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Is My Pet Overweight? - Part I

What to do if Fido (or Fluffy) tips the scale

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Fat tuxedo cat © John Galt on Flickr

Fat tuxedo cat

© John Galt on Flickr
From the Forum:
"The August visit to the vet (normal preplanned check-up) revealed that she was about 5 pounds overweight. Snowball turned 1 year old in September. Other than pushing maximum density, she got a clean bill of health. Before I have her start actually running with me, is there anything else I need to check out?" - Dave

Does any of the above sound familiar? While some pets are unquestionably on the pudgy side, many people are surprised to learn from the vet that their pet is overweight. This diagnosis is based on a weight gain (adult animals) compared to previous checkups and the physical examination. A full veterinary exam is most important, as some diseases (Hypothyroidism, Cushing's Disease, etc.) can cause weight gain.

Here are some general assessment points for body condition and weight:

  • Can the ribs be felt with gentle palpation of the sides?
  • Is there a "waist" - an indentation in the area between where the ribs end and the hips begin (when looking down at the back)?
  • Can the hip bones be palpated with gentle pressure?
  • Does your pet have trouble or is your pet slow to rise or move about?
  • Is your pet reluctant to exercise?
  • Does your pet seem to tire easily with activity?

Photos: How To Access Your Pet's Weight

Fitness Poll: Do you and your pet exercise together?

Food and dietary management:
People often request that "special diet food" that will return their pet to a more svelte version. A lower calorie diet is just half of the solution for a pet that is overweight. Exercise is the other half of the solution. This article will focus on diet and dietary management. The next article in this series will focus on exercise and safely attaining weight loss and better cardiovascular fitness.

What food is best? Before looking at the food itself, one should assess how it is fed - how often and how much. In some cases, the pet is simply being overfed or eating too many snack foods. (Many pet snack foods, like human snack foods, are loaded with fat, sugar, food dyes, and other unhealthy ingredients.)

Ideally, most dogs and cats do best when fed ad libitum, or free fed. This is where food is left out and the pet can eat whenever s/he wants. This sounds contradictory to good weight management, but if started when the pet is a puppy or kitten, they learn to only eat when they are hungry, and since food is always around, it isn't a big "deal" where they need to gulp it down, looking for their next meal. This method is often not practical when there are more than one pet in the house and the pets are on different diets, but well worth trying, if possible.

The next best food management technique is to feed 2-4 small meals throughout the day. Even if not on a weight management program, dogs and cats should be fed at least twice a day. Less than that, and gastrointestinal problems, such as bile vomiting and bloat (dogs) are potential problems. Eating smaller meals is a better utilization of calories. It is important NOT to exercise your pet for a period (30 minutes or more) before and after eating.

Snacks, who can resist? Snacks may be a big part of your pet's day, and they may not be. Snacks are OK when used in moderation. Generally speaking, the more "human-like" the snack is -- shaped like a hot dog, bacon, etc. - the more full of fats, sugars, and dyes they are. Look for low fat biscuits and "plain" snacks. Buying the small dog size for large dogs will help reduce intake, too. Also, there are several natural, low-calories snacks you can give at home, such as raw carrots and unbuttered, unsalted, air-popped popcorn. If you are so inclined, you can make your own homemade biscuits - low calorie and healthy.

After assessing the method of feeding and the snack intake, one should consider what food the pet eats. There are many low calorie foods out there, and you can make your own pet food. Some people choose raw foods, otherwise known as BARF (Bones And Raw Foods or Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods). Your vet will be the one to discuss your pet's dietary choices with, as s/he knows your pet and the medical history. In the mean time, it is wise to familiarize yourself with the ingredients and labeling of pet foods, and nutrition in general.

Start Now. Take the Pet Fit Challenge!
Now it is time to get on the virtual weight scale. This is a wonderful site for assessing your pet's weight and health. Study up for next week and start by visiting Hill's Pet FitTM site. As mentioned above, a veterinary examination is in order before any weight management program, so be sure to "weigh in" with your veterinarian before radically altering your pet's diet and exercise plan.

Part II ....Exercising safely with your pet(s)!

Text: Copyright © Janet Tobiassen Crosby DVM. All rights reserved.
Photo: Fat tuxedo cat © John Galt on Flickr

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