In discussions about the growing obesity rates in our country, the focus is usually on the human population. Howevernot surprisinglyour pets are also facing an obesity pandemic. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s last annual survey in 2018, 59.5 percent of cats and 55.8 percent of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese. Limitless pet food choices and the amount of available dietary advice can overwhelm any pet owner, so our team at Pierson Pet Hospital answers important questions about your pet’s weight management.

Question: How do I know if my pet is considered overweight?

Answer: Your pet is considered overweight if they are at least 10 to 20 percent heavier than their ideal healthy weight, which is determined by more than a number on the scale, and depends on your pet’s size and breed.

  • Wellness exams — During your pet’s yearly wellness exam, our veterinary professionals will assess your pet’s weight, and evaluate them for any underlying conditions that could increase their obesity risk. 
  • Body conditioning score (BCS) — Use the body conditioning score (BCS) to monitor your pet’s weight at home, and determine if they have a weight problem. The BCS system assigns a number to your pet, based on fat evaluation of several parts of their body. The following ranges can help you determine if your pet is at a healthy weight:
    • 1 to 3 = underweight — Your pet may be underweight if their ribs, spine, and hip bones are easily visible, they have little fat, and their waistline is highly obvious. 
    • 4 to 5 = ideal weight — When your pet is at their ideal weight, their ribs, spine, and hip bones are not visible, but can easily be felt. Your pet is well proportioned, with a visible waistline. 
    • 6 to 9 = overweight to obese — Your pet may be overweight if you cannot see or feel their ribs, spine, and hip bones, you cannot see any waistline, and they have excess fat on their waist, face, and limbs.  

Q: What health risks does my overweight pet face?

A: Excess weight increases your pet’s risk of many dangerous health issues, including:

  • Arthritis — Extra weight puts added pressure on a dog’s joints, leading to joint cartilage deterioration over time. 
  • Heart diseases — Overweight pets are more prone to high blood pressure, which can cause arterial damage, and lead to stroke, retinal detachment, kidney failure, or congestive heart failure.
  • Respiratory diseases — Pet obesity can cause potentially life-threatening breathing issues, such as a collapsing trachea and laryngeal paralysis.  
  • Type II diabetes — Like humans, obese pets are at a greater risk of developing Type II diabetes, which can occur when the body can’t use glucose normally. A diabetic pet requires frequent veterinary visits, a specific diet, and daily insulin injections.

Q: How can I help my pet lose weight?

A: You can use the same principles for human weight loss, to help your pet shed their extra pounds. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and reaching a healthy weight requires lifestyle changes that balance calorie consumption and physical activity. Your veterinarian can help you develop a customized weight loss plan for your pet.

The following tips can help ensure your pet’s success:

  • Feeding —With so many pet food marketing messages, many pet owners feel stuck when making a purchasing decision. Consult with your veterinarian about the best food choice for your pet’s nutritional needs.
    • Meals — A high protein and fiber food will keep your pet feeling fuller for longer. If your pet is a ravenous eater, try feeding them with a food puzzle, which will help prevent them from gulping down their food. 
    • Treats — Resist those adorable puppy-dog eyes, and keep your pet’s treats to a minimum. Treats should make up no more than 10 percent of your pet’s overall calorie intake. 
    • Vegetables — Instead of high calorie treats with little nutritional value, feed your pet steamed or raw vegetables, such as ​​celery, carrots, green beans, and broccoli.
  • Exercise — Regular exercise is essential for any healthy lifestyle. Find ways to get your pet moving every day, and ensure they get enough physical activity to help them lose weight. The best type of exercise for your pet will vary based on their breed, age, size, and condition, but choose activities, such as nature walks, fetch, or agility, that you and your pet enjoy together.
  • Medication — Some conditions, such as hypothyroidism and hyperadrenocorticism, can cause hormonal imbalances that result in a slowed metabolism. Your veterinarian can prescribe medication to manage these conditions. 

Q: How can I ensure my pet maintains a healthy weight?

A: If your pet is currently at their ideal weight, you can ensure they remain healthy and trim by following these steps:

  • Monitoring weight and body condition — Weigh your pet often on a scale, and record the date and the pet’s weight at each weigh-in, to identify any fluctuations. Regularly evaluate your pet’s weight using the BCS rating scale, and reach out to your veterinarian with any concerns.
  • Follow feeding guides — Use the recommendations on your pet’s food bag label as a guide to the amount to feed your pet. Always measure their food portions accurately. 
  • Count caloriesCalorie calculators can be used in conjunction with feeding guidelines and portion control, to determine your pet’s individual energy requirements. 

Our pets depend on us to make good choices about their diet and exercise. Managing their weight will help ensure your pet lives a long, happy, and healthy life. If you have questions about your pet’s weight or diet, do not hesitate to contact our team at Pierson Pet Hospital.