In 2017, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found 56% of dogs and 60% of cats are clinically overweight. This epidemic is putting pets at greater risk for certain cancers, kidney failure, diabetes, and puts excessive strain on their bones and joints.
We can only blame ourselves for these shocking statistics. Most of the time, pet owners decide what their pets eat, and when. We might be substituting food for love and attention when we’re busy, or choosing foods that are marketed as “healthy” when they’re really not. Sometimes we don’t realize when our pets are overweight because we see so few fit pets in public.
Learn how to recognize excess weight on your pet, and how to keep them fit for a longer, better life.
What Does Your Vet Say?
You can ask your vet if your pet is at an ideal weight. However, some vets will tell you that your pet is at a healthy weight even if they are a bit overweight. Vets tend to see overweight animals more often, so your pet may seem perfectly fit in comparison.
You must, however, see your veterinarian if your pet’s weight or eating habits change suddenly. These symptoms can indicate a serious condition like liver failure or diabetes.
How To Assess Your Pet’s Weight
You can compare your pet’s weight to the ideal weight range for their breed. However, these ranges do not take into account the natural variations between animals of the same breed. Your pet’s weight also does not determine their condition, as muscle weighs more than fat.
If your pet has short, sleek hair, you may occasionally be able to see some of their ribs, particularly when they stretch. Your pet should have a noticeable tuck behind their ribs, and an hourglass shape when viewed from above. An obese animal typically develops a uniform, sausage-like shape.
Your pet will look heavier while lying down or sitting in certain positions. Assess their weight while they are standing. Run your hands over their spine and ribcage. You should be able to feel your pet’s ribs beneath a thin layer of skin and fat.
Cats have a primordial pouch, a flap of skin on their belly that can make them appear overweight when they are really not. This thick skin protects their vital organs, particularly in fights with other cats. You can disregard the primordial pouch when assessing your cat’s weight – if they are healthy, you’ll still be able to feel their ribs.
Generally speaking, it’s better for your pet to eat too little, than too much. Research shows that eating 25% fewer calories improves metabolism, encourages cell repair and ultimately a longer lifespan in all animals – mice, rats, dogs and cats, even people. It’s imperative, though, that a diet with fewer calories includes nutrient-dense foods so that your pets do not become malnourished.
How To Get Your Pets In Shape
Restricting your pet’s calories by reducing their meal portions will help them lose weight. Most pets will eat more than they need if they are permitted to free-feed. It’s better to offer measured out meals than to leave food out for them to pick on. Some animals, particularly Labrador Retrievers, are genetically inclined to not feel full and may act hungry even if they are given plenty to eat. You can help curb your dog’s hunger by adding low-calorie fillers like green beans to their meals.
Many dry pet foods are full of starchy fillers that help hold the food together. Corn, rice, wheat, soy, or, in the case of grain-free foods, lentils, and peas, are all loaded with carbs that can cause your pet to gain excess weight. This is especially true for cats, who are obligate carnivores that do not metabolize carbs easily. Dogs are better suited to consume plant matter, but they still need a diet high in quality protein.
Contrary to popular belief, fat does not make pets fat. Fat provides energy and helps your pet feel full. Too much fat can lead to pancreatitis, but a moderate amount of fat is healthy for any diet, even if your pet is overweight.
You do not need to follow the weight and serving size chart on the side of the pet food bag. These are only guidelines that do not take into account your pet’s activity level, age or metabolism.
The best way to help your pet lose weight is to increase the fresh foods in their diet (produce, fish and meats for dogs, fish, and meat for cats). The water content will aid your pet’s digestion and help them feel more full.
Exercise helps your pet burn calories so you will not have to limit their food as much to create a calorie deficit: the difference between the number of calories they consume the calories they burn through the day. Interactive toys, puzzle feeders, playtime and walks can all help your pet burn calories, build muscle and lose weight.