Diet Plans and Treat Tips for Overweight Pets

Pudgy Dog
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A weight-reduction plan from your veterinarian will likely include guidance on feeding and exercise.

Got a pudgy pet? Those rolls might be cute, but they also might be deadly. Excess weight can lead to serious health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease. It can also cause or worsen existing conditions, including arthritis and other degenerative joint diseases. All of these health problems add up to decreased longevity and a lower quality of life for many overweight pets.

The Root Cause of Obesity

Just like people, animals have individual metabolic rates that help regulate whether they maintain average weight or become fat. Some breeds also have a natural propensity for either a svelter or heftier shape. As a group, however, our pets face the same problems of weight gain that people do. Overeating and not getting enough exercise are usually to blame.

In the same way a human body does, your pet’s body is designed to store energy as fat as a precaution against lean times. If allowed to eat as much as they want, many pets consume food as if they were out in the wild hunting, eating as much food as possible, when all they’re actually doing is lying around all day. When we feed them the proper amount of food and exercise them regularly, pets tend not to put on weight.

Often, pets’ weight issues reflect the health and lifestyle choices their owners have made in their own lives. In other words, people who are very active and athletic don’t often have overweight pets because they tend to include their pets when they exercise, but people who don’t exercise don’t always think about the exercise their pets need.

Tipping the Balance

If your pet is overweight, visiting your veterinarian is the first step toward helping him get back to a healthy weight. Your veterinarian will usually perform a physical exam and order a full diagnostic workup (including blood tests) to rule out any medical factors. He or she may also use a scoring system to gauge your pet’s body condition on a scale from 1 to 9 or 1 to 5. Referred to as a body condition score (or BCS*), scores of 6 to 9 or 4 to 5, respectively, indicate that a pet is overweight or obese . A typical body condition scoring system based on a scale from 1 to 5 uses these guidelines:

1. Very thin. Ribs are easy to see or feel. When viewed from above, there is an accentuated waist.
2. Underweight. Ribs are easy to feel. When viewed from above, there is an hourglass shape.
3. Ideal (Fit). Ribs can be felt. There is a slight waist when viewed from above.
4. Overweight. Ribs are difficult to feel. There is no waist when viewed from above.
5. Obese. Ribs are very difficult to feel. When viewed from above, there is no waist and a broad back.

After determining the extent of your pet’s weight problems, your veterinarian will create a weight-reduction plan. Such a plan will allow your pet to lose weight safely.

Getting Back on Track

The weight-reduction plan will usually include increasing the amount of exercise your pet receives. Your veterinarian can help you come up with a customized exercise program that will work for both you and your pet.

A pet’s diet also plays a large role in weight gain and will be just as important when trying to take those pounds off. Depending on the desired result, your veterinarian may recommend a certain type of diet:

  • A weight-loss diet strictly regulates a pet’s nutritional intake to help him stay healthy while losing weight.
  • A maintenance diet helps a pet maintain his weight once he’s achieved the desired weight.
  • A therapeutic diet enhances a pet’s quality of life by supplying a specific balance of nutrients to alleviate health issues (for example, a joint-health diet can help enhance joint function and mobility if your pet has arthritis).

With any of these diets, you’ll need to consistently follow instructions and feeding schedules. Your veterinarian may modify the diet as your pet loses weight. It can take months to achieve an ideal body condition, so don’t be discouraged if the pounds don’t come off right away. Besides, getting your pet back in shape isn’t just about getting rid of excess weight. It’s about helping your pet be healthier.

Healthier Treats

If you're following a weight-loss plan for your pet, it's important to rein in treats. Often, pet owners don't realize how many treats they're giving their pets, but those calories can add up quickly. Here's how to cut back:

  • Reserve a percentage of your pet's daily food allowance to use as treats. This will help ensure that your pet stays within his recommended caloric intake but will still allow you to treat him occasionally.
  • Stuff food puzzles with morsels of food. Pets will work off energy while trying to get the food out of the toy. Just make sure you’re accounting for these calories as part of your pet’s daily intake.
  • Use cooked or raw carrots or green beans, cut into small pieces, as rewards for your pet.
  • Don’t give treats for every behavior. Keep goodies (diet treats or veggies) for the important — or amazing — tricks or behaviors. Consult with your veterinarian to determine how many and what types of treats your pet can have in a day.
  • Reduce the size of the treat; even a big pet will enjoy a tiny tidbit. If you can’t break the treat habit, break the treat into a smaller size, when possible.

*BCS scale adapted with permission from Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc.

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