Obesity is the No. 1 disease of cats and dogs in the U.S. According to the 2014 National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Survey, nearly 53 percent of American dogs and 58 percent of U.S. cats are overweight or obese.
Overweight is defined as 15 percent above ideal body weight, while obesity is defined as 30 percent above ideal body weight. Obesity predisposes animals to numerous diseases, including osteoarthritis, diabetes, hypertension, cranial cruciate ligament (“ACL”) injury, and respiratory difficulties. Additionally, there is increasing evidence that it can also predispose to certain types of cancer.
And, if we needed further reason to keep our pets at a healthy weight, the Purina’s Landmark Life Span study found that dogs maintained at a lean body weight outlived their counterparts by 15 percent, or two years, for the Labrador retrievers used in the study.
So, with all of these reasons to keep our pets at the ideal weight, why are so many pets still overweight?
The simple answer is that calories in are greater than calories out — they are just eating too much. Most of us enjoy giving our pets that little extra snack or even treat from the table. It’s rewarding to see their excitement, so we tend to over-treat and “supplement” their diets.
With regards to cats, many cats aren’t huge treat-takers, so limiting treats may not have as big of a factor on their overall calories; however, cats are most at risk for being overfed, since we tend to just leave food out for them, without measuring it out. Additionally, many indoor cats lead fairly sedentary lifestyles, so they just aren’t burning many calories on a daily basis.
How do I know if my pet is overweight?
Most veterinarians use either a 5-point or 9-point body condition score, with a score of one being emaciated, and 5/5 or 9/9 being morbidly obese.
Sometimes it can be difficult to accurately assess our own pets, since we see them on a daily basis. Asking your veterinarian for an objective score, or even a friend or family member, can be very useful.
How much should I be feeding my pet?
Because there is such variation in the number of calories per cup in pet foods, it’s impossible to say “this dog should eat X number of cups per day.” And, to make matters worse, most pet food companies do not clearly display the number of calories per cup on the bag — this information can usually be obtained via the website, but they certainly don’t make it easy to find.
In general, though, the chart on the back of the bag can be used as guide for feeding volumes. However, because these charts tend to be very generous (the pet food companies are in the business of selling food, afterall), we typically recommend decreasing the “recommended” volume by 20-25 percent for most adult pets, dog or cat.
How do I start a weight-loss program for my pet?
If you are ready to take on a concerted weight-loss program, it’s best to meet with your veterinarian ahead of time to get a baseline weight, determine the ideal number of daily calories, a healthy rate for weight loss, and a detailed plan of action. Your veterinarian will most likely recommend a percentage decrease in the volume fed, or a specific target number of calories per day, as well as follow-up with frequent “weigh-ins.” Sometimes changing the diet itself, not just the volume, can be helpful to promote weight loss.
With a bit of effort your pet can soon be on the path to a healthy waistline, and improved overall health to boot!