For many people, staying fit and active is part of their lifestyle. They take time out of their weekly routine to exercise and eat right. Humans should do the same with their pets.
“Obesity has a negative effect on pets just as it does on humans,” said Dr. Rosslyn Biggs, Oklahoma State University Extension veterinarian and director of continuing education at the university Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. “Extra kilos can increase the risk of disorders, such as diabetes, kidney dysfunction, respiratory disorders, cardiovascular disease and arthritis. Being overweight also decreases your pet’s quality of life and can shorten their life expectancy.”
Just like humans, animals can gain weight for a variety of reasons. In addition to disease, Biggs said contributors include poor diet, inadequate exercise and changes in metabolism.
The best way to know for sure if a pet is obese is to have it weighed at the vet’s office. Your veterinarian can determine if a pet is overweight based on the pet’s size and breed. It is important to remember that a healthy weight will be different for each breed.
“A dog is considered overweight when it weighs between 10% and 20% more than its ideal weight. Pet owners often don’t realize their pet is overweight,” said Biggs. “Your vet can tell you what the ideal weight should be for his pet and help you develop a plan to shed those extra pounds.”
Stillwater veterinarian Dr. Amy Storm said a veterinarian will perform a physical exam and possibly recommend some diagnostic tests to help determine if a pet is overweight and why.
“Usually consuming too much food is the reason why Fluffy can be too fluffy; however, health conditions can certainly contribute as well,” Storm said. “It’s important to be honest about how much your pet eats on a daily basis. Let your vet know what brand of food you are using. It’s surprising how many pet owners can’t tell their vet exactly what brand and type of food their pet is eating. Having this vital information will help your vet develop a feeding plan.”
Knowing exactly how much a pet consumes can be difficult to determine if everyone in the family gives Fluffy a treat at random times, or if there’s a small child in the house who constantly drops food from the highchair tray.
Storm offers these tips for keeping track of how much your pet is eating:
- Measure with a measuring cup the amount of food that is put in the bowl at each meal.
- If free feeding, measure how much food is put into the empty container each morning and measure how much is left the next morning. Adjust that day’s food measurement accordingly.
- Set specific times for treats and make sure everyone in the family knows the schedule.
Once a weight loss plan has been established, frequent weight checks are recommended. The vet can help determine how often a checkup is needed. Exercise will also play a role in a weight loss plan.
Exercise is a great tool to help a pet lose weight. If the pet is dealing with medical conditions, consult a veterinarian first.
“Toys that encourage movement are great, especially for cats. Hiding kibble or treats in a cat treat ball or other type of interactive toy that promotes movement is a good idea,” Storm said. “A feather wand or laser lights will also help your feline burn some extra calories.”
With spring right around the corner, Biggs suggests taking advantage of neighborhood exercise opportunities, like the dog park or exercise trails.
“Educating pet owners about the health risks of pet obesity is the first step in raising healthy animals,” said Biggs. “Keeping pets healthy is also good for owners.”