How to Tell if Your Pet Needs to Shed Some Pounds

Dog eating

According to Veterinary Practice News, when dieting your dog or cat down to a healthy weight:

"Don't feed the oversized pet you see. Instead, portion out meals while visualizing the much-leaner animal deep inside."

Simple advice to help a chubby pet lose weight:

  • When setting a target weight, don't be afraid to go a bit lower. If your 40 pound dog needs to lose 10 pounds, shoot for 12 or even 15.
  • Use smaller feeding bowls to serve the new smaller portions of food. From a psychological perspective, this may prevent you from piling on additional food because the bigger bowl looks 'too empty.'
  • Build exercise time into any pet weight loss program.

It's sad but true. Growing numbers of companion animals in the U.S. are overfed and under-exercised, very much like their owners.

Between 30 to 40 percent of U.S. pets are too heavy, and 25 percent are obese. An overweight pet can develop many of the same debilitating health problems as an overweight human, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Respiratory problems
  • Excessive wear and tear on joints and ligaments

How Can I Tell if My Pet is Too Heavy?

This is a reasonable question.

Many pet owners can no longer discern the difference between a robust weight and overweight. So many pets are obese these days that perceptions of body size have become distorted.

The dog that at one time looked lean and fit, for example, now appears a bit emaciated. The dog that a few decades ago was clearly too heavy, now looks like the majority of his canine buddies at the dog park.

One way to measure your pup's fitness is by feel. Run your hands over his rib area. You should be able to feel ribs beneath a thin layer of fat, and his skin should move easily under your fingers.

Now step back and take at look at him. He should have a tuck-up at the rear of his ribs and a visible waist when viewed from above.

For a list of ideal weight ranges for several breeds of dogs and cats, you can review the guidelines established by APOP (Association for Pet Obesity Prevention).

To weigh your kitty or a small-to-medium size dog, weigh yourself first then step back on the scale holding your pet. Calculate the difference between the two numbers -- that's your pet's current weight. If your dog is too heavy to pick up, many veterinary clinics have heavy-duty scales in or near the reception area and don't mind pet owners stopping by to weigh large breed dogs.

If you're still unsure if your pet is overweight, schedule a visit with a holistic veterinarian. In fact, if your dog or cat hasn't been in for a wellness visit lately, it's a good idea to schedule an appointment before you embark on a diet and exercise plan.

Talk with your vet about your desire to get your furry friend back down to a healthy weight. Decide together what your pet's ideal weight should be.

Keep your vet updated on the progress you're making. It's always a good idea to partner with a professional who can help you reach your goal and offer encouragement and tips along the way.

It's Official, My Pet is Porky. Now What?

Once you know what your pet currently weighs, you must establish what she should weigh. I recommend you ask your holistic vet for his or her input on how much your pet needs to lose.

Let's say your dog is 50 pounds. Now let's calculate how many calories she needs to stay at her current weight using this formula:

Daily calories (canine) = Body Weight (kg) x 30 + 70

In order to use this calculation, first we have to convert her weight from pounds to kilograms.

One kilogram = 2.2 pounds, so divide her weight in pounds by 2.2. 50/2.2 = 22.7. Your dog's weight in kilograms is 22.7.

Now our formula looks like this: Daily calories = 22.7 x 30 + 70

And finally, it looks like this: Daily calories = 751

If your dog eats about 750 calories a day, she'll stay at her current weight. In order for her to lose weight, she must eat fewer calories.

Let's say you and your vet agree your dog should be 45 pounds at her ideal weight. All you need to do is apply the above formula using 45 instead of 50: 45 pounds in kilograms is 45/2.2 = 20.4; 20.4 x 30 + 70 = 682 daily calories.

The formula for kitties has a slight variation to account for the ultra-sedentary lifestyle of most housecats:

Daily calories (feline) = Body Weight (kg) x 30 + 70 x 0.8

Next you must determine how many calories are in the food you're feeding and the treats you provide, and adjust the amount downward as necessary. If you feed prepared pet food, don't follow the label guidelines for how much to feed. Find out how many calories are in a can or cup – this will vary by brand and flavor. You may need to find the product website or call the toll-free number on the label to get the information you need.

