Weighing in on prevention and treatment of pet obesity

Weighing in on prevention and treatment of pet obesity

Every pet parent knows the joy and excitement in a pet's eyes when the treats or food come out. Who can resist those sweet eyes, begging for just one more bite? Treating and feeding our pets delicious food is an easy way to show we love them, but the consequences of overdoing it can be serious, resulting in our pets putting on too much weight. 

Pet obesity is a growing problem in the United States, with nearly half of our furry family members being overweight or obese, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. Like excess weight in humans, this can lead to a laundry list of health problems for our pets, some of which can shorten our precious time with them. 

Prevention is key

Luckily, the solution is often well within our control. As owners, our pets depend on us to keep them healthy. After all, we're the ones responsible for their food portion sizes, their treats and their physical activity — all factors in maintaining a healthy weight. 

Prevention is the easiest route, so knowing the appropriate portion of food your pet should be consuming and how often is important. Most pet foods provide guidelines on how much to feed your dog or cat on their label, but sometimes pets have special needs, and adjustment is necessary. Consult with your veterinarian in Onalaska, Wisconsin, if you are uncertain what kind of food is best for your pet or how much you should be feeding your dog or cat each day. Your veterinarian can also provide guidelines for healthy treat habits for your pets. 

Regular exercise is another important component in helping your pet maintain a healthy weight, and as a bonus, it's good for humans, too. Exercise burns calories in animals, as it does in humans, and healthy eating with exercise is a more effective way of maintaining proper weight than portion control alone.

We're all busy, so it's important to make a habit of fitting physical activity into your day that includes your pet. Whether that's playing on the living room carpet, going for a walk or jog, or a game of fetch at the local off-leash park, exercise is a healthy way to bond with our animals and show our pets that we love them. 

Be sure to check with your pet's veterinarian, as well as your primary care physician, before starting a new exercise routine.

Diagnosing and treating obesity in pets

Prevention is always best, but it's often necessary to address pet obesity despite our well-meaning efforts. Sometimes it creeps up on us until one day we suddenly realize Fido is looking fuller than usual. Here's how you can know if your dog or cat might be overweight. 

Gaze down at your pet when they are in a standing position. Look at the shape of their body. In both dogs and cats, the chest area should be wider than the stomach area, and there should be a discernable indentation in the waist area, between the bottom of the ribcage and the hips. If this area does not indent or bulges out, your pet may be overweight. Of course, particularly fluffy cats and dogs may be more challenging to assess. Your veterinarian can offer insights about the appropriate weight for your pet. 

If your pet is found to be overweight or obese, it's time to take action. Your veterinarian will ask questions about your pet's diet and lifestyle and offer recommendations. 

  • In some cases, Dr. Nicole may suggest a moderate-calorie pet food or changing to a therapeutic diet. Overall, an increase in fiber, a reduction in fat intake and higher protein diets have been found to help pets lose weight.
  • Your veterinarian may recommend reducing the portion sizes of your existing pet food. 
  • Your veterinarian will likely also recommend increased physical activity for your pet. 
  • In some cases, medication can be prescribed to treat obesity or address underlying factors contributing to your pet's weight problems. 

A healthy weight for your pet and a healthy payoff

You don’t need to forgo treats altogether. But as a general rule, they should make up no more than 10% of your pet’s diet. And when you choose treats, look for those that have a veterinarian’s stamp of approval — like the pet treats Dr. Nicole created with Jen Barney of Meringue Bakery. You’ll want something with natural, nutritious ingredients that fully meets licensing requirements in your state.

Keeping your pet at an appropriate weight is more important than most pet owners realize. Overweight or obese pets are at risk for serious health complications, and research shows pets that maintain a healthier weight live longer on average than those that carry extra pounds. So the next time you feel tempted to treat and treat-time is over, treat your best friend and yourself to quality time together playing or exercising. It's a great way to show your dog or cat that you care enough to keep them healthy.