Excess weight can lead to serious health complications for your pet. Many pets are overweight or obese, but most pet owners don’t recognize the problem. Our Town and Country Animal Hospital PC team wants to help by answering frequently asked questions about pet weight management.

Question: How do I know if my pet is overweight?

Answer: The best way to determine if your pet is overweight is to ask our veterinary professionals. We can assess your pet’s weight status and help devise a safe weight loss strategy if necessary. While you can find ideal weight ranges for dogs and cats, your pet’s weight status doesn’t rely totally on what the scale says. A body condition score (BCS) is an easy, quantitative tool to help determine their weight status. The scale ranges from one to nine, and each designation explains in detail how your pet should look and what body points to palpate. For example, a BCS of one indicates your pet is extremely emaciated, while a BCS of nine means your pet is extremely obese. General characteristics of a healthy weight for your pet include:

  • Palpable ribs — You should be able to easily feel and count your pet’s ribs when you lightly touch their side.
  • Distinct waistline — When you look at your pet from above, they should have an indentation at their midsection. 
  • Upward sloping abdomen — When you look at your pet from the side, their abdomen should not sag.

Q: Why is a healthy weight important for my pet?

A: As little as 5 pounds above a medium or large breed dog’s ideal weight and as little as 2 pounds above a small breed dog or cat’s ideal weight can put them at higher risk for numerous serious health problem such as diabetes, respiratory disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, certain cancers, and arthritis. Overweight pets tend to live shorter lives, and the extra weight negatively affects their quality of life. To put the situation in perspective, a 12-pound Yorkie is equivalent to an average woman who weighs 218 pounds, and a 14-pound cat is equivalent to a 237-pound man. 

Q: How much should I feed my pet each day?

A: Each pet is unique and has specific dietary needs. Factors you should consider when determining how much to feed your pet include:

  • Calorie requirements Calculate how many calories your pet should receive every day. You must consider their age, BCS, activity level, and spay or neuter status when making these calculations.
  • Food amount — Read your pet’s food label to determine how many calories are in a measured serving. The amount typically will be given as so many calories per cup or ounce. Use a standardized measuring cup or a kitchen scale to accurately measure your pet’s meal portion to prevent overfeeding.
  • Treats — Don’t forget to include treats in your pet’s daily calorie counts, and ensure treats account for no more than 10% of their daily calories.

Q: How can I help my pet lose weight?

A: Never put your pet on a diet without consulting your veterinary health care team. They may have a medical condition that is contributing to the excess weight or a condition that would make calorie restriction dangerous. General guidelines for pet weight loss include:

  • Determining an ideal weight — Our veterinary team will determine your pet’s ideal weight and use this weight to calculate their resting energy requirement. If your pet is significantly overweight, a target weight slightly higher than their ideal weight may be used to make this calculation.
  • Choosing a prescription food — Simply reducing your pet’s normal food can result in nutrient deficiencies. Diets designed for weight loss have increased nutrient density and fiber to help your pet feel more satiated. In addition, these diets typically contain increased protein to help maintain lean body mass.
  • Setting realistic goals — In general, dogs can safely lose 1%  to 3% of their body weight per month, and cats can lose 0.5% to 2% of their body weight per month. If you put your pet on a severely restricted diet, they can develop serious medical problems. You should expect your dog’s weight loss to take about three to six months, while most cats need six to 12 months to lose excess pounds.
  • Exercising your pet — Exercise helps burn calories, which, in turn, encourages weight loss. Tips include:
    • Dogs — When walking their dog, most people slowly stroll, stopping briefly every few minutes. When exercising your overweight dog, draw the leash close and walk at a brisk pace you feel comfortable sustaining. Don’t let your dog stop to investigate every new smell and keep them moving for at least 15 minutes. You can gradually increase the duration as your dog becomes more fit. You also can use toys and games to help engage your dog and keep them physically active.
    • Cats — Cats are built for short duration exercise bursts. Use laser pointers and wand-style toys to get your cat moving. You also can put their food bowls in different locations to make them move to get their meal. 
  • Monitor your pet’s weight — Weigh your pet every two to three weeks to ensure they are making progress. If they have no significant weight loss in a month, you should consult with our veterinary team to determine what adjustments should be made.

Keeping your pet at a healthy weight is important, and this information should help. If you have concerns about your pet’s weight, contact our Town and Country Animal Hospital PC team so we can assess their weight status and devise a weight loss strategy if necessary.