You all know the one I am talking about, the elephant in the room (so to speak). Fat. Overweight. Obese. Husky. They all mean the same – your pet is too large! This happens to the best of us with the best intentions. A few extra holiday cookies, one less walk per week, and the weight starts to add up. Before long, your dog has a spare tire, your feline friend’s belly is rubbing the ground while walking, and the neighbors are starting to talk. And we all know the issues of this added weight: arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.
The way I console myself (“My name is Brian, and I too have had a fat pet…”) is that this is a very natural method for animals to store energy when the getting is good, to help with the lean times. Except that our pets very seldom (I would argue never) have lean times! Their food bowl seems to fill up twice a day regardless of their hunting skills, weather or season – things that would normally help regulate how many calories they might consume.
Sooo… how do we tell if our pets are fat? A scale? Nope. Body weight can be very misleading. Gaining a pound of fat versus a pound of muscle gives the same number. I much prefer using a Body Condition Score, which is a way to quantify their relative muscle to fat ratio. The chart is located below. What I also like about this method is that it can be used at home, with no cost and is very easy to perform. We would like most of our pets to score around a 5.
OK, once we know whether (or perhaps confirm) our pets are fat, now what? The simple answer - less calories in and more calories out. The more complicated answer – the right food in the correct quantity, and the proper amount of exercise for the individual. In other words, every pet is different, and has different needs and abilities. Your veterinarian can help you to customize their weight loss approach, and to ensure there is not a medical reason for this weight gain, such as arthritis or thyroid problems. However, I will give some generic recommendations.
Less calories in. This generally means a bit less than you are now feeding. Most research shows that a 10-20 percent decrease in total calories taken in will lead towards weight loss. I tend to focus that decrease on foods that are not very good for them to start with. Less pizza, chips, crackers and cheese. That does not mean you can’t give treats – my pets would stage a coup if I did not give them a daily snack! But you can use raw carrots, small bits of lean meat, rice cakes, or even some of their regular food held back from breakfast. Also using treat balls or Kong toys with some peanut butter in it can give them a food reward but takes them some time and energy to get it. Notice I did not say diet food. For the majority of dogs and cats, diet food is not necessary and may be contraindicated.