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What? My Pet is Fat?

It is a sad and unfortunate fact that most of our pets are overweight. There are many terms used to downplay the seriousness of this fact: pleasantly plump, more to love, love-handles, etc. But the plain facts are, being overweight can lead to potentially serious medical problems and can impact your pet’s quality and length of life.

What is obesity?

Obesity exists when body weight exceeds the optimum for your pet by 15% or more. The most practical way to evaluate your pet is to check the amount of fat over his or her rib cage. Run your hands gently along your pet’s rib cage. The ribs should be easily felt. If you can feel fat between the skin and ribs or if the ribs are difficult to feel, then your pet is overweight. If you cannot feel the ribs at all then your pet is obese. This works pretty well for dogs, but cats carry most of their fat in the abdomin and often their fat appears as a hanging belly.

It is important to have your pet’s weight status confirmed by your veterinarian! Your veterinarian will rule out other medical conditions that might look like obesity, such as tumors or fluid accumulation in the belly. It is important to confirm that your pet is actually overweight and not showing signs of heart or kidney disease (associated with fluid retention). Low thyroid hormones and Cushing’s disease can also cause your pet to put on weight.

So what’s the BIG deal?

Overweight pets are much more likely to have diseases and physical problems such as diabetes, liver, kidney and heart disease, joint problems, cancer, strokes and lung problems, and increased risks associated with anesthesia and surgery and high blood pressure. This translates to a less healthy pet and a shorter life span.
Low calorie, low fat diets are also low in sodium. A low sodium diet helps alleviate heart disease. A low fat diet lowers the threat of high blood pressure, which can contribute to kidney and heart disease. Weight loss can reduce the diabetic pet’s need for insulin. Excess weight puts excess stress on joints and causes even more pain and mobility problems for the pet suffering from osteoarthritis.

Controlling your pet’s weight can greatly increase your pet’s expected life span by up to 20 percent!

What are the causes of obesity?

Most pets simply get too many calories for their needs, either because they are less active or because they are fed too much. If our pet begs for food, most of us assume that he or she is hungry and needs to be fed. In reality, they just want more food! And, in addition, we often supplement their meals with snacks and table scraps. The obese prone pet responds to particularly good-tasting food by eating beyond its requirements. Puppies and kittens that are overfed are being predisposed to obesity as adults by increasing their number of fat cells. Allowing them to become obese during growth will often plague them with obesity all throughout their lives.

Being overweight is a vicious cycle. Obesity leads to less activity, less activity leads to less energy used which leads to a more obese pet.

What treatment is available?

Although providing fewer calories is the goal of any weight loss program, it is not always best to just reduce the amount of food being given. By simply reducing the quantity of food, which surely reduces the quantity of calories, we may also be reducing the amount of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients your pet needs to remain healthy. Most pet food manufacturers assume a certain volume will be fed based on the pet’s weight, and supplies those nutrients based on that assumption.

A better way to accomplish your weight reduction goals for your pet is to feed a high-fiber, low-fat, less calorie-dense diet, such as Hill's Prescription Diet Canine or Feline r/d. By using this approach, your pet can continue to eat approximately the same volume of food and reach that comfortable full feeling. It has been shown that feeling satisfied after a meal is not related to how many calories were consumed, but how full we feel.

With a weight loss diet program in place, and under the guidance of your veterinarian, you can now begin to increase your pet’s level of exercise. Exercise increases your pet’s chances for success. A reduction in your pet’s calories should begin to reduce his or her weight, which will lead to increased activity and energy and turn the cycle in your pet’s favor.

Helpful Tips for Overweight Pets

In order to mount a successful campaign of weight reduction for your pet, everyone in the household must work together toward that goal.

Reduce your pet’s calorie intake by feeding a nutritionally complete low calorie, high fiber diet designed specifically for weight loss, like Prescription Diet Canine or Feline r/d.

Divide the total amount fed per day into several (2-4) meals a day.

Keep your pet out of the room during family meal time.

Avoid offering snacks and table scraps.

Do not feed with other pets.

Exercise your pet regularly, under veterinary supervision.

Monitor your pet’s weight with regular ‘weigh-in’ visits to your veterinarian.

Remember, you are doing your pet a great kindness by following your veterinarian’s instructions and making a commitment to the weight loss program. Weight loss will improve your pet’s health, appearance and their quality and length of life.

Learn more about diet & nutrition for different animals below:

• What? My Pet is Fat?
• Introducing Your Pet to a New Diet

• Pet Bird Nutrition
• Iguana Diet
• Nutrition for Rabbits