It can be challenging for many pet parents to accurately assess their pet’s weight or decide how much food he really should be eating. Gradual weight gain or loss can be hard to see on a day-to-day basis and is not on the top of most of our minds. That’s why one part of a complete physical is a weight assessment. The veterinarian will give your pet a Body Condition Score (BCS) of 1-9 and will determine if his weight is a concern. Just like us, being significantly over or underweight can diminish both the quality and length of your pet’s life. There can be medical causes such as thyroid disease for both weight gain and loss, so diagnostic tests may be ordered if your pet’s weight isn’t where it should be. If you have questions about the type and amount of food you should be feeding, please ask at your pet’s next appointment; his age and nutritional needs can change and all pet foods are not the same.
If your pet is underweight (BCS 1-3), an underlying medical condition like diabetes, kidney or liver disease, or hyperthyroidism in cats is the likely cause. The vet may prescribe medication and/or a prescription diet. If your pet is healthy, she may need larger portions – every pet’s dream! When stroking your pet’s sides, you should be able to feel, but not see, her ribs.
Obesity – A Growing Problem
The more common problem is that over 50% of pets are overweight (BCS 6-9). If medical causes have been ruled out, surprise, surprise! Your pet is being overfed. Multiple family members may be succumbing to his adorable begging or believe that frequent snacks bring him happiness. Exercise is also key; our pets aren’t hunting for their food and therefore are expending fewer calories. This easily leads to excess weight. Reduced life expectancy as well as increased risk of diabetes, arthritis, respiratory problems and heart disease can be the result.
At your pet’s exam, the vet can help you set a realistic, healthy weight loss plan. Your pet’s daily food allowance (including treats) must be measured. Decide how the family will deal with the inevitable begging. If the vet has recommended them, weight loss foods and treats are available in our clinic and our online store.
If you’re used to giving lots of treats, try breaking them into smaller pieces. Pets don’t need these rewards for each and every behavior either. Many dogs enjoy low calorie treats like carrot pieces or green beans just as much as actual dog biscuits. Feed overweight cats several small meals throughout the day instead of leaving a bowl of kibble out all the time. Spayed/neutered pets require a little less food and we can calculate how many calories they should be eating.
Just like us, our pets also need exercise for weight loss, so if yours is overweight, ask us how to introduce more movement into her day. “Couch potato” pets need to begin slowly, gradually increasing their exercise. Busy dog owners can sign their pooch up for doggy day care or hire a dog walker. Cat climbers and scratchers sprinkled with catnip will encourage your kitty to move. Invest in active toys to use with your pet and food puzzles for her to use on her own. In addition to helping with weight loss, play and exercise improve metabolism and muscle tone and provide mental stimulation, all of which improve quality of life. You can even make treat time active by tossing pieces of kibble across the room for your pet to chase.
Healthy weight pets generally have lower vet bills and are at less risk under anesthesia. You can bring your pet into Oak Tree Veterinary Hospital any time for a free weight check, no appointment needed. You might also want to document your pet’s progress with “before” and “after” photos. Reward yourself and your pet for successful weight loss with extra playtime or a new toy.