Excessive weight and obesity are a growing problem among our pet population. We have become more accustomed to seeing pets that are overweight, and likewise have become intolerant to seeing any animals that can be perceived as thin (protruding bones, small waist, etc.). Every pet that receives a complete physical examination from one of our veterinarians will receive a body condition score or BCS. This is an evaluation of the pet’s body condition against what is ideal for that individual pet. BCSs are scored on a 1 to 9 scale with one (1) being emaciated, five (5) being ideal, and nine (9) being grossly obese. BCSs are based only on that pet, not against other animals.
If it is determined that your pet needs to lose weight, there are several factors that should be considered; Age and nutritional requirements of the pet, ability to exercise, any metabolic diseases, and source of weight gain are all important factors.
If you think that your pet’s primary weight gain comes from excessive treats, consider breaking treats into smaller pieces. Dogs and cats don’t have a good understanding of treat size, so for them, the pea sized treat is just as good as the grape sized treat, but will contain only a fraction of the calories.
Supplementing high fat treats (most commercially prepared treats are high in fat), for low fat options. If your dog enjoys crunching on a carrot, this may be a great alternative to a bone, and will have the added benefit of helping keep teeth clean as well. Keep in mind that high fat treats such as bacon, bone marrow, etc. may also predispose your pet to life threatening illnesses such as pancreatitis.
Increasing the exercise will also help reduce weight. Most of our pets spend the majority of their day sleeping on the couch while we are at work. In the wild, the bulk of a dog or cat’s time would be spent hunting/scavenging. Start small and work your way up. Try going for walks or spend 10 to 15 minutes a night throwing the ball. You can gradually increase walk time or increase the intensity by finding an area that you can safely allow your pet to run. For cats, exercise can be more difficult but you can attempt to encourage exercise by playing with a laser pointer or feather toys. Try putting the food in different locations each day to encourage them to look around the house. For many who work, time is a big issue, so consider alternatives like hiring a dog walker or doggie day care if you find you are unable to consistently exercise your pet.
Sometimes you make all the changes and do everything right, and find that you still can’t get the extra weight off your pet. It is possible that there may be an underlying metabolic disease that is to blame. Diseases like hypothyroidism can cause excessive weight gain in spite of a good diet and exercise. Some of these diseases are treatable and easy to diagnose by your pet’s lifestyle, recent history and some blood testing, however other diseases may require a more advance work up.
Just as with people, it is important to consult with your veterinarian prior to any changes in diet and exercise. We are happy to help you develop long term plans that will be safe for your pet, help you determine goals and provide strategies to reach those goals.
Jacquie Preston, DVM