Cats | Dogs | Health & Nutrition | January 28, 2016

Weight Management for Pets: A key ingredient for a long, healthy life

Dr. Jennifer Adolphe
By: Dr. Jennifer Adolphe
Girl running with dog

Did you know that an estimated 22-44 percent of pets are substantially heavier than their ideal body weight? One of the most important things we can do to protect the long-term health of our pets, and something that we can largely control, is helping them maintain a healthy weight.

Obesity is a significant risk factor for many life-threatening diseases that affect dogs and cats. For example, diabetes and obesity in cats often go hand-in-hand, and in dogs even a slight increase in weight has been shown to decrease their lifespan by about two years.

It’s not just a long-term problem, though, as the negative effects of being overweight can start to appear within just a few weeks of the onset of obesity.

Body weight is a balancing act of “energy in” (food) versus “energy out” (activity). To lose weight, food consumption needs to be decreased and/or the amount of activity needs to be increased.

But it’s best to prevent weight gain in the first place since weight loss can be difficult to achieve. Pets who have lost weight are more susceptible to regaining weight and the associated health problems.

How do you determine if your pet is in less than ideal shape? Look for a proportioned, slightly hourglass body shape when viewed from above, a slight tummy tuck and a thin covering of body fat over the ribs and spine. When running your hands along your pet’s body, you should be able to feel the ribs and hips without pressing hard.

If you have determined that your pet needs to shed a pound or two, what should you do?

Step 1: Determine your pet’s weight

Visit your vet to weigh your pet and for a health check to make sure that there are no underlying health conditions. For weekly follow-ups at home, you can weigh your pet using a bathroom scale.  Weigh yourself, then pick up your pet and weigh again. Subtract the difference to determine your pet’s weight.

Step 2: Determine a course of action

If your pet only needs to lose a little bit of weight, you may decide to continue feeding the same food and just reduce the amount. If more weight needs to be lost, a specific weight-loss recipe can help to keep your pet feeling satisfied while reducing calories.

Ideally, your pet’s food should be weighed, not measured or free-fed. Weighing is more accurate and allows you to monitor exactly how much you are feeding. Using a smaller food dish and scoop may also help you to stick with the plan.

Determine how much you are currently feeding your pet and cut this amount down slightly. After a week, weigh your pet again to see how much has been lost. A 1-2 percent body weight loss per week is ideal, and weekly weigh-ins are important as a rapid decline in weight can be harmful to your pet.

Step 3: Monitor progress and stay on-track

If too much or too little weight has been lost during the previous week, adjust the amount of food again until a slow and steady weight loss is achieved. Continue adjusting food intake and assessing body condition weekly until your pet reaches an ideal body weight.

Avoid the temptation of giving your pet extra treats and table scraps as those extra calories can add up quickly. It’s also helpful to keep a record of your pet’s progress.

Keeping your pets in optimum body condition will ensure you of their warmth and companionship for years to come.

This article originally appeared on Multibriefs.com