A Pet's Guide to Weight Loss

True or False: Dogs and cats will only eat until satisfied. Therefore, free-feeding, or simply leaving a bowl of food out at all times, is the best way to make sure your pet is properly fed.

The answer is: It depends. We may have the idea that dogs will “wolf” down anything we put in front of them, and cats are finicky and will just pick at their food. But the truth is, the way an individual dog or cat eats is often a product of both environment and personality. If your pet is of proper weight, then free-feeding can work for them. However, if your pet is more than just “fluffy,” then having set meal times with set amounts of food may be your best bet.

But just how “fluffy” is too “fluffy”? How can you tell if your pet is obese, and does it really matter if they are a few pounds heavier than they should be?

If the accumulation of fat in a pet is sufficient enough to contribute to disease, then that pet is, indeed, obese. Just like humans, pets are becoming more sedentary than ever before, even more so here in Florida, where the heat can make us just want Fido to do his business so we can all get back inside to the air conditioning. When that’s coupled with our tendency to spoil the ones we love, a life of ease and luxury can have the opposite effect of what we intended, the quality of our pets’ lives decreases, as well as their life spans.

Conditions most commonly associated with obesity include:

  • Orthopedic diseases such as arthritis, spinal disc disease, and decreased mobility
  • Insulin resistance and diabetes
  • Pancreatitis
  • Cancer
  • Heart and lung disease
  • Increased risks during anesthesia
  • Fatty liver disease and lower urinary tract disease in cats

How Does Your Pet Score?

We use a Body Condition Score, or BCS, as an indicator of how much body fat your pet has, much like a BMI score for humans. This is both a visual and hands-on assessment of your pet’s levels of lean muscle and fat, but pet owners can keep a check on their pet’s BCS by using this simple chart:


An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to many things, and obesity is no different, as treating it is a much greater challenge than preventing it in the first place. But, if your pet does score a 4 or 5, we have some weight loss tips to help your pet get back into shape.

Okay, my pet is fat… but they’re ALWAYS hungry!

Many owners over-feed because their pet acts like they haven’t eaten in years. If you battle the pacing, whining, meowing, or whatever the case may be, it can be so tempting to give in when the off button simply requires filling a bowl. There could be many reasons your pet is obsessed with food though, that have nothing to do with being hungry. Pets can have eating disorders too, but they may also have a medical reason for acting ravenous, so before em”barking” on a weight loss regimen, it’s important to have your pet examined by your veterinarian. If there is nothing medically causing your pet’s unhealthy preoccupation with food, here are some issues you may want to consider:

  • Is your pet getting the proper nutrients? Some pet foods just aren’t formulated with the correct balance of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. When you’re at our office, talk to us about what food you’re feeding your pet and let’s make sure it’s the right one for their age and lifestyle.
  • Is your pet getting enough attention? Just as humans are guilty of eating out of boredom, eating simply for social reasons, or stress eating, your pet may act like they have a bottomless pit because eating brings them comfort, or because it’s a time when you are responding to their needs. Make sure your pet stays mentally stimulated with some one-on-one play time with you, even if it’s only 10-20 minutes a day.
  • Put up the food bowl. Whether they are eating to the point of vomiting, or eating their way to obesity, some pets will eat themselves sick if they are left to their own devices. Rescued pets, or those that share the home with other pets often see feeding time as a competition to see who can eat the most the fastest. Feeding pets separately can help them feel like they can eat more slowly and thus feel more satiated. If this doesn’t help, a food bowl designed to slow pets down when eating can be a great option.
  • Don’t give in to begging. Stick to scheduled feeding times and ignore their crying. Any attention, whether positive or negative, can reinforce unwanted behaviors. If necessary, remove your pet from the kitchen until they calm down –let them know you won’t tolerate begging between meals.

So, you’ve ruled out medical reasons for your pooch’s pooch, and your tabby is flabby simply because she likes to eat more than she likes to play…it’s time for drastic action. It’s time to diet. For pets, dieting is quite simple; no need to figure out if a keto, paleo, or whole-30 diet is right for them, it’s simply a matter of:

Calories in…

As tedious as calorie counting can be, it’s the most effective way to manage your pet’s diet. Don’t forget to calculate treats and supplements, such as fish oil, as well. Your veterinarian will tell you what percentage of calories to cut, but most weight loss plans fall in a 25-40% drop in daily calories.

We may also recommend a prescription weight loss diet to help your pet get enough protein while still feeling full. This can be a more convenient alternative to calorie counting.

Treats should not add up to more than 10% of total daily calories and be healthy, nutrient dense snacks. Non-starchy veggies make great options for dogs.

…Calories Out

Exercise can help increase weight loss and preserve muscle mass, but be sure to take your pet’s age, physical abilities, and health conditions into consideration. Leashing up a 15 year old, 12 pound Chihuahua for a jog probably isn’t the best idea. For older pets, feeding balls that encourage activity to dispense kibble, or food puzzles may be a great option.

Stay Positive

Weight loss may take a few weeks to begin, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t see immediate results. You’re always welcome to bring your pet into Northeast Animal Hospital or Downtown St. Pete Vet Clinic to get a free weigh-in. If though, your pet’s weight just isn’t budging, make sure that your pet doesn’t have access to other pet’s food dishes, or that well meaning family members aren’t sneaking them treats, or even extra meals.

Stay Vigilant

Once all that hard work has paid off and your pet has reached their target weight, it’s important not to fall back into the same habits that started the battle of the bulge. Your dedication to managing your pet’s weight should be just as strong as your commitment to their weight loss, but the rewards for your pet’s healthy weight are worth every effort –a longer, happier life together!

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