5′ 9” man.
Medical Risks of Pet Obesity
Unfortunately, when a dog/cat is overweight or obese it no longer is a question of “if” your pet will develop a condition secondary to the excess weight but “how many and how soon!” Some of the common disorders associated with excess weight include:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Respiratory and Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Many forms of cancer – especially intra-abdominal cancers
Causes of Obesity:
- Free-Feeding– Always leaving out a full bowl of food will enable the majority of pets to overeat. This also leads to overfeeding your pets especially when multiple family members “top up the bowl”. Just 10 extra kibbles of dry cat food can add up to one pound of weight gain annually.
- Over feeding at meals– When the recommendations on the back of the bag are for one cup they don’t mean the extra large mug the folks at the office got you on your birthday. Always use an actual measuring cup that can be provided by your veterinary team.
- Too many treats– It can be hard to resist those soulful puppy dog eyes ! Food does not mean love! Too many treats or treats high in calories can also lead to weight gain. Just one potato chip is equal to half a quarter-pounder hamburger to a cat.
- To little Exercize- Our pets need play time/exercise too. Cats can benefit from 5-15 minute bursts of activity. Dogs require regular walks for a specific period of time depending on your dog/breed. Schedule times for play. This not only helps with your pets health but yours as well.
Is my Dog or Cat Overweight?
Its not always easy to tell if your pet is overweight. You should consult your veterinarian to get his/her opinion, but here are a few tips.
- Waistline Check– Stand to one side of your pet as they are standing. The area between your pet’s ribs and hindquarters should be tucked up, rather than a straight line with the rib cage or even sagging down below the rib cage.
- Feel the Ribs– Stand your dog/cat up and stand over them. You should be able to easily feel your pet’s ribs, with a slight fat covering, and be able to feel each individual rib.
- Look for the Waist– Again with your pet standing stand, look at them from above. Between their ribcage and their butt you should be able to see a definite waist.
- Behaviour Signs– Some overweight pets will show mobility problems. They may have difficulty jumping onto the couch or beds, or seem very exerted after small amounts of exercise. They may stop in the middle of a walk due to pain or because they are winded. Some refuse to walk at all.
Weight Loss Tips for getting your Pet to a Healthy Weight:
1. Start with a quick trip to the vet. You should never start a weight loss program without consulting your veterinary health team. This is because there may be a medical condition that is causing your dog’s excess weight. Some common diseases are associated with weight gain including hypothyroidism and hyperadrenocorticism or Cushing’s disease. These diseases, along with others, should be eliminated as possible causes or contributors to your dog’s weight issue prior to beginning a diet. Too many dogs start on a diet and fail to lose weight simply because the diet wasn’t the problem – a disease was. Our veterinarians will examine your pet to establish their good health and calculate an ideal weight.
2. Modify your feeding habits
- Decreasing the number of treats you give.
- Measure the amount of food you are feeding at each meal.
- Change your pet’s food to a weight loss diet with the help of your veterinarian.
- Avoid free feeding.
3. Gradually increase your pets activity level
- Walk the dog–it’s good for both of you! Letting your dog out in the back yard is not enough exercise! Most dogs won’t run around by themselves. Take your dog for walks for the length of time or distance recommended by our veterinary team. If your dog is not accustomed to vigorous exercise then you may need to gradually build up to the amount of exercise he or she will tolerate, starting slowly with small walks often throughout the day. Regular exercise is better than the one or two hour long/high endurance runs during the week.
- Try new activities like agility classes, swimming, playing at an off-leash park, going for a hike, ball chasing…there are plenty of ways to enjoy time with your canine family member.
- Play with your cat using a toy like a cat dancer to encourage them to be active.