I am such a food person! I love trying new foods, recipes, and restaurants! My idea of a good time with friends is to go out somewhere new to eat and socialize. I love to cook, and love to have people over to my house to socialize over a great meal.  I tend to drive my family crazy over the holidays. I am always wanting to try out a new holiday recipe, bake some holiday cookies, or oversee the holiday menu. I can go a little overboard!

Naturally, my love of food is shared with the pets; my idea of “spoiling” my pets is to bake them treats, try out new recipes, get them a “Puppuccino” at Starbucks, or pick up a new brand of treats when I’m at the store. During the holidays, it is not uncommon to bake the pets something special!  Naturally, my love of food can get myself and my pets in a little bit of trouble.

Speaking of trouble, October 9 is National Pet Obesity Awareness Day. In the United States, much like with people, pet obesity is a big problem- no pun intended!  According to Banfield Pet Hospital’s website, 1 in 3 dogs and cats in America are overweight. Yikes!!

I can easily see how pets can become overweight.  Just like with humans, in most cases, the cause in overweight pets really stems from their lifestyle. Unfortunately, when pets are overweight, they don’t have the choice to put themselves on a diet or exercise more, it is up to us to help them out. Let’s talk about some tips and tricks to keep our pets from becoming overweight, and how we can get our chubby pets back in shape!

Health Risks Associated with Obesity in Pets

Obesity can be linked to numerous diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, bone disorders, liver and kidney disorders, respiratory disorders, and urinary incontinence. Pets that already have any of these diseases can also experience worse symptoms when they are overweight or obese.  For example, a dog with arthritis or a respiratory disorder might actually have a better quality of life and get around easier if they are not carrying around all that extra weight.

What is considered an “ideal” weight for dogs and cats?

Veterinarians and other sources say that when you are touching your pet, you want to feel your pet’s ribs easily, but not be able to see their ribs. Your pet should also have a visible waistline, and not appear to look like a uniform shape such as a sausage. (See, my love of food again!)

So… What if my pet is overweight?

Always take your pet to see a veterinarian first. In most cases, there is not a health reason for the pet being overweight. However, a tiny percentage of pets might have a health reason that is causing them to become overweight.  Save yourself the headaches and make sure your veterinarian looks at your pet to determine there is not an underlying cause for your pet being overweight. 

Diet Changes: Once your veterinarian determines your pet is overweight, diet changes are likely going to be recommended. First, talk with your veterinarian about an ideal weight loss goal for your pet. Then, you and your veterinarian can determine how you can alter your pet’s diet to help with the weight loss goal.  How much to feed your pet is determined by what type of food you are feeding your pet. Different brands of dog foods have different levels of nutrients and calories in them.

When feeding your pet, you want to look at your pet’s food bag and the recommended feeding amount. You want to feed your pet the amount recommended for the DESIRED weight range for your pet. For example, your veterinarian tells you that your dog needs to lose 5 pounds. You will want to feed your dog according to the feeding guidelines (listed on the bag) for a dog with a weight range of 5 pounds less than your dog’s current weight. 

Use an actual measuring cup when feeding your pet. Too often, people will feed their pet “two cups” of food, when the “cup” measurement they are using is a coffee mug. That “two cups” measurement could really be three or four cups as coffee mugs are usually larger than one cup (eight ounces)!

ALL treats that your pet gets throughout the day need to be taken into consideration for their daily feeding routine. Just like with humans, 1-2 “cookies” for your pup can add up quickly.  If you MUST feed treats, you need to reduce the amount of food your dog receives.  You could also start feeding your pet a portion of their kibble as a “treat” or feed zero-calorie treats. Some veterinarians will recommend feeding carrots or green beans for treats as they are lower-calorie. However, it really depends on each pet’s situation, so consult with your veterinarian before feeding your pet any sort of people food as treats. 

This is what one ounce of cheese is equivalent to for a small dog or a cat.

Feeding “people food” as treats also counts towards your pet’s caloric intake for the day. Cutting back on the amount of kibble will not help with weight loss if your pet is still getting table scraps, crackers, cheese, or other treats.  In fact, a one-ounce cube of cheese for a 10-pound dog or cat is equivalent to a human eating three and a half hamburgers!

Exercise Routine: Depending on your pet’s weight loss goal and overall health status, your veterinarian may also recommend an exercise routine for your pet. Include your dog in your own exercise plan, whether it be walking, running, swimming, etc.  For a cat, chasing a teaser toy or laser for a few minutes multiple times a day will help them get their needed exercise. If you have kids at home, involve them with being responsible in your pet’s exercise routine.

Lifestyle changes

Overall, to really help solve the issue of overweight pets, it will take not only a diet change but also a lifestyle change. Like with humans, you can work hard to get the weight off, but if you go back to the same old habits before the diet and exercise routine, your pet will gain the weight back. Being mindful of how much you are feeding your pet, including treats, will help. It is OK to give treats to your pet, but make sure you are cutting back at mealtime to compensate for the treats given throughout the day.

Get the family on board with the changes needed

Veterinarians state that a lot of the time, pet diets fail is because of the family dynamics at home. Sometimes, someone in the family is not communicating that they already fed the pet. Or it could be that someone is still sneaking treats to the pet, or someone is not using the correct measuring cup when feeding the pet. Make sure everyone in the family is aware and on board with your pet’s weight loss lifestyle.  

Multiple pets in the house: a different feeding style?

Sometimes, the issue with the overweight pet is not the amount you are feeding THEM, but the amount you are feeding ALL the pets.  How you feed your pets can sometimes be a cause of overeating as well. For example, if you have one food bowl available for all your cats to share, it is hard to tell how much each cat is eating.  You may find that one of the pets is consuming most of the food.

A little attention goes a long way

For me, it was difficult not to give my pet treats as often as I was, as that was my way of spoiling them. In a way, I had to come up with a new way of showing affection to my pets! So, what are some things we can do to show our pets “love” differently? Throw the ball for your dog that likes to fetch. Spend some time with the cat chasing the laser if that’s what they are interested in. Sometimes, even spending a few minutes petting them goes a long way to show them they are loved!  With a few changes in lifestyle and a little cooperation from the whole family, your pet can be on the road to better health in no time at all! 

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