Is My Pet Overweight?

Jennifer Ramsey, DVM
Jennifer Ramsey, DVM

Is your pooch getting too plump?  Is Fluffy a bit too flabby?  Just like people, excess weight can have severe consequences in animals.  From diabetes to joint issues, the extra pounds are more than just an aesthetic issue.  But how do you tell if your pet is overweight and what can you do about it?

While cats are a bit more uniform in shape and size, dogs are quite diverse.  Trying to compare the weight of a Chihuahua to that of a Great Dane presents quite a challenge.  For this reason, it is ideal to evaluate an animal’s weight based off the body condition score.

The body condition score takes into consideration the amount and placement of fat over the animal’s figure which is then given a numeric value.  Two scales are in common use — a five-point scale and a nine-point scale.  These can be found easily online (with illustrations).  Both systems work on the idea that animals of idea weight will score in the middle of the scale with too thin animals scoring lower numbers and too heavy animals scoring higher numbers.  Monitoring body condition score gives you a great tool to evaluate your pet’s weight at home…and it’s a lot easier than trying to coax your Great Dane onto the bathroom scale!

Everyone wants to think their animal is perfect, so it is important that you be absolutely honest when looking at your pet.  It is a good idea to have friends or family members score your pet as well and compare results.  You can also ask your veterinarian to evaluate your pet’s body condition score at regular visits (guess what…they already do this, but most owners don’t ask about it!).

What do you do if your pet is a bit on the heavy side?  Just like in people, weight loss or weight gain is based on how many calories are consumed versus how many calories are used through exercise.  The best weight loss occurs when both calories consumed are decreased and calories expended are increased.

When trying to get a pet to lose weight, one of the first places we must turn to is what they are eating.  In the same way that a bite of cheesecake and a bite of celery each contain a different amount of calories, each type of pet food has different calorie content.  Your pet’s individual diet should be taken into consideration when deciding how much to feed.  The back of the bag can give you a general idea based on your pet’s ideal weight, but this should be considered more of a guideline than a hard and fast rule.  Some pets need more food…most need less.  Your veterinarian can calculate exactly how many calories your pet needs based on their metabolic needs, weight, and activity level.  This can then be translated into an exact amount to feed per day.

There are many special diets on the market to help with weight loss.  Some of these are high in fiber…others are high in protein (think Atkins for animals)…even others are low fat.  Some of these special diets are available over the counter…other more focused diets may require a veterinarian’s prescription to purchase.  It is important to involve your veterinarian in deciding what diet will work best for your pet.

Cat-Standing-COB-webPets love treats!  And owners love giving treats to their pets!  However, it is important to factor the calories in the treats into the pet’s daily intake.  While we’d all love to have a piece of pie every afternoon, it wouldn’t be friendly on our waistline. Consider that most pets are much smaller than the average human, so each bite adds up quickly.  Conveniently, there are multiple low calorie treats on the market.  It is recommended to avoid table food not only because it can cause digestive upset in some animals, but it often contains a large amount of calories as well.  If you must feed table food, stick to tiny pieces of more healthy options such as green beans, carrots, apple slices, canned pureed pumpkin, etc.  Some human foods can be toxic to pets (such as chocolate, grapes, and many ‘sugar free’ options), so please check with your veterinarian before giving human food as treats.

Exercise is also very important in any weight loss plan.  Depending on your pet, there are many ways to increase their exercise.  Playing with toys, long walks, and swimming are some easy options to add activity to your pet’s daily routine.  As an added benefit, this often increases the owner’s activity level as well—think of it as less time you have to spend at the gym.  It is important to make sure you talk with your veterinarian prior to starting your pet on an exercise regimen.  Underlying issues such as arthritis or heart disease can impact what activity is safe.

Working with your veterinarian, you can develop a feeding plan and exercise schedule tailored to your pet’s needs, keeping them healthy, happy, and free of any extra pounds. If you are concerned about your pet’s nutrition, give our Veterinary Care Center a call and book an appointment. Our top-notch veterinary team will be happy to come up with a nutrition plan tailored to your pet’s individual needs!


Body Condition Score guidelines  

Is your Dog Fit or Fat?  Learn how to Body Condition Score

Association for Pet Obesity Prevention

Obesity in Cats  

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