Most of us of an older generation grew up around plenty of skinny animals, so we may have got the idea that a chubby pet is a healthy pet. After all, it means that your pet has plenty to eat and is happy, right? Not so fast. Pet obesity is a very real problem and should be the concern of each and every guardian who has brought a dog or cat into their home.
A chubby pet is, in fact, not a healthy pet. Obesity in any animal brings with it a myriad of health problems. The thing to keep in mind is that, as their owners, we control how much our pets eat. We have no one to blame but ourselves if they are overweight, assuming that there is no underlying medical reason for the extra pounds. So, while taking actions like putting your pet on a measured feeding schedule or changing their diet can be difficult, they provide long-run benefits to your pet’s health and longevity.
As much as we have control over what our pets eat, we also have the ability to help them lose weight. The good news is that it can mean only a small effort on your part! Unlike humans, dogs don’t tend to pack on pounds just because they aren’t out running 2 miles every day. Exercise is a very small part of our dog’s weight gain or loss. Instead, weight management is majorly controlled by the amount of food they eat. If you’ve noticed that your pet’s weight is creeping up and you want to do something about it, keep reading! We have the answers you’ve been looking for.
Meal Feeding Controls Calories
If you are in the habit of keeping your pet’s bowl full so they can eat as they please, then you should probably stop. Free-feeding means you have absolutely no control of how many calories are being consumed each day. Some pets, particularly cats, can manage their weight when free-fed. But most can’t. Dogs in particular can develop compulsive eating habits that lead to weight gain, especially as they age.
Any pet guardian who wants to help their dog or cat lose weight should switch to a meal feeding plan. Meal feeding means measured scheduled feedings. Measure the amount of food your pet should have in a single meal, put it in their bowl, and offer it. Leave the bowl down for no more than 15 minutes, and then pick it up again — even if there is food leftover. Don’t feed your pet again until the next mealtime.
What this does is twofold: it teaches your pet that it needs to eat when you offer food, and it helps you control the intake of calories. Guardians who switch to this type of feeding often encounter resistance. But remember: a healthy pet won’t starve itself, so stick to your new plan until your dog or cat understands what’s happening. Consistency is key!
Calculate Appropriate Portions
Did you know that pet food labels have calories listed? Look on any bag, typically near the ingredient list or nutritional label, and you will find a number listed after k/cal. This is the number of calories per cup of kibble.
Use this formula to determine the number of calories your dog may need, found on the Ohio State University website: body weight in kg raised to the ¾ power and multiplied by 70. This is a good starting point. Your pet may need more or less based on their specific metabolism and level of exercise. The site also features a table that helps guardians determine the appropriate amount of calories for different life stages and needs.
Putting Your Pet On A Diet
You’ve figured out how many calories your pet needs at a healthy weight. You’ve determined how much you are currently feeding, and how much you need to cut out. But remember: when putting a pet on a diet, do not cut their food intake by more than ¼ to a ⅓ of a cup. Once your pet’s weight loss plateaus, cut their food back by the same amount again. You repeat this process until your friend has reached a healthy weight.
Moving quicker than this with an overweight dog or cat can be dangerous for their organs, particularly if they are extremely obese. Know that cats who experience extreme changes in caloric intake will break down fat rapidly. The process overwhelms the liver, leading to jaundice and an emergency medical condition known as fatty liver syndrome. This is especially common in obese cats.
Even when not dangerous, cutting food back by extreme amounts can cause a pet to begin to exhibit negative behaviors, like digging through the trash or eating inedible objects.
Like humans, a healthy amount of weight loss is about a pound a week. Your pet may lose weight faster or slower. As long as the numbers on the scale are going down and your veterinarian is keeping an eye on the weight loss, you’re okay. Most veterinarians offer weight checks at no cost — take advantage of this!
Be Honest With Yourself
Many pet guardians are less than honest when determining the number of calories their pets are consuming each day. “But he only gets one dental treat!”, says the owner, who also shares half of their bologna sandwich every day. “He just gets a tiny treat when he comes in from potty!” says the owner who also gives their dog a peanut-butter-filled toy before bed each night.
Every calorie counts. Be brutally honest with yourself when you are figuring out what your animal is eating each day. It may even help to write it down in a food journal throughout the day.
Humans tend to show their pets love with food, which can be fine to an extent so long as “treats” aren’t providing the equivalent of a meal or more worth of caloric intake. The other good news is that treat foods can be adjusted. For example, if you give your dog treats multiple times a day, try replacing them with low-calorie options or even pieces of carrot. It’s shocking to find out that larger treats can have the same amount of calories as are contained in a full meal!
Factor in the number of calories in the “extras” your pet will be getting each day. Either cut out these extras or adjust the amount of kibble/wet food accordingly.
Let Us Be Your Diet Partner
We love dogs and cats at Greenlin Pet Resorts and are happy to be a partner in their emotional and physical health. If your dog or cat needs to lose a few pounds, why not let us help?
Greenlin offers dog daycare options and dog training classes that can keep your pet active and their metabolism burning. With games, size/temperament-appropriate play partners, encouraging staff, and obedience training, your pet could be well on its way to a new, healthier, regimen. These services can even be added to your pet boarding stay.
By the way, please: if your pet is on a diet, be sure to let us know! While your pet is vacationing with us, we are happy to accommodate any special diet or feeding schedule. It’s even easier when you can provide us with the pet’s regular diet at the start of their stay.
Interested in learning more about our services, our practices, or even our staff? Feel free to call a pet daycare and boarding location near you today, or contact us online.