December 29, 2023

Healthy Pets: Tackling Weight Loss

Howdy there, dear pet owners and animal lovers! We hope this blog post finds you and your four-legged companions in good health and high spirits. With the start of a new year, it's the perfect time to shed light on an important topic - Pet Weight Loss Awareness Month. Today, we're here to talk about the growing concern of pet obesity and how you can ensure a healthy and happy life for your furry family members.

The Growing Concern: Pet Obesity Rates

The 2022 State of Pet Obesity Report paints a concerning picture. Pet obesity rates have continued to rise, with a staggering 59% of dogs and 61% of cats classified as overweight or obese. The implications of this extra weight are grave, as it can lead to cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, and a host of other health issues. Fortunately, our resident veterinarian, Dr. Katie Childers, is here to offer her expertise on how to combat this issue.

Is Your Pet Overweight? Check for these Signs

To determine your pet's healthy weight, your veterinarian will conduct a series of measurements and assessments to calculate your pet’s body condition score (BCS). Understanding your pet's BCS is crucial. The ideal BCS ranges from 1 (emaciated) to 9 (dangerously obese), with 4 or 5 being the healthy goal. Your pet should have visible ribs, a waist, and a tummy that doesn't sag. Achieving and maintaining a healthy body condition score (BCS) in pets is vital for reducing the risk of illness and enhancing their overall well-being.

Body Condition Chart

Performing an At-Home Body Condition Check for Your Pet

Rib Feel : When you gently run your fingers along your dog or cat's side, you should easily feel their ribs. A healthy-weight pet will have a thin layer of fat over the ribs and spine that you can feel but not see. If you detect a thick layer of fat, your pet may be overweight.

Waist Assessment: When observing your pet from above, your dog or cat should exhibit a visible waist behind the ribs. This waist should taper slightly towards the hips, creating a gentle indentation near the midsection. If your pet lacks a visible waist or has a bulging waistline, they may be overweight.

Tummy Examination: Stand beside your pet and view them from the side. In a healthy-weight pet, you should notice a slight tuck or upward slope in the tummy area. However, if the abdomen hangs low and appears to be bulging or sagging, it could indicate the presence of abdominal fat, which is the most dangerous and biologically active form of fat.

At Home Body Condition Check

Healthy Weight Ranges (examples)

While there are healthy weight ranges for cats and dogs, these should serve as a starting point for further investigation. Your veterinarian can provide personalized recommendations for your pet.

Cat Healthy Weight Range Chart
Popular Dog Breed Healthy Weight Chart

Preparing for Your Pet's Weight Loss Journey:

Losing weight can be challenging, but it's worth it for your pet's health and longevity. Dogs with obesity tend to live about two years less than their normal-weight counterparts and are at risk of various weight-related disorders. Cats possess a unique physiology distinct from humans and dogs. Achieving a healthy weight in your feline companion demands medical oversight due to the potential for severe health complications, including liver failure.

Remarkably, even a mere two-day period of a cat not eating, whether due to stress, underlying illnesses, or alterations in diet or environment, can trigger a life-threatening liver ailment known as hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease. Never embark on a weight management plan for your cat without the guidance of your veterinary healthcare team.

Dr. Childers recommends a gradual, safe reduction in calories, regular weigh-ins, and involvement of the whole family in the process.

