How to help your pet lose weight
Obesity is one of the most common preventable diseases seen in pets. Up to 1/3 of all of the canine population is carrying too much weight. This article will give you a roadmap to weight loss with your pet. While it focuses on dogs and cats, the principles can be applied to rabbits and rodents too!
What is obesity?
Obesity is the accumulation of excess body fat. An animal is considered obese if he or she is 20% above their “ideal body weight”.
How does it happen?
Just as in people, obesity occurs when more calories are consumed than are burnt off. In some pets, this is caused by overfeeding or feeding too many treats despite being exercised regularly. In other pets, it is to do with insufficient exercise despite a good diet. Often it is a little bit of both. Occasionally, obesity is caused by a true metabolic or hormonal disease. In dogs, for example, two causes are hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone levels) and Cushing’s disease (too much cortisol).
Why is obesity bad?
Obesity is detrimental for number of reasons. In general, we know that obese pets have reduced lifespans, possibly by up to 12 months. It also predisposes pets to a number of disease, such as:
- Possibly some types of cancer
- Riskier anaesthetics
- High blood pressure
- Urinary tract issues/urinary stones
How do I go about getting my pet to lose weight?
At this point, it helps to have a consult with your veterinarian if you haven’t already. They’ll be able to tell you how overweight your pet is (often based on a “body condition score” chart) and what his or her ideal weight is.
See the below five-point summary to get you started!
Reduce food by 25% initially.
We never want to drastically reduce the amount of food a pet is receiving – it’s important to do it slowly. If your dog normally receives 1 cup of food morning and night, feed ¾ of a cup morning and night for 2 weeks. Chat to your vet to see if you need to go down further. We certainly don’t want to malnourish your pet.
Think about all the other sources of food your pet might have. Treats on walks, scraps after dinner, things the kids have thrown on the floor – these call count as calories!
Treats should make up no more than 10% of a daily calorie intake.
We are absolutely not advocating that you cut out treats altogether; treats are, of course, an important part of the human/animal bond. However, many dogs get too many treats, and they must be factored in to a weight loss program.
While you are reducing the number of calories going in, it helps to increase the number of calories being burnt. If you normally walk your dog once a day, try to walk him or her twice a day. If you normally walk for 20 minutes twice a day, try make it 30 minutes twice a day. If you have a cat, encourage play with toys, and make them move around the house to access to different resources.
Consider low-fat food
There are a number of scientifically formulated pet foods and treats to aid with weight loss. Hills® Prescription Diet® Metabolic and Purina Overweight Management® are all good options. It helps to calculate a specific portion and meal frequency, and stick to it. Instead of treats, which can be high in fat, consider vegetables, cooked chicken breast, or even popcorn – dogs will love it!
As with any goal, it helps to have calculated targets so you know you are on the right track. Generally, aim for 1-2% body weight loss per week. As an example, if you have a 20kg dog, aim to lose 40g in the first week. Regular weigh-ins are very important. Your vet clinic will be more than happy for you to swing by and pop your pet on the scales to monitor progress!
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