A Guide to Managing Your Pet's Weight
The first thing you want to do is be sure that your pet is actually overweight. Breeds of animals come in all different shapes and sizes. What may look like obesity and one breed may not actually be for yours. So confirming with your veterinarian that the pet does actually have a weight issue is absolutely the first step here. This veterinary visit also allows your vet to check for metabolic or hormonal issues that could be causing the weight shift. Especially if you haven’t changed how you’re feeding your pet.
So let’s say…gasp… your vet agrees that your pet is overweight and is without a medical reason for the weight gain. You’ll want to figure out where the extra calories are coming from? Without a medical issue the problem can become clear. It’s either under exercising or overfeeding. There are even medications that can cause shifts in weight that can be surprising. Getting down to the why behind the wait is super important.
There are few things more special than the time we set aside to feed our pets. So having to modify that can seem scary but you have options! You can change to a reduced calorie pet food. These diets are designed to still provide all the necessary nutrients while limiting calorie intake by adding in things like fiber. Often this allows your pet to still feel full, but not getting as many calories in the process. But we love feeding what our pet’s like and if your pet is not excited about the reduced calorie food you can feed their normal food but control the portions. Feeding the same foods that you love and that your pet loves is just fine. Decreasing the amount given at each meal may be all your pet needs to drop the excess weight. Another important aspect of calorie control is remembering that treats have calories too! If you enjoy giving a lot of treats, you really will have to scale down how much of the normal food your pet is recommended. Treat intake should be less than 10% of your pet’s total calories daily. You can give a low-calorie frozen broth treat in the place of a high calorie chew.
If you suspect that you’re overfeeding, try decreasing by 10% on a monthly basis until you start to see physical changes in your pet’s appearance. Suddenly trying to cut down to half of the amount that you’re feeding is stressful for everybody involved so slow and steady is the best way to go.
Physical exercises are another great way of managing weight for your pets. This can mean taking extra walks or play sessions or maybe even taking up agility training. For cats, extra exercise can be a little more challenging. For kitties, I recommend adding and climbing structures, laser chases and interactive puzzle toys to their daily habits to burn calories. Remember to increase the activity level gradually if exercise is new to your pet. It is tiring!!
You along with your veterinarian should set a realistic goal for what your pet should weigh. There isn’t a magic number usually - we go by the body condition scoring. Setting a goal that you can see the results of is the best way. Something like not having a butt dimple or no longer having their belly touch the ground when they walk are very reasonable and absolutely attainable.
You can do regular weigh-ins if you’re aiming for a number range to be sure you’re on track but I’m a huge fan of taking weekly pictures of your pet in the same background/pose so that you can see progress and make any necessary adjustments to their plan.
The key to pet weight loss is being consistent, sticking to the feeding and exercise schedule as closely as you possibly can and being sure that everyone in the house understands why you’re working on the weight. Everybody in the home must be on board with the weight loss plan! Explaining that while it may seem like they are helping the pet by sneaking treats or feeding - it just helps to pack on the pounds.
You’ll want to be sure that every person in the house understands the value of this weight loss journey.
Monitoring and adjusting as you go is important so that you don’t overdo the weight loss! No one wants your pet to be skinny or starving. Remember that the goal is a healthy body condition so that your pet’s frame can support the weight that they carry around decreasing the possibility of long-term health issues because of excess weight.
Much like with humans, a weight loss journey can be stressful for your pets, maintaining a positive attitude and providing support can look like snuggles instead of extra food. This swap helps them to feel the love that’s coming from you while you’re working to adjust their body to keep them as healthy and healthy as possible for longer.
You will find that having a pet that is overweight at first may sound scary. In reality, it is something that every pet parent can absolutely manage - once you figure out whether or not there’s a medical concern and act accordingly. There are many tools and strategies that you can use at home to help make this adjustment as easy as possible. Remember that weight loss and having a good body condition for their breed is more than just them looking good. The weight loss helps to maintain their organ function and joint health for longer. So if feeding a little bit less means keeping them in our lives longer, it’s absolutely worth it!