Each year, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention conducts the Pet Nutrition and Weight Management Survey for pet owners and veterinary professionals, and a biennial pet obesity prevalence survey for veterinary clinics. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the prevalence survey was postponed until October 2021, but the results from the 2018 survey were staggering. More than half of the American pet population was classified as overweight or obese—an estimated 60% of cats and 56% of dogs were in need of a weight loss program.

With so many pets carrying excess weight, a day was set aside to highlight this growing epidemic. This year, October 13 has been designated as National Pet Obesity Awareness Day. To help your furry pal maintain a healthy weight all year round, follow these five tips from our team at Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center.

#1: Evaluate your pet’s body condition

Instead of looking at a number on the scale, learn to evaluate your pet’s body condition for a more accurate representation of their health. When grading your pet on a cat or dog body condition scale, use your hands to feel for landmarks. For example, you should be able to feel your pet’s ribs under a thin layer of fat. If you have to press very hard, your pet is too heavy. All pets should have an abdominal tuck, which means their abdomen tucks up neatly into their pelvis, rather than forming a straight or saggy line back. Additionally, your pet should have a visible waistline that creates a slight indentation, instead of a square shape. Some pets are too furry to visualize some of these features, so their fur must be flattened down through a hands-on exam. If you are unsure where your pet falls on the body condition scale, contact your primary care veterinarian for help.

#2: Learn what number equals a healthy weight for your pet

Although evaluating your pet’s health through their body condition is the most useful method, reaching a number on the scale is an easier goal to strive for. While a pet’s breed typically has a certain weight range, some pets simply don’t fall into line. Your pet may be larger or smaller than the breed standard, thus conforming to a different ideal weight. Also, it can be tough to determine where a mixed-breed pet should fall on the scale when looking at their parentage. To help decide what your pet should weigh, contact your primary care veterinarian. He or she can tell you if your pet needs to lose a set number of pounds to reach their ideal weight and provide a scale for monthly weigh-ins to ensure your furry pal is on the right track.

#3: Understand how to calculate your pet’s daily calorie requirements

You can exercise your pet all you want, but they won’t lose weight if you don’t feed them the correct number of calories per day. The formula for calculating a pet’s caloric needs is a bit complicated, so use a cat or dog calorie calculator to do the math for you. Once you know how many calories your pet needs each day to maintain or lose weight, you can use that number to divide their food into appropriately sized meals. Check the calorie content listed on the bag or can for each portion of your pet’s food, then determine how much food your pet should receive at every meal to meet their daily requirement.

#4: Allow only 10% of your pet’s daily caloric intake to go toward treats

It’s incredibly tough to turn down your furry friend’s beseeching gaze when they’re begging for your pizza crust, but that chunk of dough likely has more calories than your pet needs. Instead of tossing your pet table scraps for treats, stick to healthy options. Fresh veggies, small pieces of fruit, and morsels of lean meats are ideal, and typically contain a much lower amount of fat, sugar, and calories than commercially produced treats.

#5: Work with your primary care veterinarian to develop a healthy weight loss plan for your pet

Losing weight isn’t easy for any species, and, if done improperly, it can even be dangerous. For example, if cats lose weight too rapidly through excessive dieting, they can suffer from a potentially life-threatening liver issue called hepatic lipidosis, in which fat overwhelms the liver. If your pet is struggling to lose weight through a diet and exercise plan, they may be suffering from an underlying medical issue that interferes with metabolism. Diabetes, Cushing’s disease, and hypothyroidism are a few of the more common endocrine disorders that can cause weight loss difficulties. So if, after your best efforts, the number on the scale hasn’t budged, your pet should undergo a comprehensive examination to determine the cause of their weight-loss stall. 

If your furry pal is overweight, they can develop numerous health issues, such as osteoarthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, respiratory problems, kidney disease, and cancer. Serious complications can occur if your pet develops one of these medical problems because of their weight, but our Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center team is here to help. Ask your primary care veterinarian if referral to our internal medicine specialty team can help manage your pet’s disease.