So easy to gain weight…
Did you know that feeding a small dog one piece of cheese is the equivalent of them eating 2 Big Macs? For a cat, that same piece of cheese is 4 Big Macs! These comparisons begin to show how easy it is to overfeed our pets. Just like us, they need the same balance of calories in vs. calories out to maintain their ideal weight. Since our pets are smaller than us, they need to eat less food!
Obesity is becoming a major problem in our companions. The most common time for a pet to gain weight is 1-5 years old – all of those extra treats and table scraps we give them add up over time. They have stopped growing and their metabolism slows down. It’s like us hitting 30 and the waistline starts expanding inexpicably. Hard to think about but it’s true! Now I know what you are thinking, “When they look at me with those big brown eyes, I just can’t say no!”
But so hard to deal with the consequences!
- Overweight cats are very prone to diabetes. Sometimes, the diabetes can be cured with weight loss alone and lifelong medication can be avoided.
- Dogs and cats that are more flabby than tabby are also predisposed to heart disease, high blood pressure, and pancreatitis.
- Overweight dogs are more prone to orthopedic issues such as tearing their cranial cruciate ligament (equivalent to an ACL tear in a human). Surgery to fix this can run $3000-4000 per knee! Can you learn to say no to the begging when looking at that price tag? I know I can!
How to tell if your pet is overweight
There is no magic formula such as a BMI calculator that is useful for our pets to find out their “ideal weight”. The method we use is called a body condition score. First, run your fingers across the ribs. You should be able to feel the ribs beneath the skin through a thin layer of “padding”. If you can not feel the ribs, your pet is overweight! In addition, looking at your pet from the side, there should be a nice tuck in the belly. Looking from the top down, you should see an indention in the waist behind the ribs. These are the best ways to guage your pet’s progress on weight loss at home!
How to start the weight loss journey.
As with us, there are two big components to losing weight. The first is calories in. Most pets are being overfed. The simplest way to help start weight loss is to cut down the amount of food they are eating (and keep in mind, they may not be overeating dog or cat food…it could be treats!).
Assess how much your pet eats everyday including all treats given by you or someone else. From this information, decide the best way to cut down on the amount of food. This may be cutting out some treats during the day or even replacing them with low calorie treats. Some of the best low calorie treats are vegetables. You would be amazed at the number of animals that love green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots to name a few. All great to try and healthy. Keep in mind that there are some foods to avoid: onions, garlic, grapes, raisins, avocados, chocolate.
Once you have cut down on the treats, make sure you are also measuring the amount of food you feed at each meal. You will need to give equal amounts each time you feed. Buy a measuring cup! Now that you have established how much you feed, cut it down by about 10%. A nice rule of thumb is to fill the measuring cup to its appropriate level and then shave off that top layer of food. As the weight drops, the food can decrease too.
The second component consists of calories burned. Exercise is VERY important in any weight loss plan. Keep in mind that your pet is most likely out of shape in the beginning and will need to work up to long and strenuous exercise. If you have a dog, start with a walk to the end of the block and back several times a day. With a cat, start with simple play sessions with toys to get them moving! The exercise won’t hurt us either!
If at any time you feel like you are not making any progress…feel free to ask for help as there are some medical reasons why weight loss is not happening! Weight loss can be difficult and frustrating, but keep at it. Your pet will thank you for not giving into their cute begging!