Often, here in the United States, our philosophy is bigger is better. While that’s fine and dandy for, say, a Ford truck, when it comes to our pets, bigger does not necessarily mean better. According to a 2016 national survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, a whopping 53.9% of dogs were considered overweight or obese, and 58.9% of cats were considered overweight or obese. That means that approximately 41.9 million dogs and 50.5 million cats fall into the overweight category. As pet owners we need to do better by our pet’s health, and helping to reduce those statistics is one way to start.
Packing On the Weight
There are many causes for weight gain. Some breeds, like Dachshunds and Rottweilers are simply more susceptible to obesity, while older animals experience a natural decrease in their metabolism, and weight gain inevitably follows. Overfeeding and inadequate physical activity is another common cause for weight gain; and feeding foods too high in starchy carbohydrates, like potatoes, rice, and legumes, easily add weight because unused carbohydrate calories turn to fat. Excess weight can cause many different ailments like arthritis, and bladder/urinary tract disease for dogs, and chronic kidney disease and diabetes for cats.
Assess the Situation
So, how can you tell if your dog or cat needs to lose a couple of pounds? If your pet has more of an oval shape, instead of a tapered waist, he or she might need to drop a couple pounds. If they have lots of excess fat on his or her abdomen, hips, and/or neck, and their stomachs touch the ground, it might be time to start thinking about losing some weight. You should be able to feel your pet’s ribs, not necessarily see them, and the bones near the base of their tail. If you feel like any of those criterion represent your furry friend it might be time to think about making some lifestyle and diet changes.
Choose A Strategy
Weight loss for both cats and dogs really comes down to two core elements: diet and exercise. Ideally your dog should have at least 20 minutes of aerobic exercise, but more would be better. This means brisk walks, not sauntering and smelling. If you have a dog that doesn’t quite do brisk walks, try interacting with their favorite toys; throw a ball, play tug-a-war, walk up and down a set of stairs, even resort to the use of a treadmill, but again try to get in at least 20 minutes of this activity a day. Increased exercise can also alleviate stress, anxiety, and destructive tendencies, so more physical activity could mean the end to your dog chewing up your shoes.
Cats need physical activity to aid in their weight loss as well, and should also receive at least 20 minutes of physical exertion. It may seem odd to ‘exercise’ your cat, but it’s beneficial and fun for your feline. To get your cat moving try running around your house with a string, or cat wand, and have them chase behind. If you have stairs, try throwing a cat ball up and down them; or if you have a very food oriented cat, try hiding their food in interactive toys, or put their bowls up in high places so they have to at least jump to reach them – anything to get your cat moving will help!
Ease Into Things
When it comes to diet changes, don’t ever do anything drastic, such as extreme diets or extreme calorie restriction, especially without consulting a veterinarian first. For feeding, don’t use self-feeders, and don’t free feed. Two effective methods are feeding two, measured, meals a day, or feeding small meals throughout the day. Also, always try to feed the best food you can afford. Ideally for weight loss a well balanced, species appropriate, diet, normally found in raw, dehydrated, or lightly cooked foods, are the best options, because they offer high protein and minimal carbohydrates. Unfortunately, raw and lightly cooked foods can be pricey, so if you have to stick with kibble try to find ones that are high in protein and low in carbohydrates. Be aware, however, of the types of protein your cat or dog is consuming. Protein sources like duck and lamb are going to be much higher in fat, which means a higher calorie content, than animals such as turkey and fish. Leaner meats are going to be your animal’s allies on their weight loss journey.
Talk To Your Vet
It’s important to talk to your veterinarian before starting any major weight loss regimen. They will be able to help you figure out how many calories your dog or cat should be getting in a day, and will have great tips and tricks to help as well. Losing weight is a process, you won’t see results immediately, but if you stick with portion control and exercise you’ll soon have a happy, healthy pet.