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Weight Loss in Your Pet

Previously we discussed how to body condition score (BCS) your pet at home.  This is a relatively simple way to assess your pet's weight and if weight loss is needed or not.  For each point over 5 in the 1 to 9 scale, your pet is roughly 10% overweight.  This means a 100 pound dog with a BCS of 7 is 20% overweight or 20 pounds over what is ideal.  Similarly, a 10 pound dog with the same BCS is also 20% overweight and needs to lose 2 pounds.  This just shows that even something as minor as 1-2 pounds can make a huge difference for those little guys and gals.  

Health Risks More Likely in an Overweight Pet

  • Diabetes

  • Respiratory and heart disease

  • Skin disease and disorders

  • Osteoarthritis and other orthopedic disorders

  • Many forms of cancer -- especially those involving abdominal organs

As with most health conditions, it is best to be pro-active versus reactive in any given issue.  The likelihood of success increases the sooner you begin to combat any health issue.  Prevention of weight loss in dogs and cats begins as puppies/kittens.  Common discussion points with your veterinarian or the veterinary staff should include:

  • Puppy and kitten feeding

  • How to assess BCS and using that information to adjust feeding appropriately.  This is especially important after spaying or neutering as metabolic requirements decrease at that time

  • Maintaining an ideal adult weight

  • Maintaining exercise and activity

  • Behavior training using interactive rewards instead of food

  • Understanding the limitations of pet food labels and label feeding recommendations

Similar to people, as pet's age and mature, their body has differing requirements nutritionally.  This means the food may need to be changed, the feeding amount or schedule adjusted or the activity level modified.  The greatest prevalence of obesity in pets is between the ages 5 and 12 years.  This age group would definitely benefit from increased vigilence and understanding of the key principles mentioned above.

How to Make a Weight Loss Program

Because of the numerous factors involved in formulating a weight loss program for a pet, a schedule consultation with your veterinarian is crucial.  Information acquired at this visit is as follows:

  1. Physical examination to determine weight, BCS, muscle condition score (MCS)

  2. Evaluation of current diet and feeding regimen at home.  Including treats

  3. Assessment of activity level and abilty of the pet and the owner

  4. Time constraints that may need to be taken into consideration

  5. Potential underlying metabolic, orthopedic or general health issues of the pet

Using this information, a specific plan will be developed including the necessary caloric requirements at each stage of the process.  The veterinarian may request a change in the pet's diet or feeding schedule based on the information given.  Prescription diet food are oftentimes utilized as they have been nutritionally balanced to accomodate a reduction in calories without losing nutritional adequacy.  Also expectations of weight loss rate can be better estimated.  On average, a weight loss plan can take roughly 60 minutes to develop appropriately due to the level of detail needed.  Several recheck examinations would take place as check-points with progress and alterations to the program made as needed.  Caloric requirements will decrease as weight loss is achieved and exercise will gradually be increased based on the owner/pet's ability and response to therapy.  

Exercise in Cats May Need to be Creative

Dogs are relatively simple to exercise.  Taking them for walks, running in the yard, chasing a ball or playing tug of war can all be simple exercise techniques.  Cats, however, are generally sedentary and will oftentimes position themselves in such a manner to limit activity as much as possible.  Some sneaky but creative methods to get your cat to exercise or move around more are as follows:

  • Play "find the food move."  Move the food bowl upstairs or downstairs and rotate it so the cast always has to walk to get its food bowl.  Fat cats are smart cats and if the food bowl moves upstairs, they will start relocating upstairs too.

  • Move the food bowl as far away from your cat's favorite spots as possible.  Similarly to above, many fat cats will sleep and lay near the food bowl so they do not have to go far when they are hungry.

  • Use feather toys, flashlights, paper bags or balls, anything your cat find interesting to chase.  Try to engage your cat for ten minutes twice a day.  You can do this while you eat, watch television, or even read.  There are numerous toys that squeak and move that may also be interesting to your cat.  The key is to experiment and understand that what is exciting to your cat today may be boring tomorrow.

Other Pet Weight Loss Tips

  • Take weight off your pet slowly especially if dealing with an obese cat.  Cats can develop a serious liver problem called hepatic lipidosis if they do not get a sufficient number of calories each day.

  • Use the right measuring tools to portion out your pet's meals.  Grabbing something convenient or eyeballing amounts will not allow for accurate measurements.  Use standard cooking and baking measuring tools

  • Avoid commercial low-fat diets marketed for overweight dogs and cats.  Many of these formulations are not balanced, species-appropriate nutritional sources.  Ironically, many pets will gain weight on these diets.

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