Helping Dogs and Cats Lose Weight

Dr. Hillary Segl

Overweight Pets

Obesity is an epidemic among pets in America. It can worsen many different problems, including lameness, diabetes, heart disease and fatty liver syndrome, to name just a few.  Why is it so common? For the same reasons as human obesity: lack of exercise and too much rich food.

It's a stereotype that we all resolve to lose weight in the new year. Think about your pets, too. Call us for a consult if you are unsure about what your pet's weight should be.  We are glad to help with nutrition and exercise advice.  I'm always asked what food to give pets, and how much. Wet or dry? How often to feed them? Very simply: what will your pet eat? Is the food readily available?  Can you afford it? Does the pet have a medical condition requiring a special diet, like allergies? We will help you choose a food and then figure out how much your pet needs per day to lose weight safely.

There's a misconception that canned or wet foods have more calories than dry food. Not always true! When dieting a dog or cat, you have to look at calorie density.  That's how many calories there are per cup or can (e.g. calories per volume of food).  Lower calorie foods are helpful in diets because you can "fill up" the pet and reduce begging.

Don't forget the other half of the weight loss equation: exercise. Walking the dog is obvious, but incorporate play sessions too. For lame or geriatric dogs, shorter more frequent walks can suffice.

Dog parks, day care, and indoor play or training sessions all burn calories. Do what's fun!

Exercising cats is harder. Engage indoor cats in play using wand or feather toys, laser pointers, light "paw toys" they can chase and bat, etc.  Give them a kitty stair-master: the cat tree. Putting it by a favorite window ensures they will use it. Boxes or bags full of crinkly paper will get them playing too, and are cheap.  If you have steps in your home, roll ping-pong balls down them for kitty to chase. My cats' favorite game is changing the sheets on the bed- they'll play and jump around for minutes at a time doing this. Be creative!