Has your furball become a little chunky? Or, dare we say it, fat?  If your dog or cat is overweight, they’re not alone. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimates that 59 percent of cats and 54 percent of dogs in this country are obese. So what can pet parents do to help their precious furry friends lose weight? We sat down with our vet, Dr. Sasha Naugler, for some advice.

Why is it important our pets don’t become overweight?

There are so many reasons.  Being overweight can affect your pet’s health and quality of life. If your pet is carrying excess weight, which their body is not designed for, it can cause arthritis. Excess fat can cause inflammation within their body, increasing the risk of serious medical conditions such as cancer and diabetes. If your pet is sedentary, then when he’s sick and lying around, you may not pick up that something’s wrong.

How can you tell if your pet needs to lose weight?

There are many ways to tell if your pet needs to lose weight. You can download charts for dogs and cats.

to check your pet’s body condition score (BSC). Ideally, they should have a waist. And you should be able to feel their ribs, with only about ½ to 1 cm of tissue over them. If they’re fat, they will have a loss of waistline, excess fat over their ribs and neck, and they may have a “fat dimple.”  This is a divot on their rump right before their tail. You can’t always see it – for instance if your pet is fluffy – but you can feel it by lightly placing your flat hand over their rump.

What’s the next step?

Your pet should see a veterinarian first before you attempt any weight-loss program. Your pet may have a condition that needs to be treated (such as hypothyroidism) before they can safely lose weight.  

What will the vet check for?

Besides checking your pet for any health issues, your vet will look at your pet’s BCS. Also, your vet will ask questions about diet, table scraps, treats, and activity level. Additionally, your vet will compare serial weights to further assess your pet’s healthy body condition and weight.  Serial weights can show slow changes over time that a pet parent may not be aware of. Your vet will determine if you need to reduce the amount of food you currently feed your pet or change to a prescription diet food.

Do overweight pets need to eat diet food?

Your vet will calculate your pet pal’s ideal body weight, the calories they need, and the amount of weight they can safely lose each month to determine this.  Be aware that your pet can still gain weight if they eat too much diet food.  Each type of pet food (including different types of food within a single brand) has a different caloric content per cup of food. So look at the suggested feeding guidelines on the can or bag of diet food and adjust according to how your pet’s BCS is responding. Feel their ribs, check their waist, watch their energy levels, and feel their fat dimple. Also, feed the amount suggested for your pet’s “ideal” weight, which your vet will give you, not your pet’s current weight.

What’s the right way to introduce it?

You’ll need to make sure you are following your veterinarian’s advice if you need to switch your pet to diet food. Don’t do any drastic food changes. Introduce the diet food over 7-10 days. On day one, give 90 percent of the original food and 10 percent of the new food. On day two, give 80-20.  On day three, give 70-30.  Continue until you’re giving them 100 percent diet food. This will reduce the risk of bad reactions from the new food and from switching too fast. If your pet has any kind of bad reaction such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy or loss of appetite, please seek medical advice from your veterinarian.

What role does exercise play in weight loss?

Increasing your pet’s level of physical activity can also help your four-legged friend lose weight.  Eating fewer calories and exercising more equals weight loss.  Talk to your vet about developing a fitness plan that your pet will be able to manage.

How long does a pet need to be on a diet?

This depends on how much excess fat there was at the beginning, your pet’s metabolism, your pet’s health, and the increase in their level of activity. If you don’t see any weight loss within three months, talk with your vet about changing the brand of diet food, amount of daily calories, and other options. Once your pet reaches their desired weight level, continue to weigh them and feel their body at least once a week.  

Helping your pet lose weight is hard work and can take months, or longer.  But your reward will be a much happier and healthier pet.