Every year many people make a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight in the upcoming year, why not do the same for your pet? Why not lose the weight together? Obesity in dogs and cats can lead to a shorter life expectancy, diabetes, arthritis and an array of other medical conditions. Talking about weight loss with clients can often be a difficult conversation. Owners feel as though they bond through feeding their pet’s treats/table food. We do not believe that you need to completely stop giving your dog or cat treats. Just like in people, we need to be more cognitive as to the quantity and the types of treats that we are giving. Did you know that for a 20 pound dog, eating just 1 hot dog is the same as a person consuming 3 entire hamburgers? Before putting your pet on a strict weight loss program or if you are unsure if your pet needs to lose weight contact your veterinarian. Well let’s resolve for healthier eating and exercise in 2015, shall we?
Many owners will tell us “our dog is too skinny” when actually their pet is a perfect weight. We are used to seeing obese animals that sometimes we forget what a healthy weight looks like. Veterinarians judge pets based on what we call a Body Condition System. The system is a scale from one to nine. One to three being too thin, four and five are ideal and anything beyond five is considered too heavy. While five is ideal for cats.
Here are recommendations about feeding and exercise that we have learned over the years that can help your pets be successful.
Moderation/Meal Feeding– When it comes to helping pets lose weight it is important to get everyone in the house on board. Everyone needs to share the goal of weight loss or sometimes success is limited. When pets are having trouble with weight loss it typically comes to light that someone in the house is giving the pet extra food or treats that the rest of the family may not be aware of. Or the dog is finding extra snacks elsewhere. For example, the dog secretly eats all of the other dog’s food, or eats all of the cat food. So making sure that pet cannot attain food from other places is a must. Begin meal feeding the pet. This is a good habit for dogs and cats. When we fill a bowl and allow the pet to eat on and off all day this is like us having access to a buffet all day, every day. Pets can just snack and eat as much as they want during the day. Often time’s owners are not even aware how many cups of food a pet is consuming when this method is used. Giving pets a measured amount of food two to three times a day is best. There are added benefits to this as well. For example, if you are measuring a pet’s food daily, then if the pet has a decreased appetite or is not feeling well you are able to track how much food they are eating and report this to your veterinarian. When you have a buffet there is no way to tell. It is a good idea to give the pets their measured amount of food, leave it down for a certain amount of time (ex. 30 minutes) and let them eat, and what they don’t finish, pick it up.
Consider Transitioning to a weight management diet– A lot of owners are not aware that most diets recommended feedings are based on the status of an unaltered male or female. This means that our spayed and neutered pets actually need to eat less than what the bag recommends. Not all diet foods are true light diets. Owners need to look for diets that read light very clear on the label. Advertising can be misleading; some weight management diets have the same calories as there non diet counterparts. Hill’s Science Diet Light is a low calorie diet that is often recommended by our veterinarians. If you change your pet’s diet then be sure to make this a gradual slow change. Use a standard dry measuring cup to measure the amount of food your pet is receiving. If you feed a mixture of canned and dry food consult your veterinarian about their recommendations for weight management and/or weight loss. There are also prescription weight loss diets that your veterinarian can recommend if needed. There are also projects like Purina Project Slim Down that can help guide you and your pets to a healthier weight.
Training/Use of Treats– Many owners tell us “well he may get a few extra treats during obedience class”. We understand that treats are often necessary for training. Consider switching to lighter options such as Lean Treats that we carry in the office. Consider breaking treats into small pieces. Also, consider measuring out your pet’s amount of food they are allowed to have in a day and separate a portion of this kibble and use the kibble as the pet’s treats throughout the day or during obedience school. The pets typically just want a reward so using kibble that would typically be fed as part of their meal is a great idea. They still get a reward and their calories have already been accounted for.
Change to low calorie treats- Substituting dog biscuits or other treats for things like carrots, green beans, and ice cubs are all good alternatives. This gives pets a low calorie option and you still get to bond with your pet by giving them a treat. Remember any treat that you give (peanut butter Kongs when you leave the house) should be accounted for in their calories for the day. If they get something special to occupy their time while you are away that is fine but when you talk to your veterinarian about weight loss make sure that you add in the calories they get from the toys as well.
Food dispensing toys- Consider ditching the dog bowl and instead purchasing a food dispensing toy. This gives your pet much needed mental stimulation but it also increases activity. Feeding dogs their meal out of toys like the Kong Wobbler or Tug a Jug makes your pet work for their meal. This allows them to get their meal slowly and increases activity as pets need to move around to get their food. They also make food dispensing toys for cats which make them bat them around to attain the food inside. Cats who typically relax on the couch all day get activity by hunting their food inside the toys. Many people are opposed to switching to puzzle toys but if weight is a concern or boredom is a concern then it is a great recommendation.
Exercise- Partner with your pet and work to lose weight together. Managing calories is a huge part of the puzzle but just like us we need to increase exercise. Hike, throw the ball, play frisbee, swim, and jog together. Pets make a nonjudgmental, motivating partner. With any exercise slowly build up endurance over time. Work up to longer and longer walks or runs slowly. Enrolling in basic agility or other courses can provide you with fun experiences, bonding and plenty of exercise as well.
Giving dogs and cats other companions to interact and play with can also be excellent exercise. Not all dogs and cats enjoy the company but those who do can benefit from running, playing and romping around together. Consider having puppy play dates, the socialization is important and good exercise is a benefit too!
Getting cats active can be challenging for some owners but if you find the right toy most cats will welcome much needed play time. Laser pointers, a few new fake mice to chase, milk rings, and other toys can get your cat active. Giving cats trees to climb can help increase activity. Feeding cats up high on a shelf, counter or cat tree where they need to jump up and down to get to their food can provide them with a little work out each day. Remember that 10 minutes of aerobic activity can significantly reduce weight in cats (Dr. Carlson). So a little effort can go a long way!
If you have questions or concerns contact us today. Feel free to come in to the office and use our scales often to monitor progress. You can also keep track of progress at home. Weigh yourself, then weigh yourself and pet together then subtract the difference.
Veterinary Assistant/Supervisor/Social Media Team Stow Kent Animal Hospital