  1. Before embarking on a weight loss program for your dog or cat, it's crucial to have them thoroughly examined by a veterinarian.
  2. Ensure that any underlying medical conditions are ruled out or addressed.
  3. To kickstart the process, determine your pet's current Body Condition Score (BCS) and set an ideal or target weight.
  4. Collaborate with your veterinary healthcare team to establish the appropriate body condition and target weight for your dog's Step Weight Loss Plan. This gradual and safe reduction in calories over time requires careful consideration. Your veterinary team can calculate your pet's Daily Energy Requirements (DER) in terms of calories needed, as overfeeding or underfeeding can be detrimental.
  5. Calculate the caloric content of your pet's food and treats.
  6. Opt for a therapeutic weight-loss diet rather than simply reducing the amount of a maintenance diet. Therapeutic weight-loss diets are designed to provide essential nutrition while safely reducing total calories.
  7. To ensure precise feeding portions, measure or weigh your dog's food and treats.
  8. Choose low-calorie, healthy treats. For Dogs - baby carrots, sliced cucumbers, and green beans. For Cats - small snacks of lean fish, egg, or poultry may help increase satiety.
  9. Enhance satiety and reduce begging behaviors by offering more frequent, smaller meals.
  10. For Cats - Incorporate hunter-feeders and food puzzles to stimulate your cat's mind during mealtimes and tap into their natural predator instincts.
  11. Incorporate daily exercise into your pet's routine, aiming for at least 30 minutes a day for dogs and two 15-minute exercise and play sessions for cats. See below for more on daily exercise
  12. Monitor your pet's progress by weighing them once a month and adjusting the plan as necessary.
  13. Engage your entire family in the process. Everyone should be aware of the feeding schedule and portion sizes during the weight-loss period.
  14. Exercise patience, as safe weight loss typically ranges from 1-5% of your dog's current body weight per month (3-5% for many dogs). Most cats will only safely lose 0.5-1.0 lbs per month. Remember that gradual progress is key to success.
Dr. Childers says, “Most pets can achieve their ideal weight within six to nine months. Regular monitoring is essential so that adjustments can be implemented if weight loss stalls.”

Promoting Exercise and Play for Your Dog:

  • Dogs need 20-30 minutes of daily aerobic exercise.
  • Engage in structured aerobic activities for 10-15 minutes twice a day.
  • Walking for weight loss is different from a leisurely stroll; keep it brisk.
  • Choose activities based on your dog's age, breed, health, and temperament.
  • Be mindful of your dog's physical condition and avoid overexertion.
  • Keep your dog hydrated during activities.
  • Start slowly if your dog isn't used to certain activities.
  • Vary activities to keep your dog engaged and prevent overuse injuries.
  • Use safe toys, balls, and games for play.
  • Consider playdates, doggie daycare, swimming, or hydrotherapy.
  • Make outings fun with your own low-calorie treats.
  • As your dog's fitness improves, explore hikes together but plan carefully. Need inspiration? We've curated some awesome local hikes, all of them located in the Covington area.

Walking Your Dog for Exercise: Begin with a brisk pace to avoid problems with increasing speed later, and keep the leash close (2-4 feet) on your left side. Aim for a pace of 12-17 minutes per mile and maintain it without frequent stops. Use commands to keep your dog focused, and consider using head halters to aid in training and attention during brisk walks.

Promoting Exercise and Play for Your Cat:

Cats require at least 15-20 minutes of daily exercise, ideally broken into two to three sessions of five to ten minutes each. Here are some tips to keep your feline friend active and engaged:

  1. Play "Find the Food": Keep your cat mentally stimulated by moving their food bowl to different locations within your home.
  2. Indoor Hunting Feeders: Use these to simulate hunting behaviors and encourage movement during mealtime.
  3. Puzzle Toys: Slow down eating and control portion sizes by introducing puzzle toys.
  4. Interactive Play: Engage your cat with feather toys, motion toys, boxes, paper bags, or balls to tap into their playful side.
  5. Catnip: Some cats enjoy the stimulating effects of catnip, making playtime more exciting.
  6. Leash Walking: If your cat enjoys outdoor activities, consider leash training, but take it slow and ensure their safety.

Always prioritize your cat's safety and comfort during exercise and play, and provide a variety of engaging activities to prevent boredom.

Katie Childers, DVM
Katie Childers, DVM

Remember: Healthy Is the New Skinny

At our practice, we believe that health and well-being are paramount. We're here to support you in your journey toward a healthier, happier pet. Patience, flexibility, and creativity are essential in achieving successful pet weight loss. Together, we can ensure your pets enjoy a long, joyful, and healthy life.

So, dear pet owners, let's kick off the new year by taking proactive steps to combat pet obesity. Your furry friends will thank you with wagging tails, bright eyes, and boundless energy. Here's to a healthier and happier 2024 for both you and your beloved pets!