Sure, a chubby puppy is pretty cute, but overweight and obese pets can suffer serious health issues, including diabetes, high blood pressure, respiratory disease, kidney disease, and cancer. They also have a higher bone, joint, and muscle injury risk because of their excess weight. Keeping your pet at a healthy weight is essential if you want to help them have a long, healthy, and pain-free life. Learn to recognize whether your pet is overweight, and help them shed extra pounds and improve their health by following our Haskell Valley Veterinary Clinic team’s weight management tips. 

Defining obesity in pets

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, pets who weigh 10% to 20% more than their ideal body weight are considered overweight, while pets who weigh 20% and more than their ideal weight are considered obese. A pet’s ideal weight depends on various factors, including breed, age, body type, and metabolism. While all pets can become overweight, some breeds have a higher obesity risk than others. Dog breeds more likely to become overweight or obese include:

  • Labradors
  • Beagles
  • Dachshunds
  • Basset hounds

Assessing your pet’s weight

Rely on your veterinarian to determine your pet’s ideal weight. As part of  your pet’s annual wellness exam, your veterinarian will assess your pet’s weight and overall health, and make recommendations regarding your pet’s weight, diet and exercise. Assess your pet’s body condition between veterinary visits by observing their body shape, and palpating specific body areas to determine your dog’s or cat’s body condition score (BCS). The BCS can be measured on two scales:

  • 5-point scale — Most pets’ BCS goal is 2.5 to 3. 
  • 9-point scale — Most pets’ BCS goal is 4 to 5.

To conduct your pet’s BCS at home, review the body condition score scale, and evaluate them based on the characteristics outlined in the diagram on the website. Your pet’s BCS is based on the fat content of a few key body areas:

  • Ribs — You should be able to easily feel a healthy weight pet’s ribs without a thick layer of fat over them when you spread your fingers across their rib cage. If a thick layer of fat covers your pet’s ribs, and the bones are difficult to see or feel, your dog or cat is overweight. 
  • Waist — Observing your pet from above, you should see a defined waistline that curves in behind the rib cage. A round or oval body shape indicates your pet is overweight. Observing your pet from the side, you should see an abdominal tuck behind the last ribs. 
  • Hips — When running your hands slowly over your pet’s body, you should not feel an excessive amount of fat covering the hips. Excess hip fat indicates your pet is overweight.

If you have questions about your pet’s weight or BCS, contact your veterinarian for guidance on weight loss or management.

Reducing your pet’s weight

Although pets have no one-size-fits-all weight-loss approach, all weight loss involves reducing caloric intake and increasing activity. Work with your veterinarian to set realistic goals for helping your pet lose weight, and make healthy changes to their diet and exercise. 

  • Feed your pet a nutritious diet — Your veterinarian can ensure your pet’s nutritional needs are met while losing weight. The recommended feeding amount on your pet’s food label may not be appropriate for their weight-loss goals, so ask your veterinarian about the food amount and feeding frequency that is right for your pet.
  • Modify your pet’s treats — Most pet treats and chews are high in calories and low in nutritional benefit. Instead, offer your pet low-calorie treats such as apples, green beans, or carrots. In addition, when you are having a meal, resist giving in to your pet’s sad, begging eyes—table scraps are usually high in fat and calories.
  • Increase your pet’s exercise — Exercise is key to losing weight and maintaining a healthy body weight. Determine the length and type of exercise that is best for your pet’s age and ability, and stick with it, gradually increasing the duration as their stamina increases. 

A healthy weight is about more than a number on a scale, and taking the steps toward helping your pet live a healthier lifestyle is beneficial. If you are struggling to help your pet lose weight, contact our Haskell Valley Veterinary Clinic team to schedule a weight evaluation appointment.