A Successful Weight Loss Plan for Your Pet
Weight loss is no easy task for anyone - two- or four-legged! But, losing weight can not only add more years to your pet’s life, it can also make those extra years more enjoyable too! Helping your pet lose a few pounds may be easier than you think. It mostly requires a commitment to weight loss and fitness, attention to details, and the assistance of your veterinary healthcare team.
Why should my pet lose weight?
As few as a couple of pounds above the ideal body weight can put your pet at risk for developing some serious medical conditions. Unfortunately, when a pet is overweight or obese it no longer is a question of if your pet will develop a condition secondary to the excess weight but how soon and how serious. Some of the common disorders associated with excess weight include:
· type 2 diabetes
· heart disease
· osteoarthritis (arthritis)
· increased frequency of joint injuries
· high blood pressure
· some forms of cancer - especially intra-abdominal cancers
Overweight and obese pets usually have shorter lives than their fitter, normal weight counterparts. Heavy pets tend to physically interact less with their families and are less energetic and playful. Because they tend to lie around more, it is easier to overlook early signs of illness, since we may attribute their lethargy to their normal laziness. There is good evidence that pets who are a healthy weight live significantly longer than dogs who are overweight.
How should I begin a weight loss program for my pet?
Theoretically, weight loss seems simple enough: fewer calories in plus more calories out equals weight loss. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as that.
You should never put your pet on a diet without the assistance of your veterinary healthcare team. There may be an underlying medical condition that is causing or contributing to your pets’ excess weight. Some common diseases associated with weight gain include hypothyroidism and Cushing's disease. These diseases, along with others, should be eliminated as possible causes or contributors to your pets’ weight problem prior to beginning a diet. Too many pets start on a diet and fail to lose weight simply because the diet was not the problem - a disease was. Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination and recommend blood tests to ensure that there are no obstacles to weight loss for your pet.
How much should I feed my pet to promote weight loss?
In order to answer this question, your veterinarian will need to calculate your pets’ ideal weight based on its breed and size. Based on the degree of excess weight, your veterinarian may recommend a target weight higher than the ideal weight to start. After the dog loses this weight, a re-evaluation will be made to determine whether further weight loss is needed. A safe weight loss for most dogs is 3-5% body weight loss per month. For cats, a safe rate of weight loss is 1 – 2% of their current body weight per week.
If you are using a reducing diet obtained from your veterinarian, the calorie content of the food will be on the label, and a member of your veterinary healthcare team will help you determine the appropriate amount to feed. If you choose to use an alternate source of food, and this information is not available on the label, you will need to contact the manufacturer to get it.
What makes veterinary weight loss diets special?
There are a number of weight control diets available at pet stores that work well for a dog who only needs to lose a small amount of weight. However, these diets are often not as effective as veterinary weight loss diets if a dog needs to lose a significant amount of weight or if your dog has other medical conditions.
Not all weight loss strategies work for every dog, so there are many different diets to address this. Some weight loss diets, such as Royal Canin® Calorie Control, are high protein, low carbohydrate, others such as Royal Canin® Satiety and Hills® Prescription Diet w/d have high fiber content to help your pet feel more full and stop begging for food. Some newer weight loss diets use specific nutrients that can promote increased metabolism, helping pets burn calories more quickly. Your veterinarian will be able to advise the best weight loss diet for your pets’ situation.
How can I get my pet to lose more weight through exercise?
The first thing you can do to help your pet lose weight is to increase the intensity and length of physical activity that they receive. Exercise for weight loss is very different than walking for pleasure.
Some additional simple tips for getting your dog to exercise more are:
· Move the food bowl upstairs or downstairs, changing its location frequently so that the dog always has to walk to get to its food bowl. If if the food bowl moves upstairs, they will head upstairs, too.
· Feed your pet in a treat ball or puzzle feeder to slow down ingestion and help them feel more full.
· Use toys, balls, laser pointers, squeaky toys, or sticks to encourage games of chase or fetch. Try to play with your pet for at least ten to fifteen minutes twice a day. There are toys that move randomly and make noises that may also be interesting to your pet. For many pets, variety is important, and what is exciting or interesting today may be boring tomorrow.
How often should I have my pet’s progress checked?
After you have put your dog on a weight loss program, it is critical that you determine if it is working for your dog. In general, your pet should be weighed at least every month until the ideal weight is achieved. Each pet is an individual and may require adjustments in the recommended diet or routine before finding the correct approach. If there is no significant weight loss in one month, then the program will need to be modified. Sometimes, making only a slight change can deliver significant improvements.
When my pet is hungry, they pester me until I feed her. Do you have any suggestions?
It is often easier to give in to the cat that wakes you at four in the morning to be fed or the dog that stares at you during dinner! These pets have trained us well and know exactly which buttons to press when it comes to getting their way. Here are some tips for handling your pleading pup:
· Do not use a self-feeder. While this seems obvious, auto-feeders are nothing more than unlimited candy machines to an overweight pet.
· If you use an automatic feeder, use one that opens with a timer. This way you can measure out the proper amount and divide it into daily meals.
· Pet your dog or play with your cat when they beg for food. Many pets substitute food for affection so flip the equation and you may find that playtime displaces mealtime.
· Go for a walk with your dog when he begs. The distraction and interaction may be just enough to make him forget his desire for food.
· Feed small meals frequently - especially give a last feeding for those pets that like to wake you up in the early morning hours begging for more goodies - divide the total volume or calories into four to six smaller meals - whatever you do, do not feed extra food.
· When the bowl is empty and your pet is pleading, add a few kibbles to the bowl. A few means only a few - not a handful. Keep a few kibbles separate from your dog’s measured daily ration for this purpose.
· If more than one person is feeding your dog, you should measure out the total daily food into a separate container such as a covered food storage container. Then, everybody knows how much your pet has been fed, and how much is left for the day. If you enjoy giving treats to your pet, feed them several kibbles from the container rather than giving them high calorie treats.
· Give a couple of pieces of vegetables such as baby carrots, frozen sliced carrots, broccoli, green beans, celery, or asparagus. Most pets love crunchy treats so make it a healthy and low-calorie choice. Do not give meat treats or carbohydrate treats such as bread or pasta. Even small amounts of these can lead to weight gain.
· Offer fresh water instead of food. If your pet is eyeing the empty food bowl, a drink of cold, fresh water may satisfy the craving.
How long will my pet need to be on a diet?
Most dogs will achieve their ideal weight within six to eight months. If the process is taking longer than this, something needs to be changed. Some pets may need to go slower while others may shed the pounds more quickly.
For most pets, the secret to weight loss is a dedicated, committed, and concerned family. Animals do not understand that their excess weight is causing them harm. It is up to us as good owners to protect them from harm and not inadvertently contribute to their premature death or development of debilitating diseases. Together, you and your veterinary healthcare team can help your pet achieve a healthy body weight and condition safely and successfully!