Is your pooch looking pudgy, or your cat a bit curvaceous? They’re not alone—nearly 60 percent of U.S. pets are considered overweight. That amounts to 56 million cats and 50 million dogs. Unfortunately, there’s no safety in numbers—extra pounds increase your pet’s risk for cancer, arthritis, kidney disease, and other devastating conditions. 

The team at Town and Country Animal Hospital understands that many pet owners know their pets are overweight, but are too embarrassed, frustrated, or overwhelmed to address the issue. Part of this dilemma stems from popular misconceptions about overweight pets. Don’t let these myths hold you back from helping your dog or cat—here’s the truth about pet weight management.

Myth: I can get my pet to lose weight on my own—I’ll switch them to a low fat food, and start exercising.

Fact: Veterinary guidance is always recommended, for your pet’s safety. Weight gain can have a medical cause, such as hypothyroidism, diabetes, or arthritis pain, which must be managed or treated prior to weight loss.

Have your pet examined at Town and Country Animal Hospital before changing your pet’s diet, or starting a new activity. After your pet’s exam and a review of their blood work, our veterinarians will counsel you on your pet’s health status, formulate weight-loss goals, and make nutritional recommendations, to reduce their weight and restore their health. 

Myth: My pet has a big appetite and is always begging for food.

Fact: Assuming your pet is healthy, and receiving a balanced commercial pet food diet, your pet’s constant begging is most likely opportunistic behavior.

Pets—like us—enjoy the taste of various foods—especially sugary, salty, or fatty treats—and appreciate you sharing the bounty. Once pets learn that a longing glance or a well-timed whine will melt our hearts—and open our hands—they will use the same technique all day, including right after their own meal.

Rather than true hunger, your pet is satisfying the desire to get what they want. 

Myth: My pet’s breed is always heavy.

Fact: Pet obesity has no genetic predisposition. While some dog breeds are selectively bred to meet certain styles and preferences, carrying more or less weight is a matter of nutrition and exercise, rather than something that occurs naturally. 

While some dogs, especially spayed or neutered pets, and seniors, may have a reduced metabolism, a healthy body weight is always attainable. Pet owners hold the food bag or can—not the pet’s breed—and are ultimately responsible for their dog or cat’s physical condition.

Myth: My pet is furry. Without a scale, I can’t tell if they’re overweight.

Fact: Your pet’s body condition is a more accurate health indicator than their numeric weight. Comparable to the human body mass index (BMI), the body condition score (BCS) is a subjective measurement of your pet’s body fat that your veterinarian takes at each exam. You can evaluate your pet’s BCS at home by referring to a BCS chart, and these basic guidelines:

  • Feel your pet’s ribs Ribs should be easily obvious under only a light cover of fat
  • Look for a waist When viewed from above, with their hair smoothed flat, does your pet have a noticeable “tuck” after the last rib?
  • Use the hand test — Your pet’s ribs should feel like the knuckles of your flat hand when your fingers are extended. If they feel more like the inside of your palm near your thumb, your pet is overweight. 

Myth: When you switch foods, you can feed the same amount as before, because most pet foods contain the same calorie amount.

Fact: Calorie content can vary significantly between foods. Always check the label on pet food cans and bags to determine how many kilocalories (kcal) are in a measured cup of food. Your veterinarian can help you determine your pet’s daily calorie requirement, which must be strictly followed for effective weight loss. Blindly feeding a certain amount can easily result in under- or overfeeding your pet. 

Once you’ve calculated the amount your pet should receive, dole out the food with a measured cup—not a pet food scoop, yogurt tub, or drinking cup—to ensure precise, reliable calorie delivery at each feeding.

Myth: My pet won’t eat if I don’t leave food out all day.

Fact: All pets can learn to eat on a schedule, if food is not constantly available. Free-choice feeding (e.g., leaving food out and refilling the bowl as needed) increases pet obesity risk by encouraging pets to eat out of boredom rather than hunger.

Pets who are fed on a time limit—usually 10 to 20 minutes—or given a measured amount twice daily tend to maintain a healthy body weight, consistent appetite, and steady energy levels. Unless medically indicated, we do not recommend free-choice feeding.

Myth: My pet is too old for a diet.

Fact: While we recommend veterinary supervision, to ensure your senior is healthy and receiving appropriate nutrition, aging pets can go on a diet. Senior pets often have a naturally decreased metabolism and reduced activity level, because of arthritis pain. Once begun, a gain-and-pain cycle is difficult to escape. Town and Country Animal Hospital can provide effective nutritional counseling, and a low-impact exercise plan for your senior pet. 

While you need have no shame in admitting your pet is overweight, you will feel enormous guilt and heartbreak if your pet is stricken with preventable complications—and we’d like to prevent that, if possible. Contact us to schedule an appointment at Town and Country Animal Hospital.