New ideas to help your pet lose weight - Dr. Marty Becker


New ideas to help your pet lose weight

Wednesday, Jul 15th, 2020 | By Dr. Marty Becker

Cat on a scale in a veterinary office.

Food is love. Every Italian grandma — heck, every grandma — knows that. So we love to see our dogs and cats enjoy their food.

But it’s possible and, unfortunately common, for owners to overdo it when it comes to providing food and for pets to overdo things on the eating end. All too often I see pets practically waddle into the exam room, while their proud owners tell me how well they’re doing. It’s hard to break it to them that their pudgy Poodle or Persian needs to lose some weight.

How can you know if your pet needs to lose weight? I like to show clients the “hands-on” test for body condition. It’s as simple as placing your thumbs along the spine and spreading your fingers out along the side of the body. If you press in gently, you can feel the spine and ribs easily, beneath a layer of padding of muscle and fat. If you have to press down hard to feel those bony protuberances, or if you can’t feel them at all, your dog or cat weighs too much.

You can also eyeball pets to see if they’re packing on the pounds. Pets should have a waist—an indentation behind the ribs known as an abdominal tuck, with the body flaring out again at the pelvis. Think hourglass figure. Pets in good condition don’t have rolls of fat between the legs, around the rear end, or at the neck.

Remember that for a pet the size of a cat or small dog, being as little as a pound overweight can put excess stress on joints. That might be 20 percent of a pet’s total weight.

If after ruling out medical causes for weight gain, your dog or cat needs to lose a few pounds, here are nine tips for success.

  1. Feeding less doesn’t work. Your pet will be unhappy and hungry — “hangry.” For cats, feed a diet with at least 40 percent protein, sort of a “Catkins” plan. Some studies show that this can help them maintain lean body mass as they lose weight.
  2. For dogs, feed two meals daily at set times. Measure food instead of leaving a bowl out and topping it up whenever it gets low. Add a tablespoon or two of plain canned pumpkin to his bowl. The fiber content will help him feel full.
  3. It’s important for pet foods to taste good, but highly palatable diets or foods loaded with calories can tempt pets to overeat. That’s why it’s important to measure food instead of letting pets free feed.
  4. Even better, toss out your pets’ food bowls and use food-dispensing toys or slow feeders instead. That increases a dog or cat’s activity level, provides mental stimulation, and is a more natural way of eating.
  5. If you change your pet’s food, reduce the risk of stomach upset by mixing the new food in gradually with the old food over a period of 7 to 10 days.
  6. Don’t take a hard line with cats who don’t like their new food. Not eating for as little as two days can lead to a serious liver condition called hepatic lipidosis. Trust me; you don’t want to go there.
  7. Take your pet to the vet for a regular weigh-in to keep tabs on weight loss. In most clinics, there’s no charge for this quick visit. After four months, take your pet in for a recheck to make sure weight loss is still on track.
  8. To show your pet love in a way other than meals or treats, substitute play, walks, training and other interactions. A game of tug or fetch, a walk — even if it’s just a few minutes down the street and back — teaching a new trick, giving catnip to encourage cats to roll around, or a few minutes with a wand toy or other interactive play two or three times daily are all great ways to encourage pets to move more and to develop an even stronger bond with them.