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Weight Management in Pets
Too many calories consumed and too little exercise is a widespread
problem throughout our society- for people and pets. If your pet is
overweight, it may shorten your pet's life span and reduce its quality
of life. By keeping your pet at its ideal body weight, your dog or cat
will have every chance to be healthier and more active, enhancing your
Some of us have some trouble deciding if our dog or cat is becoming
overweight, while others recognise there is a problem, but are not aware of
the health risks faced by our pet if they become obese. As a result, many
of our pet dogs and cats are now seriously overweight, with an Australian
study conducted some years ago finding that over 40% of dogs were
overweight or obese and international studies have found broadly similar
levels in cats 1.
Pets that are overweight or obese are more likely to be less active and to
have increased risk of a wide range of potentially serious conditions
Reduced exercise tolerance
Skeleton and joint problems
Common causes of obesity
Most cases of obesity are simply the result of the animal eating more
energy in the diet than they can use in their body each day. The excess
energy is stored as fat in the body. Overeating may result from greediness,
boredom, or simple overfeeding. It is easy to reward begging behaviour by
feeding extra food and it takes considerable will power not to reward your
pet's mournful eyes, when they try this on you, but it is important that
you do resist begging behaviour as it simply rewards your pet, reinforces
the behaviour and over time the extra food consumed can lead to obesity.
Feeding leftovers, or giving excessive, frequent, high calorie treats or
snacks often contributes to the problem. Treats can be useful training
aids, but add extra calories to the diet, so it's important that they are
used appropriately. Some veterinary medications also have the unfortunate
side effect of stimulating your pet's appetite and your vet can advise you
if such medications are prescribed.
Insufficient regular exercise is often an important factor leading to
obesity in pets. Neutering can contribute to weight gain, because some
animals tend to need fewer calories after they are desexed. Some diseases
that can affect hormone levels can result in a pet becoming overweight, but
he most common problem is overfeeding combined with too little exercise.
Your pet's ideal body condition
You can assess your pet's body condition by its appearance and by referring
to weight charts for its breed and sex. The body condition guide (see
below) for dogs and cats will help you to estimate your pet's body
condition score. If your pet has a body condition score of 4 (stout) or 5
(obesity) you can and should do something about it. Ohio State University
in the USA has produced this on-line body condition chart for
If your pet is stout (body condition score 4) or obese (body condition
score 5), it is appropriate that you have it assessed by your vet. Prior to
any weight loss program a thorough vet examination is recommended to check
your pet's general health. Occasionally your vet might need to arrange
pathology tests such as a routine blood screen to rule out underlying
Your vet can give you an estimate of your pet's ideal body weight, and then
provide advice about the type and quantity of food your pet needs to be fed
each day until it reaches its target weight. Your vet may prescribe a
special veterinary diet if your pet is obviously obese, and needs to
achieve a significant weight loss.
Even if your pet is not overweight, it may have a tendency to gain weight
or have an inactive lifestyle. In this case, you need to keep a close eye
on what it eats if it is to maintain a healthy body weight. Some cats, and
many dogs, tend to over eat if given the opportunity, so to maintain a
healthy weight they rely on you to control the amount of food they eat.
There is a variety of pet foods sold that are "lighter" in calories than
standard foods. These are usually clearly identified on their labels and
can be a more convenient and often more effective way of keeping their
calorie intake under control than simply giving less of their normal diet.
Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight is not all about diet!
Regular exercise is good for slimming animals (and owners!) as it increases
the number of calories they burn. When used in conjunction with a
calorie-controlled diet, exercise helps the animal to shed those excess
kilos faster. For dogs, start a daily exercise routine, gradually building
up to a minimum of two 10-15 minute brisk walks per day (unless your dog
has health problems which restrict their movement). Cats can be encouraged
to exercise more by playing with toys and providing more access to outdoor
Feeding pets and weight loss
Ensuring that your pet loses weight takes time and commitment. It takes
willpower to restrict calories and ensure that your pet gets sufficient
regular exercise. Any weight loss program for your pet should be developed
in consultation with your veterinarian and they can assist with advice
about "staying the course" to get your pet into better shape. A realistic
target might be for your pet to shed a modest and achievable target weight
loss over a set period of weeks. Any weight loss program should be tailored
to your pet and their weight loss achievement and health should be
regularly monitored, with veterinary supervision.
Tips for getting your pet back into shape
Feed only the recommended pet food, with no other leftovers, scraps,
snacks, treats or supplements
Organise regular weighing of your pet and record these, ideally
charting progress over time
Ensure that only one person feeds your pet
Get a new, smaller feed bowl
Always measure the food using scales or a cup measure
Feed on a little and often basis, dividing the food into 2 to 4 meals
Remove any uneaten food after ten to fifteen minutes
Exercise and play are better rewards than food!
Achieving success is up to you and other members of your family. Only you
can ensure that your pet really does lose weight. It will need effort and
commitment, but is well worth it in terms of the extra quality of life,
health and companionship your pet and you will enjoy.
This article is for general information only:
This information is provided by the PFIAA as general information only. For
advice and information concerning feeding your individual pet, we recommend
that you seek the advice of your veterinarian.
1. [The Growing Problem of Obesity in Dogs and Cats. J. Nutr.
July 2006 vol. 136 no. 7 1940S-1946S]