The start of a new year usually inspires people to eat better and exercise more. Whether the goal is to shed a few extra pounds or improve your overall health, maintaining a healthy weight and diet has been proven to fight off illness, improve quality of life, and increase life expectancy – and the same goes for your pets! Obesity in pets can drastically affect your pet’s quality of life and make them more susceptible to preventable illnesses, so the time to address the extra weight your pet is carrying is now!
Diabetes, arthritis, and respiratory issues are just a few of the unpleasant side effects of obesity. Extra body fat can lead to diabetes in dogs and cats, which can be fatal if untreated or mismanaged. Some of the care involved with diabetic pets includes purchasing insulin, giving daily insulin injections after meals, and routinely following up with your veterinarian to ensure blood glucose levels are in a healthy range. While it is possible for some cats to go into remission with strict diet and weight management, dogs who become diabetic are diabetic for life. For more information on diabetes, check out our blog: Diabetes in Pets.
Extra body fat also contributes to arthritis. Many dogs and cats experience natural arthritic changes as they age, but carrying extra weight is even more stressful on your pet’s joints. Arthritis can be painful, limit your pet’s mobility, and affect their quality of life. While arthritic pain can be relieved with medications, keeping your pet nice and trim is the best thing you can do for your pet’s joints.
Obesity is also very hard on the heart and lungs. Obese pets are more likely to be less tolerant of exercise, less tolerant of heat and humidity, and may seem to huff and puff a lot more frequently than they used to. The heart and lungs have to work harder when your pet is overweight, and obesity increases the risk of heart disease significantly. If you plan to incorporate more daily physical activity, we recommend doing so gradually. Monitor your pet closely for signs of fatigue, overheating, labored breathing, respiratory distress, or collapse when exercising.
If you are looking to start a weight loss program for your pet but don’t know where to start, check out our top 5 tips for helping your pet lose weight:
1) Consult a Professional
If you’ve noticed that your pet is on the heavy side, talk to your vet about their recommendations for healthy weight loss. There are a number of pet foods marketed as “healthy weight” or “weight loss” kibbles, but which one is the best? Your vet can help you find the diet that will best suit your pet’s weight loss needs and provide you with the proper amount to feed to meet those weight loss goals.
Your vet will also be able to make diet recommendations based on your pet’s specific needs, which is important if your pet has any medical conditions that are affected or maintained by a certain diet. For example, a high-protein diet advertised as great for weight loss may not be healthy for a pet with kidney issues. Special diet considerations should also be made for senior pets and pets with food allergies, diabetes, liver and kidney issues, and heart issues.
2) Measure Up
Whether you are reading the feeding guidelines on the back of the bag or following a strict diet regiment created by your vet, proper food measurement is often the key to successful pet weight loss. How are you measuring your pet’s food? Diet recommendations are often given as the suggested daily amount in cups. Coffee mugs, travel cups, solo cups, and any other scoop that is not a true metric cup can lead to accidental overfeeding. Free feeding (leaving food down throughout the day) is recommended only if the appropriate amount is put down – no more filling the bowl every time it’s empty! We recommend a fixed feeding schedule for homes with multiple pets to avoid food sharing.
3) Beware of Extra Calories
All of those treats from the table can really add up! While it may seem tempting to share your snacks with your best friend, the extra calories pets consume from table scraps can lead to weight gain. While kids are often the biggest culprits of sharing food with the pets, we urge the whole family to resist the extra treats while your pet is trying to lose weight. If you have other pets in the home, make sure your pet is not stealing any leftover food out of their bowls. If needed, separate pets during feeding times to ensure your pet is only eating their portion.
If your pets are free feeders, separating pets to eat can sometimes be a challenge. To get your pets on a fixed feeding schedule, leave their food down for a set amount of time (15-20 minutes) in the morning. After 15 minutes, pick up any remaining food up and save it for later. Later that day, repeat this process again and give your pet a chance to eat before picking the food up. Eventually, your pets will learn that they should eat when food is available, since it is no longer available all of the time.
4) Add in Veggies
It is not unusual for owners to feel a little guilty about how little food their pet seems to get when trying to lose weight, especially when their new daily amount is significantly less than what they have been used to eating. One way to increase your pet’s food volume without increasing the calorie content is by adding canned or fresh veggies to their food. Canned green beans and carrots are cheap and easy and can be added to every meal. They can also be kept in the fridge and given as treats throughout the day, too!
Apples (no seeds or core) and blueberries also make for a sweet, low-calorie treat. We recommend limiting certain fruits and vegetables such as banana, sweet potato, and pumpkin for weight loss; while these are pet-friendly foods, they are more calorie-dense than other alternatives. We recommend giving any treat, fruit or otherwise, in moderation to avoid stomach upset.
5) Get Moving
When it comes to pet weight loss, food is often the biggest determining factor. However, just like humans, a combination of a healthy diet and exercise is the most effective way to lose weight! Try to increase your pet’s daily physical activity, even if it’s just throwing toys in the backyard. If your pet is not used to walking or running long distances, be sure to increase their physical activity gradually. Just like humans, pets have to build stamina and endurance, so be patient and pay attention to signs that your pet needs a break.