Keeping Our Pets at a Healthy and Happy Weight – Hometown Focus
Season! This month, I want to tackle a scary topic: obesity in pets. National Pet Obesity Awareness Day is this month and while a chonky pet may look cute, it’s important to consider and understand the frightening consequences of our pets carrying more weight than they should.
Healthy weight can vary for a variety of reasons among individuals, so we use a body condition score to help consider shape, breed and size to better judge if an animal is in good condition and has a healthy weight.
The main things we consider when assessing pet body condition are size and abdomen, ability to feel ribs/spine/hip bones, and fat deposits. A dog or cat in ideal physical condition would have ribs, spine, and hip bones that are easily felt (and possibly visible depending on the coat) with no excess fatty tissue, as well as a size visible from above and neatly folded back when viewed from the side.
In a 2018 study on the prevention of obesity in pets, 59.5% of cats and 55.8% of dogs were overweight or obese, more than half of our pet population considered overweight or obese.
Pet obesity is considered a disease by most veterinarians and pet owners, and it is clear that it has become endemic in our pet population. Although those few extra pounds may seem harmless, they can shorten your life.
A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine showed that healthy-weight dogs lived an average of two and a half years longer than their overweight counterparts. Being overweight can adversely affect our pet’s health and lead to various health problems including arthritis, heart disease and hypertension, diabetes mellitus and cancer, to name a few.
What can we do with so many stacked against us? The first thing to do is to determine if your pet has a good body condition score. Speak to your veterinarian and always consider any health issues and concerns when developing a plan to address your pet’s weight and body condition. If your pet needs to lose weight, a good goal is usually 0.5-2% of their body weight per month, depending on their size.
Regular exercise is important for weight maintenance, but also for the general health and well-being of pets. Dogs generally need at least 30 minutes of activity a day, but this can vary greatly depending on your dog’s breed and health status.
Find exercises that are enjoyable for you and your pet. Walking, swimming, or playing with their favorite toy are great ways to get your pet moving and spending time bonding.
Cats need an average of three five-minute play periods per day. You may need to get creative to encourage your cat to exercise. Toys can be elaborate or simple as long as they are safe to entertain.
In my experience, cats tend to prefer cheaper options like cardboard boxes over the expensive, well-researched toys I buy for them. Hiding or throwing treats around the house can provide exercise and boost your cat’s natural hunting abilities.
Consider your pet’s lifestyle, health needs, and tastes when choosing a diet. Many of your favorite pet food brands, whether traditional kibble or fresh food, offer “healthy weight” varieties created with pets prone to overweight in mind, which can be a good starting point.
In general, canned pet foods tend to be lower in carbs while still being a delicious (in most pets’ opinion) option. Ask your veterinarian for the recommended daily calorie intake for your pet – 90% of this should be diet and 10% can come from treats and fillings. You can then use these numbers to calculate exactly how much food you should be feeding based on the calorie content of the diet you choose.
Try to be consistent as much as possible and use an appropriate measuring cup or kitchen scale. Pre-dosing food and treats for the day can be helpful, especially if you have multiple people at home offering food and treats – we’ve all been there when those puppy eyes or incessant meows have prompted us. to feed them what turns out to be a second breakfast.
Keeping your pets at a healthy weight is the best thing you can do for their health and longevity. Although obesity in pets can be a scary topic, there are many easy changes you can make at home to improve your pet’s quality of life for years to come. Wishing you and your pets a happy spooky season and remember to enjoy all your tricks and treats in moderation!
Dr. Molly Feiro, veterinarian and owner of Iron Pine Veterinary Services, grew up in Hibbing. She earned her bachelor’s degree in animal science at the University of Minnesota, then attended veterinary school at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. She has been practicing small animal medicine on the Iron Chain for five years and opened her own mobile clinic in August 2021. She can be reached at 218-780-8049.