New pet owners often begin with good feeding habits: measuring food out for meals, not feeding table food, and limiting treats. But, over time, these good practices can become derailed and extra pounds can gradually add up. How should you feed your pet for lifelong health? How do you get your pet’s weight back on track after getting stuck in bad habits?
Feeding pets for healthy weight
Animals should be fed pet food that is specifically labeled for their species. Human food should not be fed to pets—it is often higher in fat and calories and does not include species-specific nutrients that are needed for proper function.
Pet stores contain aisles of different pet foods, which can make choosing the perfect diet a daunting task. Regardless of which brand you choose, it is important to feed the correct number of calories for your pet’s ideal weight and activity level. The UVH team can calculate an appropriate daily calorie intake for your pet, which can then be used to calculate the precise number of cups or cans of food you should feed every day.
Recognizing obesity: How much is too much?
Pet owners often don’t realize that a pet has packed on a few extra pounds. A treat or two here, a few table scraps there… Before you know it, Fido’s waistline has expanded. Step one to getting your pet’s health back on track is recognizing that he has reached an unhealthy weight. An ideal body size will allow you to easily feel all of your pet’s ribs without seeing them. When viewed from the side, a dog or cat should also have an abdominal “tuck.” If you can’t feel his ribs and his waistline has disappeared, your furry friend is carrying too much weight.
Effects of obesity on overall health
Excess body fat has far-reaching consequences in terms of health problems. Carrying extra pounds predisposes your companion to a list of unwanted complications:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Orthopedic disease
- Metabolic and endocrine disorders, such as diabetes
- Kidney disease
- Skin disease
- Chronic inflammation
- Shortened life expectancy
Being overweight also limits a pet’s activity and ability to experience life to the fullest. Although we have no real way to measure obesity’s effects on an animal’s mental health, it is not inappropriate to assume that it diminishes the quality of life.
Talking about weight with your veterinarian
Weight can be a touchy subject, and some veterinarians may hesitate to mention your furry friend’s weight problem for fear of unintentionally offending you. Simply asking your veterinarian “Is my pet overweight?” can start the conversation. Our staff will determine your pet’s body condition score (BCS) and compare his body shape to one of a healthy weight. Based on the BCS, we can determine how much weight he should lose.
Helping your pet lose weight
A typical weight loss plan will focus on calorie restriction and exercise. Feeding only the precise number of daily calories your pet needs for normal metabolism will ensure he does not continue to gain weight.
One important note: Crash diets and severe calorie restriction are never healthy ways for a pet to lose weight. Cats can even develop a serious, life-threatening liver disease from inadequate calorie intake. Think slow and steady—we want the weight to come off gradually over many months.
In order to burn more calories, your pet will need to exercise. Any extra movement counts—be creative in devising ways to increase activity. Start out with short, low-intensity bouts of activity that increase in duration and rigor over time. Most dogs love to go on walks and play fetch. You can even include him in your exercise routine by taking him on a morning jog.
Exercising a cat can be more challenging, but if you stimulate his inner predator, instinct will get him up and moving. Laser pointers, remote-controlled toys, or even a feather on a string will encourage a cat to run and jump. Hiding food throughout the house or in a puzzle toy will require both dogs and cats to “hunt” for their meals.
Avoiding diet pitfalls
Table scraps are the one thing most likely to sabotage your pet’s progress. Sharing leftovers with your pet on top of the food already in his bowl is like feeding him two dinners, which he will happily gobble down.
Another pitfall to avoid is feeling the need to reward your pet with multiple treats throughout the day. If you factor the calories consumed as treats into his daily allotment, a treat or two can be OK, but if they are piled on top of a full day’s calories, they will only add extra inches. Many pet owners think of food as a way to express love for a pet. Your loving companion will be just as happy to receive praise and attention from you.
Wondering whether your pet needs to lose weight? Give us a call at 318-797-5522 to schedule a weight assessment with one of our veterinarians today.