Those sad, sweet eyes. Saying “No” to your pet who is begging for a treat is hard. But, maintaining your pet at a healthy weight is important to prolong their life and improve their quality of life. Our Palm Valley Veterinary Center team understands that you don’t want to be the bad guy and “starve” your poor four-legged friend, but we hope this article will help you understand how being overweight can negatively affect your pet. We also offer weight management guidelines to keep your pet trim and healthy.

Pet obesity’s impact

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), 55.8% of dogs and 59.5% of cats are considered overweight or obese by their veterinary care providers. Pets in television commercials and the movies often carry a few extra pounds, adding to pet owners’ difficulty in recognizing when their pet is overweight. Similar to people who are overweight, obese pets are at higher risk for several serious health complications, such as:

  • Cancer — At least 13 cancer types are linked to obesity in humans, and the National Cancer Institute estimates that physical inactivity and obesity accounts for 25% to 30% of major cancers. Animal models used in cancer research and current evidence seen in veterinary medicine suggest that obese dogs and cats may also be at greater cancer risk.
  • Diabetes — Obese pets have a reduced number of insulin receptors on their cells, predisposing them to diabetes and insulin resistance. 
  • Kidney disease — Overweight pets frequently have high blood pressure, which directly affects the kidneys, because arteries around the kidneys can narrow or harden and be unable to deliver sufficient blood to the kidney tissue, resulting in kidney disease.
  • Respiratory disease — Excess fat along the chest wall and abdomen can compress the lungs, hindering full expansion and making breathing difficult. This is especially problematic for brachycephalic pets whose facial structure also inhibits their ability to breathe.
  • Arthritis — Obese pets’ added pounds can strain their joints, which can lead to wear and tear that causes arthritis. In addition, fat tissue releases inflammatory cells that cause chronic, low grade inflammation throughout the body and exacerbate the inflammation inside the pet’s joints.

Pet weight status evaluation

We mentioned that many pet owners don’t recognize their pet is overweight, because their perception is skewed by what they see in the media. So, how do you know if your pet is overweight? Recommendations include:

  • Consulting your veterinarian — Our veterinary team is professionally trained to evaluate your pet’s weight status without being biased and judgmental. If we determine that your pet is overweight, we can devise an individualized weight loss strategy to help them safely lose the excess pounds.
  • Evaluating your pet’s body condition score (BCS) — While consulting a veterinarian is important, you should also know how to evaluate your pet’s weight status. In addition to your pet’s weight, their BCS is important for determining if your pet’s weight is healthy. This system uses observations and palpation at certain body points to score your pet on a scale from one to nine, where one is considered extremely emaciated, nine is considered extremely obese, and about 4.5 is considered ideal.

Pet weight management

Now that you know the importance of keeping your pet fit and trim to ensure they remain happy and healthy, we can explain how to properly manage your pet’s weight. The following tips should help:

  • Determine your pet’s ideal weight — Ask our veterinary team to determine your pet’s ideal weight. 
  • Calculate your pet’s energy requirements — Use your healthy weight pet’s weight, age, activity level, and spay or neuter status to calculate their daily energy requirements.
  • Devise a weight loss plan — If your pet is overweight or obese, work with our veterinary team to devise a safe, effective weight loss plan. Pets who do not follow a veterinary-approved weight loss plan can have severe health complications, such as hepatic lipidosis or hypoglycemia.
  • Read the food label — Once you know how many calories your pet needs a day, read their food label to determine the amount of food they need. If your pet is overweight, we may prescribe a specially formulated diet food to help them lose weight.
  • Measure your pet’s food — Eyeballing your pet’s meal portion can lead to over or under feeding. Use a measuring cup or kitchen scale to accurately measure your pet’s food portion to ensure they receive the correct amount.
  • Divide your pet’s meal portions — Pets should eat at least two meals a day about 12 hours apart, so divide your pet’s daily caloric requirements into at least two feedings.
  • Limit your pet’s treats — You can still give your pet treats, but you must ensure that calories from treats account for less than 10% of their daily intake. Consider healthy treat options, such as small pieces of carrots, green beans, and broccoli, for your pet. Never treat your pet with grapes or raisins, which are toxic to pets, and can cause kidney failure.
  • Exercise your pet — All pets need daily exercise. If your pet isn’t accustomed to exercise, start slowly, and gradually increase the session length and intensity as they get in shape.

The next time you withhold a treat from your pet, remember the reason—because you love them and want them to stay healthy. If you think your pet needs to lose weight, contact our Palm Valley Veterinary Center team, so we can determine their weight status and devise a safe weight loss plan for your four-legged friend.