A few extra pounds around the middle isn’t healthy for anyone—even our pets. Excess weight can shorten your pet’s lifespan and increase his risk for serious illnesses such as diabetes, kidney disease, arthritis and cancer. In fact, the prevalence of overweight pets has increased to an alarming degree. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, more than half of cats and dogs are overweight or obese.
Here’s what to do if you suspect your pet needs to slim down.
Do a body condition assessment
“What many owners perceive as a ‘healthy’ weight for pets actually is overweight,” says Danielle Davignon, DVM, DACVIM, an internal medicine specialist at Upstate Veterinary Specialties in Latham, New York. “You should be able to feel your pet’s ribs when you run your hands along his chest cavity, and when you look down from above, you should see a defined waistline.”
Use this chart to determine your pet’s body condition score (BCS). Basically, if your pet has no waistline, significant fat around his ribs or a sagging belly, he’s overweight.
Create a diet plan with your vet
Using the BCS, your vet can determine your pet’s caloric needs, provide a diet plan and do regular weigh-ins to chart progress. A prescription food may be recommended because it adds fiber to help animals feel full and add protein to help develop lean body mass, says Davignon. Your vet may also suggest an exam or blood work to rule out underlying medical conditions that can affect weight, such as endocrine diseases.
“The biggest mistake pet owners make is that they underestimate how much they’re feeding [their animals],” says Davignon. “An owner will tell me she’s giving one cup of kibble, but when we actually measure it, each scoop is often two cups or more.” Use measuring cups from your kitchen to ensure you’re serving up the amount of food your vet recommends.
Cut back on treats
“Your vet can help you calculate treats into the diet plan, but they should be used sparingly and not make up more than 10 percent of your pet’s daily calories,” says Professor Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, PhD, a veterinary nutritionist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. “Go to your kitchen for low-fat treats such as baby carrots, broccoli, green beans, apples, pears and bananas.” (You can give your pet raw or cooked veggies depending on her preference.)
Get your dog moving with frequent walks and more play sessions. If he has arthritis, stick with low-impact exercise such as short, slow walks or even swimming if that option is available to you.
Encourage cats to play by having them chase a laser pointer, balls or feather toys, or create a scavenger hunt by hiding small portions of your cat’s meal throughout the house so he must “hunt” for his food, says Davignon.
By Arricca SanSone