Six Tips to Keep Your Pet Fit and Trim

Dr. Jaime Shriver, DVM, DABT
Associate Veterinarian, Clinical Toxicology 

I stood in the exam room with one hand on either side of Winifred’s portly chest and stated “Winnie is generally very healthy, but she is a little bit chubby.”  Ms. Winnie’s Mom replied, “Yeah, I know, but I can’t get her to lose weight!  All she wants to do is eat!”

I have this talk with pet parents a thousand times a day.  Obesity is the number one health issue diagnosed in dogs and cats.  Unfortunately, house cats and dogs tend to be less active than their wild counterparts and their metabolism hasn’t quite adjusted to catch up with the domestication process.  Statistically, obesity can shorten a pet’s life by up to two years and predispose patients to various medical issues including type 2 diabetes in cats and arthritis in dogs.  So what can you do to keep your pet fit and trim? Here are a few tips to get you started.

  • Talk to your veterinarian about what your pet should weigh. Because most dogs and cats are overweight, many pet owners have an unrealistic idea of what a normal weight should be.  Starting with a firm goal from your veterinarian is the first step in working towards a healthier pet.  On that note, please discuss any weight loss regimen that you undertake with your veterinarian prior to making changes.  What works for some pets is not healthy for everyone and your veterinarian can help guide you in this process.
  • Limit the “junk food” your pet ingests. High calorie treats are the equivalent of human junk food.  The size of treats is often excessive and can be a significant portion of your pets’ daily recommended calorie intake.  Consider less calorie dense alternatives such as ice cubes and carrot sticks OR give your pets regular food instead of treats.  For an occasional treat, I will give my dog a small portion of one treat and try to always keep in mind he doesn’t care how much he is getting, he is just happy that he got something yummy!
  • Measure your pets’ food daily. Free feeding (filling the bowl and allowing your pet to self regulate) is the most common cause for obesity in pets.  Dogs and cats get bored and, just like many humans, they munch! Only putting a set amount of food in the bowl each day will prevent significant overeating.  Talk with your veterinarian about how much your pet should be eating each day.
  • Make sure your pet is moving! Calories in vs calories out is the general formula for weight control in pets as it is in humans.  A more active lifestyle will lead to a higher metabolism and limit weight gain.  Dogs may benefit from regular walks and trips to the dog park.  Indoor cats can exercise with puzzle toys that require them to “work” for their food and interactive games that encourage jumping and playing.
  • If you are having troubles with weight loss, you may want to consider a calorie restricted OR prescription pet food for weight loss. Any diet change should be discussed with your veterinarian.  These diets are less calorie dense and increase satiety through various mechanisms.  Some are high protein and low carb, others are high in fiber.  Please discuss with your veterinarian which formulation is right for your pet.
  • Some patients may have metabolic issues that are preventing weight loss such as hypothyroid disease, which is common in dogs. Please discuss testing with your veterinarian.