We have all sat down to enjoy a meal only see sad puppy dog eyes looking back at us. “What could just a little bit hurt?” we think to ourselves. Truthfully, a little bit wouldn’t hurt, if it were truly only a little bit to our furry friends.
While the average human needs 2000-2500 calories per day, your average lap dog needs only about 250 calories total a day. One ounce of chicken contains 50 calories which is not much to us, but is 20% of your pets total daily needs. Add up all of those tiny little snacks throughout the day and you pet ends up getting way more calories than it needs daily. We also overestimate the amount of kibble our pets need. Your average cup of adult dog food has a little more than 300 calories per cup. To us that seems like it’s not enough for our pets, and many of them would be happy to eat more if we offer. However, when we look at what our pets actual caloric needs are, we are exceeding them. It’s no wonder 50% of companion animals are overweight.
Image courtesy of Association for Pet Obesity Prevention
Besides overfeeding, another major cause of obesity in pets is boredom and lack of exercise. Our domesticated pets were meant to scavenge and hunt for their food. It was not laid out for them in abundance. They had to work for their food. They were always looking for their next meal, just to get by. That in of itself, was exercise. Now, we put their entire day’s worth of food into a bowl, and if they’re lucky, we split it up into multiple meals. Your average dog is also lucky to get daily walks to stimulate their senses, but even that can fall by the wayside if the yard is fenced, the weather is bad, or busy schedules prevail. Cats are left even more bored since so much of their instincts are to hunt and play, but that leaves the highlight of their day to when they hear the food bag rustle or the can open.
Many pet owners are surprised when I tell them their pet is overweight. Often their pet is only mildly overweight, but even that little extra bit of weight can cause problems. Pets that are overweight live, on average, two entire years less than ideal weight pets. There are many reasons for this. Extra weight can exacerbate arthritis pain and advance the disease. Pets that are overweight are more likely to develop diabetes that requires daily injections, costly insulin and blood glucose monitoring. Most carcinogens are lipophilic, “fat-loving” and stay stored in fat cells allowing them to cause a cancer in an overweight pet that a normal weight pet would be able to avoid.
Over the years our idea of what a normal weight pet looks like has changed, which has created the “new normal” of overweight pets. Some people with ideal weight pets are even chastised as “starving” their pet by other pet owners. You should be easily be able to feel and count your pets ribs when you run your hand over their chest. When you look at your pet from above, they should have a pinch right before their hips or a “coke bottle” shape. When looking at them from the side, there should be a tuck at their abdomen with their belly sloping upward from their chest to their groin.
Image courtesy Hill's Pet Nutrition®
So now that you have discovered your pet is overweight, what can you do? The first this to determine is if you are actually and accurately measuring the amount of food they are getting. If you are not, then you need to determine how much food you have been giving them and compare that to the daily amount they should be getting. That information often on the back of the food bag and you are looking for the recommended amount for the weight you want your pet to be, not the weight they are. Even if it says you are feeding the recommended amount or under that amount, you need to start by reducing the amount you are giving them by 25%. You also need to account for all treats, snacks and table food your pet receives and if not eliminate them, reduce them by 75%. You can also use some of your pets daily amount of food as treat throughout the day, that way you both feel like they are getting something special without ruining their diet.
Walking, food puzzles, and fetch games are great ways to get your pet moving and don’t necessarily require you to leave your couch. Throwing your pets food, or treats down a hallway or across a room to require them to run for their food will be fun for both of you. If you have a couch potato pet, don’t give in; require them to move if they want their food, when they are hungry enough, they will. Food puzzles are good for all pets but especially good for cats. Cats have strong prey drive and will love to toss a toy around to reveal their meal. Commercial food puzzles can be purchased, but there are hundreds of ideas for homemade food puzzles by recycling household items that can be found with a simple Google search.
Now that you have a plan for your pet to lose weight, you need to track their weight loss. Weighing your pet can be done at home or at the veterinary clinic, but should be done every few weeks and consistently the same way on the same scale. An easy way for owners of cats and small dogs to weigh at home is to: hold your pet, step on to the scale, record the weight, release your pet, weigh yourself and subtract that from the original weight. If you find after a few weeks your pet is not losing weight, or weight loss has plateaued, ask your veterinarian if you pet would benefit from a prescription weight loss diet or needs blood testing to determine if there are diseases contributing to your pets weight such as hypothyroidism.
We often equate food with loving our pet, but in reality, by letting our pets get overweight we are shortening their lifespan. We are loving them to death. With determination and the proper tools, weight loss can be easy. Loving our pet requires us to make sure that we are preventing the diseases we have control over such as obesity. Ask your veterinarian if your pet needs to lose weight and how you can help make that happen.