By Dr. Alison Birken
It is the New Year, and just like with us humans, it is a great time to ensure your pet is at their optimal weight and best health. One of the most important lifestyle and health decisions you can make for your pet is to ensure they stay at their recommended weight. Obesity in pets an increasing problem. Being a small animal veterinarian, I see so many overweight pets, and I am always working with pet parents to create ideal diet and exercise plans for their pets.
With over half of all the pets in the United States being overweight (56% of dogs, 60% of cats), it is more important than ever to make sure pet parents are well informed about obesity in pets and maintaining a healthy weight for dogs and cats. When you know there is a problem, you can take the appropriate steps to rectify any health issues that may be present.
Your pet’s weight can say a lot about their overall health.
Obesity in pets is an epidemic in our country and poses dangerous health concerns for our pets. Just like with us, obesity in pets can lead to multiple diseases and health concerns, including the following:
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Skin disease
- Thyroid conditions
- Heart and respiratory disease
- Kidney disease
- Some cancers
- Decreased life expectancy (up to 2.5 years)
Where to start?
So, how can we ensure our pets are fit and help them live longer and healthier lives? First, it is important to know if your pet is overweight.
Start by determining if your pet is at the ideal body weight using the Body Condition Scoring (BCS) method. Once we all have a better understanding of how your pet should look, your pet may have to lose some pounds. Always have your veterinarian evaluate your pet with BCS. Your veterinarian is your best resource for creating a proper diet plan and exercise regimen for your pet.
Help stop obesity in pets with these tips from the vet!
- Have your pet evaluated by your veterinarian and routine bloodwork performed to rule out systemic disease. Many times, weight gain can be from systemic illnesses such as hypothyroid.
- Come to the vet prepared. Make sure you know the exact food type, the way in which you feed your pet, and how many and what type of treats your pet receives throughout the day. This information is helpful for the veterinarian to assess your pet’s general diet. Many times, veterinarians will have a form to fill out with your pet’s exact feeding schedule. This schedule is important in establishing how many calories your pet is eating daily and whether you need to cut back.
- Your pet’s diet is the most important factor in keeping them healthy and at their optimal weight. Food choices and the ways in which pet parents are feeding their pets are evolving and improving. Pet parents and veterinarians are becoming more aware of the importance of whole food nutrition and feeding your pets high quality ingredients with no artificial additives or preservatives. Studies show that replacing 25% of your dogs current diet with real whole food, can decrease the probability of obesity in pets (along with reducing the risk of disease and even cancer). We suggest adding these foods that you can find in your fridge or try out our freeze dried patties!
- Measure meals. Have your veterinarian establish your pet’s ideal body weight then feed your pet the recommended amount of food according to their ideal body weight. With obesity in pets, some transitional goals may be more appropriate. Your veterinarian is the best resource to establish the goal weight for your pet at any given time. It is important to utilize the correct measuring tools when feeding your pet. Make sure your veterinarian knows exactly how you are measuring your pet’s food to ensure the correct amount.
- Establish a feeding schedule. Many pets graze on food that is left for them all day. With overweight pets, we do not recommend grazing. Measure out the exact amount of food your pet should get, and give it to them at scheduled times throughout the day.
- Cut down on treats. I know this is a tough one, but people do not realize how many calories treats can contribute to your pet’s diet. Just cutting out the treats alone, or switching to low fat treats, can result in weight loss for your pet.
- Exercise! Just like we need to maintain an active lifestyle to stay in shape, our pets need to exercise to maintain a healthy weight.
- Regular follow-ups are crucial in tracking your pet’s progress and the results of any new diet. Have your pet evaluated regularly with weight checks once the diet has been established. This evaluation is crucial in assessing the effectiveness of the plan and adjusting the diet, if needed.
- A low-fat diet may be necessary to shed excess weight. If your pet does not respond to decreasing treats or receiving proper amounts of food and exercise, speak with your veterinarian about additional diet changes.
With obesity in pets on the rise, it is up to us to give our furbabies the healthiest lives possible. Our pets depend on us to make the right choices for them and to keep them healthy and strong. Our pets give us so much love, devotion, and loyalty, so let’s give them the benefits of health, happiness, and a long wonderful life!
If you haven’t already, sign up for our 30 Days Whole Food Challenge now!
Dr. Alison Birken is a small animal veterinarian in Ft. Lauderdale Florida. She owns Victoria Animal Hospital, is the co-founder of Forever Freckled, wife to her amazing husband Rob & mom to her 3 greatest accomplishments Luke, Leah & Hayden.