Would you believe us if we told you that over 56 million cats and 50 million dogs are overweight or obese in the United States, alone? Unfortunately, a 2018 study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found this to be true. These numbers may be startling but fear not. Our resident vet, Dr. Katy Nelson, explains how to tell if your pet is overweight and how you can help them lose those extra few pounds.
How can I tell if my pet is overweight?
In people, we use the body mass index (BMI) to determine whether or not we’re overweight. BMI is calculated by taking the person’s weight in kilograms and dividing it by their height in meters squared. The final number of this calculation signals whether the person’s weight is too high considering their height.
We don’t have this exact measurement for pets, but we use what’s called a body condition scoring system (BCS). This score takes into account the pet’s breed, build, height, weight, subcutaneous fat layer over the ribs, and abdominal tuck to subjectively give the pet a score between 1 and 9. 1/9 would be extremely emaciated, 9/9 morbidly obese, and 4-5/9 considered ideal based on the pet’s body type.
I always tell pet parents that no matter your pet’s breed, they should have an abdominal tuck, also known as a waist – no pet’s belly should be “totally tubular”! Further, if you have to push down between inches of subcutaneous fat on your pet’s sides, they likely are overweight. In this case, you should be having a discussion with your veterinarian about the safest and healthiest way for them to reduce their weight.
What should I do if my pet is overweight?
If your pet is overweight, there are a number of things you can do help them shed a few pounds.
- Rule out any medical reasons for weight gain: Schedule a thorough physical exam by your veterinarian to rule out any underlying reasons why your pet has gained or is not losing weight. Bloodwork, radiographs or other diagnostics may be recommended.
- Figure out the right amount of food: Your vet can help you go over exactly how much you’re feeding your pet, including all treats. This is also the time to discuss your pet’s specific nutritional needs, disease conditions, allergies, activity level, breed and whether or not they’re spayed or neutered. All of this will be taken into account and translated into an exact measurement of food you should be giving your pet each day.
- Measure your pet’s food: Ensure that you are measuring your pet’s food exactly. Even slight over measurement for a small dog or cat can equal to 10-20% extra calories over their recommended caloric intake.
- Eliminate the shelf-stable food: It’s not just how much you’re feeding, but what you’re feeding, as well. Kibble can be high in carbs, while canned food can be high in fat content, so freshly cooked foods may be best for your pet. Whether cooking at home or purchasing a ready-made, complete and balanced diet like Freshpet, fresh foods tend to be lower carbohydrate, higher in protein, and lacking in chemical preservatives.
- Turn mealtime into playtime: For cats, consider feeding in creative ways that not only satisfy their hunger but make them burn off a few calories at the same time. Hunting feeders, like Doc & Phoebe’s, allow cats to hunt for their food as they do in the wild, stimulating them mentally as well as physically. For dogs, puzzle feeders make a great addition to an exercise program. Similar to the hunting feeders for cats, puzzle feeders stimulate dogs mentally and physically by making them work for their food and figure out how to get to it.
- Develop an exercise routine and stick with it: Talk with your veterinarian about appropriate types and amount of exercise for your pets, and don’t hesitate to get involved with them. It’s always more fun to workout with a buddy!
Incorporating some or all of these six tips into your pet’s daily routine will go a long way in helping them achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, so they can live a long and happy life.