If you feed raw or cook your pet's food at home, the recipes you use to build the meals should contain calorie information.

Obviously free-feeding, also known as the all-day-all-you-can-eat-buffet, isn't how you'll help your pet lose weight.

You must determine how many calories your dog or cat needs each day to achieve her ideal weight and feed it in portions – usually half in a morning meal and the remainder in her evening meal. And again, don't forget to factor treats into the equation.

Fewer Calories Should Not Mean Less Nutrition

Overweight pets on restricted calorie diets still need the protein, fats, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients essential for vibrant good health. If you're planning to cut the number of calories your dog or cat consumes each day, make sure not to cut back on vital nutrition in the process.

Feed the highest quality diet you can manage, and talk with your holistic/integrative vet about what supplements might be appropriate to insure your pet is receiving complete and balanced nutrition while dieting, as well as after he's reached his ideal weight.

In the Veterinary Practice News article linked above, Hill's Prescription Diet makes the following claim about their r/d formula:

"Gene expression is altered in dogs fed r/d such that once they are at their ideal weight, their gene-expression profiles more closely resemble those of reference lean dogs (the fat burners) than themselves at the start of the study, when they were overweight and their gene-expression profile more closely resembled the obese reference profile (fat storers)."

This obvious marketing gimmick for Hill's r/d product makes it appear there is something special about their formula that turns on a fat-burning gene.

Don't be misled. The truth is once your pet's body (or yours, for that matter) has reduced fat stores and increased lean muscle mass, the metabolic process naturally burns more calories. This alteration has nothing to do with a particular brand of pet food -- it's simply the physiology of fat metabolism.

My opinion of Hill's r/d formula is it lacks sufficient real food-based antioxidants, amino acids and EFAs. I have seen many dogs and cats show signs of nutritional deficiency, including excessive shedding, flakey skin, brittle nails and a dull lusterless coat, after four or more months on this food.

Yes, sometimes these animals are leaner. However, it's neither necessary nor healthy to swap a vibrant nutritional status for weight loss. You can and should nourish your pet's body well throughout the weight loss process.

The Importance of Exercising Your Overweight Pet

Insure your pet gets plenty of exercise as part of his weight loss program. Aerobic activity will not only help your dog or cat burn fat, it will also keep his muscles toned and his mind stimulated.

Cats aren't as easy to exercise as dogs, so you may need to get creative to get your kitty moving. Appeal to your feline's hunting instinct by hiding bowls of food around the house so he has to search them out. Find toys designed to bring out the hunter in him as well.

Your dog wants to please you, so there's really no limit -- depending on your pup's health and overall condition -- to the kinds of exercise you can involve him in to help him lose weight.

If he's very overweight or out of shape, take it slow in the beginning and build up gradually to a good daily workout. Use your imagination. Dogs can learn to walk on treadmills for exercise. Many enjoy swimming, which is a very beneficial physical activity for canines.

Your dog needs to elevate his heart rate for a minimum of 20 minutes consistently throughout the week, and the only way to get it done is through heart-thumping, muscle-building, calorie burning aerobic exercise.

This means you must put your four-legged buddy on his leash and get moving. Really moving – not the sniff-piddle-dawdle, Sunday-walk-in-the-park variety. Your dog's heart rate must be elevated for an adequate amount of time, several times a week in order to move his body into a fat-burning state.

Other Pet Weight Loss Tips

  • Take weight off your pet slowly, especially if you're dealing with a chubby cat. Kitties can quickly develop a serious liver problem called hepatic lipidosis if they do not get a sufficient number of calories each day.
  • Use the right measuring tools to portion out your pet's meals. Grabbing whatever's convenient, like a coffee mug or a soup spoon, will not allow you to measure the portions correctly. Use standard cooking and baking measuring tools.
  • Avoid commercial low-fat diets marketed for overweight dogs and cats. Many of these formulas are as far removed from balanced, species-appropriate nutrition as it gets, and you may be very surprised to learn the 'diet' your pet is on is actually causing him to gain weight.

+ Sources and References