Ask your vet to weigh in As a veterinarian I see overweight animals every day, and I understand how it happens. I’m guilty of giving a little something extra to my pets, too, on occasion. For many of us the human-animal bond is cemented with food. There is nothing more gratifying than giving a tidbit of tuna to a purring cat or a chewy treat to an eager, tail-wagging dog.
While there are some factors that contribute to weight problems such as breed, heredity, body type and certain medical conditions, by far the most common cause is overeating. When more calories are consumed than burned off, weight is gained. Spaying and neutering pets has often been blamed for weight gain. While these can make animals calmer and less likely to wander off (good things), it is overeating that leads to obesity.
Obesity is a risk factor for a spectrum of medical ailments in our dogs and cats: cardio-vascular problems, skin problems, diabetes, orthopedic/lameness issues, feline lower urinary tract disease and early mortality. A pet in good body condition will be healthier and is likely to live significantly longer.
How to recognize that there is a problem? While there is an array of body types, especially with dogs, the place to start is by rubbing your hands over the sides of your pet’s chest. If you can feel the ribs quite easily, then your pet is likely in good body condition. If you feel a thick layer of fat between skin and ribs, or can’t feel ribs at all, then it might be time to watch your four-legged friend’s weight. Taking the pounds off your pet can be quite challenging. As few as 10 extra kibbles per day of your average cat food translates to a gain of one pound over the course of a year. However, simply feeding less of the same diet is not always appropriate to meet a pet’s nutritional requirements and can leave the pet hungry and unhappy.
A visit to your veterinarian can arm you with the knowledge you need to succeed. A physical examination will allow assessment of certain disease conditions such as hypothyroidism or address an orthopedic problem that makes exercise painful. A thorough history of diet and feeding habits will help your veterinarian recommend diet foods, quantities and feeding schedules appropriate to lose weight in a controlled and effective way. Your veterinarian might also be able to suggest ways to increase activity levels in the couch potato pets.
A few good suggestions to get you started:
1) Have one person handle the feedings and keep a food journal to show to your veterinarian.
2) Feed smaller amounts more frequently.
3) Watch the treats; these are a big source of diet failure.
4) Use monthly re-checks and weigh-ins to monitor progress and make changes specific to the patient’s needs.
Do it for the health of your pet. They will live longer and be happier.