Your love for your pet is obvious—at every visit to MetroPet Veterinary Clinic, we can see your love in every interaction and hear it in your voice. There’s no denying the deep and unconditional bond you share. However, when shared affection includes sharing food, this beautiful relationship can take a tragic and unnecessary turn.

What’s the big deal about overweight pets?

Pet obesity is one of the most common preventable diseases diagnosed in the United States, affecting more than half of all dogs and cats nationwide. Unfortunately, many doting owners don’t realize that overindulging their pet now may be depriving them of years down the road.

The average overweight dog’s lifespan was 2.5 years shorter than healthy weight dogs, one study showed. This is partly because obese and overweight dogs and cats are at an increased risk for life-altering chronic conditions, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Orthopedic injury
  • Heart and respiratory disease
  • Feline lower urinary tract disorders
  • Reduced immune function
  • Increased risk for anesthetic complications

Excess fat tissue creates a harmful inflammatory environment, causing pain and degeneration. And, because pets cannot rationalize their discomfort, overweight pets suffer more fear, anxiety, and stress at home and in the veterinary clinic.

Assessing your pet’s weight

If you suspect your pet is overweight, it’s time to take your eyes off the screen and take a good look at your pet. An at-home assessment is quick and easy, and can tell you a lot about your pet’s physical condition. Similar to a human body mass index, veterinarians use a body condition scoring (BCS) system to determine if your pet is at a healthy weight. Scoring steps include:

  • Palpating your pet’s ribs — You should easily feel your pet’s ribs that should have a protective minor fat layer. If you must apply pressure or can feel only a few ribs, your pet is likely overweight.
  • Looking for a waistline — When you view your standing pet from above, they should have a visible waist or hourglass shape between their last rib and the pelvis. Overweight pets have no visible waist or may curve outward.
  • Checking for an abdominal tuck — When you view your pet from the side, their abdomen should tuck in or curve upward from the last rib to the groin. Although some cats naturally have a low-hanging pouch of extra skin and fatty tissue, they should not look pot-bellied. 

If your pet doesn’t meet the above criteria, or scores above a 4 or 5 on the body condition score chart, schedule an appointment at MetroPet Veterinary Clinic. 

Weigh in—your pet’s weight loss consultation

Many people oversimplify weight, believing that weight loss is only a matter of reducing calories and increasing exercise. That advice may work for maintaining a healthy weight, but it’s not always the safest or most effective way for pets to lose weight, especially those who are severely overweight.

Before you change your pet’s routine, your pet should have a full physical examination by the MetroPet Veterinary Clinic team, so we can look for health-related causes for your pet’s weight gain. These can include thyroid dysfunction, endocrine abnormalities, or pain-related issues (e.g., arthritis or orthopedic injury) that reduce your pet’s physical activity. 

Your veterinarian will also review your pet’s daily schedule, including their food type and amount, daily treats, and exercise or activity, and make personalized diet and portion size recommendations.

Loving your pet with portion control

Despite those pleading, sad puppy-dog eyes, saying “No” to extra treats and table scraps means “Yes” to more healthy years with your pet. Here are a few quick tips to help your pet shed those unnecessary pounds.

  • Measure your pet’s food — Ask your veterinarian the calorie amount your pet should consume per day, and then calculate your pet’s daily portions. Use a measuring cup to ensure precise portions. Avoid adding calorie-packed toppers to entice your pet to eat—only a small amount of low sodium chicken broth is acceptable.
  • Meal feed your pet — If your pet is a grazer who enjoys eating throughout the day, replace their all-day buffet with two or three small meals. Meal feeding can accelerate metabolism, prevent boredom-based overeating, and allow you to monitor your pet’s appetite.
  • Give only healthy treats — Commercial pet treats and table scraps are loaded with calories, sugar, salt, and fat, and excessive quantities can not only result in weight gain, but also dangerous conditions, such as pancreatitis, diabetes, or toxicity. Swap unhealthy favorites for new flavors, including apple slices, popcorn, carrots, rice cakes, lean meat, and antioxidant-rich blueberries.  
  • Feed small treats — Positive reinforcement training requires a lot of treats, so if you’re actively training your pet, pre-measure their daily allotment and break each treat in small pieces. Pets are more delighted by the treat experience than the treat’s size, so they’re not likely to notice the change. Better yet, use a portion of your pet’s daily meals for training.

Step up your relationship with pet-friendly exercise

Physical activity is essential for effective pet weight loss, but an effective exercise regimen does not need to be complicatedin fact, challenging exercise can be dangerous for out-of-shape pets. After your veterinarian has cleared your pet for activity, aim for short daily sessions of cardiovascular exercise (i.e., brisk walking, or playing with a motorized toy, to increase the heart rate). If your pet fatigues quickly, don’t rush—take a rest day and try again later.

When you begin a weight loss program for your pet, rememberthey didn’t reach their current condition overnight, and they won’t slim down quickly. Have patience, focus ahead, and remember your motivation—that should be enough to keep you going. For all your pet problems, contact MetroPet Veterinary Clinic.