While wild animals burn a great deal of calories performing necessary survival activities, your domesticated pet has little opportunity to use the calories they consume, without regular exercise. Excess calories and an exercise deficit combine to create overweight and obese pets, since your four-legged friend isn’t spending hours hunting for their next meal. But, how can you tell if your pet falls into the overweight category? And, if they do, how can you help them reach a healthy weight? Our Somerset Animal Hospital team answers these questions and more concerning pet obesity and weight management.

Question: How can I tell if my pet is overweight?

Answer: Pets with a thick coat can effectively disguise their extra pounds, fooling their owners into thinking they’re simply furry, and a hands-on exam is necessary to determine if a pet is overweight. Use a body condition score chart for your cat or dog, and see where they fall on the ideal body condition scale. If you’re struggling to evaluate your pet’s ribs, abdominal tuck, and waistline, bring in your furry pal for our team to perform a quick body condition scoring.

Q: Are some pets more likely to become overweight than others?

A: While any pet can become too heavy, some breeds appear predisposed to excessive weight gain, including beagles, Labradors, dachshunds, pugs, Chihuahuas, and bulldogs. With more than half of the American pet population carrying too many pounds—60 percent of cats and 56 percent of dogs are overweight or obese—your furry pal likely is more fat than fluff.

Q: What health issues could my overweight pet experience?

A: Overweight and obese pets are at an increased risk for numerous weight-related health issues. If your pet is carrying extra pounds, they are more likely to develop one of the following conditions:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Skin infections
  • Urinary tract problems
  • Anal gland issues
  • Diabetes
  • Liver disease
  • Cranial cruciate ligament tears
  • Respiratory problems
  • Heatstroke
  • Cancer

In addition, overweight or obese pets typically experience a shortened lifespan.

Q: How much food should my pet eat to maintain a healthy weight?

A: Pets have it easy—their food dish is filled multiple times a day, and no effort is needed to hunt down their meals. However, since pets don’t expend much energy finding their food, those calories add up quickly. Additionally, bored pets are prone to overeat, which leads to a vicious cycle of inactivity, excess calories, and weight gain. 

To keep your pet at an ideal weight, calculate the number of calories they need each day to maintain their weight. Using a calorie calculator, determine the appropriate calorie number for an intact or sterilized cat or dog, and then divide that number into two or three meals for your pet. Check your pet’s food bag or can for the number of calories in a serving. Divvy up the food into proper-sized meals, to ensure your pet receives the correct number of daily calories. 

If your pet needs to lose weight, you should discuss an appropriate weight loss plan with our Somerset Animal Hospital veterinarian. Losing weight too quickly can lead to life-threatening liver issues in cats, so always consult with our veterinarian before putting your pet on a diet.

Q: What healthy treats can I give my pet?

A: Treats should comprise no more than 10 percent of your pet’s daily caloric intake, so ensure your furry pal gets the most bang for their buck. Not all treats are created equalsome are packed full of sugar, fat, and way too many calories. Rather than feeding commercially produced treats, which can contain more calories than you’d expect, try the following healthy treats:

  • Green beans
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrots
  • Apples
  • Berries
  • Watermelon

Lean pieces of unseasoned meat, such as chicken breast and salmon, are also great treat options. Rememberno matter the treats you choose for your pet, always provide them in moderation, to avoid weight gain.

Q: What should I do if my pet doesn’t lose weight with diet and exercise?

A: Despite your best efforts, your pet may still not lose weight. If so, they may have an underlying metabolic issue. Endocrine diseases, like hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease, can make losing weight through diet and exercise only exceptionally difficult. Proper disease management must be implemented before weight loss can be achieved. If your pet is not losing weight as expected, they will need a comprehensive physical exam, paired with a full diagnostic workup, to rule out a metabolic disorder.

If your pet is one of the many who struggles with their weight, let us ensure they have no underlying medical problem. Contact our Somerset Animal Hospital team to schedule an appointment, and we can help your pet achieve their weight loss goals.