Whether your dog is a barrel with legs, or your cat is a ball of jelly, being even a few pounds overweight can seriously affect the health and life-expectancy of your pet.
Start out by determining if your pet is overweight, and by how much. Purina has created a great reference on determining in a quantitative manner the body condition score of your pet.
Here’s the chart for dogs
Here’s the chart for cats
Using this system, your pet will receive a rating on a scale of 1-9. Most pets I see are from 6-8. The recommended body condition score (BCS) is 4.5 or 5, which is ideal or just below ideal.
A cat with a BCS of 7 or higher is extremely prone to diabetes. Interestingly, with weight loss down to a BCS of 5, some cats can actually reverse their diabetes and return to normal.
A dog with a BCS of 7 or higher may show joint pain (ie-arthritis), while a reduction in weight can relieve some of that pain.
The most important factor in managing the weight of your pet is knowledge. You must know what your pet is eating, how much your pet is eating, and how much exercise he/she gets per day. It’s easy to think about the food you put into the bowl, but what about the bag of treats in the cabinet? Those usually have more calories than the food!
Table scraps are often thought to be the nemesis of weight control, but table scraps used intelligently can actually help maintain your pet’s healthy weight! For instance, many dogs enjoy small pieces of raw carrot, apple, or the stem of romaine lettuce. Also, green beans or small pieces of plain boiled potatoes can feel like a big treat, and have much less fat than a dog biscuit!
One thing to keep in mind: if it’s healthy for you, it’s healthy for your pet. Remember the following exceptions to this rule, things your pet should never eat:
- Onions (or items with onion powder)
- Sugar-free gum or candy
- Chocolate (not really good for you either!)
When looking for a dry food to feed your pet, most people choose the “light” or “weight control” version. While these foods are lighter, they still have fat and calories! To start, read the chart on the back of most bags of food to get a rough idea on how much to feed. If your dog weighs 50 pounds, but he really should weigh 40 pounds, feeding for a 50 pound dog will keep him there! Feed for what he should weigh, then adhere to the lowest end of the range. To make sure this is the proper amount, check your pets weight in one month, and adjust the food as necessary.
Don’t forget the treats! Many people buy the diet food, then give their pet multiple treats per day. That’s the equivalent of us going on a liquid diet, but eating four candy bars a day and wondering why we’re not losing weight! Breaking one treat into many small pieces will still make your pet happy, but put less food into them. Some pets like ice chips or individual Cheerios. It isn’t the size of the treat, but the frequency that our pets cherish. So, determine your pet’s daily treat allowance, and spread it out throughout the day as far apart as you want. If your pet is accustomed to many treats throughout the day, then decrease the amount of food in the bowl to allow for this.
One note about cats and weight loss:
Cats must lose weight extremely slowly! If a 17 pound cat loses 1 pound over the course of two months, that is a great success! Cats lack the enzyme in their liver that metabolizes fat and helps it exit the body. Therefore, if a cat goes on a severe diet and too much fat is mobilized at once, the fat accumulates in the liver and causes a liver disease called hepatic lipidosis, which can be fatal.