Overweight Management in Pets
Getting a dog or cat to lose weight can be extremely challenging and frustrating for owners. We want you to know that your veterinary healthcare team is here to support you and guide you through this process.
While it may not seem like a big deal for your pet to be a little chubby, even being 10-20% overweight can lead to serious health consequences. Overweight pets are significantly more likely to develop diseases such as type II diabetes, arthritis, skin conditions and are more likely sustain orthopedic injuries (1). In addition to being greater predisposed to various health conditions, studies have shown that obese pets life spans may be up to 2 and a half years shorter than they would be if the pet were a healthy weight (2).
If you feel that your pet is overweight, the first step is to consult with your veterinarian to ensure that there are no underlying medical conditions causing your pet to be overweight. While we most often see pets that are just in need of some diet and exercise adjustments, it is important to ensure that your pet is otherwise healthy. There are certain conditions such as hypothyroidism or other endocrine disorders that can cause weight gain in pets.
Once your pet has an otherwise clean bill of health, the veterinary team can help develop a weight loss plan for your pet. The first step is to determine the ideal weight for your pet, which we base primarily on body and muscle condition scoring rather than a specific number. It will be important to do regular check ins on weight and health with the veterinary team to ensure that your pet is on the right track, and isn't losing weight too quickly.
The biggest contributors to healthy weight loss in pets are decreasing the number of calories consumed by your pet and increasing their daily activity levels. Through a discussion with the healthcare team we can decide what the best option for the type of diet would be for your pet and lifestyle. There are a large variety of prescription diets that can be beneficial for weight loss, either through being high protein and low carb, high in fiber or even being designed in a way to boost metabolism. These diets are formulated with weight loss in mind and can make weight loss easier for your pet by allowing a larger amount of food to be fed, and increasing feelings of fullness.
It is possible to achieve healthy weight loss while still feeding your pet's regular diet, but it does present some additional challenges. It is possible that you may encounter more begging and behavioural issues from your pet if they are feeling hungry with the reduction in the amount they are fed. Another concern is that regular diets can only be limited so much before not only the caloric intake is decreased, but the nutrients needed by your pet for optimal health will also be decreased and can cause health concerns. With that in mind, any weight loss program should include regular monitoring with the veterinary team to ensure that the weight loss is both effective and healthy.
In addition to changing the amount or variety of food being given, it is also important to consider what treats or human foods are being given to factor into the total caloric intake. Using healthy treats such as vegetables or low calorie treats, or even keeping some kibble from the daily allotted amount to be used as treats will be helpful. You may also need to change up the manner in which your pets are fed, for example implementing meal feeding rather than being free fed, or feeding smaller more frequent meals to ensure you pet is not feeling hungry.
Increasing the amount of physical activity that your pet engages in can also be beneficial to weight loss and improve overall joint health and mobility. Taking into account any activity limitations your pet may have, increasing the length, frequency and intensity of walks for dogs is a good option. Varying the terrain and pace of your walks can help increase heart rate and make the most out of your walks. Additionally using toys that your dog can run after, or even tug toys are good ways to get them moving. Cats can be a bit more challenging, but utilizing feeding toys, playing with toys that they enjoy chasing (lasers, feather toys, etc) or even moving their feeding dish to a place that requires them to either go up stairs or jump up to a higher level are good options.
Overall, the most important steps to healthy weight loss are ensuring that your pet is being fed the appropriate amount for sustained weight loss, increasing activity and regular weight and health check ins with your veterinary team. We can all work together to make a plan to increase the quality and number of years you can enjoy with you furry friends.
(1) Brooks, D., Churchill, J., Fein, K., et al. 2014 AAHA Weight Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats. Journal of American Animal Hospital Association 2014; 50: 1-11.
(2) Salt, C., Morris, P.J., Wilson, D., et al. Association Between Life Span and Body Condition in Neutered Client-Owned Dogs. Journal of veterinary internal medicine 2019; 33 (1).