We often hear people talk about the risks associated with obesity in humans and how it can impact our health in a negative way, but how do you know if your pet is obese? According to the Association for Pet Obesity Preventing, approximately 60% of cats and 56% of dogs in the United States fell under the category of ‘overweight’ or ‘obese’ in 2018. It’s a startling number highlighting just how big the problem is. Is your dog overweight? Is your cat overweight? Let’s take a closer look at exactly what pet obesity means.
National Pet Obesity Awareness Day is October 13th, 2021. To help do our part we are taking some time today to share important information about the risks of pet obesity and encourage healthier choices for our pets.
What Is a Healthy Body Weight?
To determine whether a dog or cat is a healthy weight, veterinarians use a tool known as a body condition score. This is a tool that works for dogs and cats of all breeds and sizes, breaking free from focusing solely on numbers. After all, a weight that is considered healthy for one pet may be unhealthy for the next. Instead, it assesses factors such as the presence of body fat and muscle mass as well as the overall body shape.
When running your fingers lightly across your dog or cat’s side, you should be able to feel and count their ribs. This isn’t to say that they should be protruding, but they should be identifiable. Looking at your pet from above, their body should resemble an hourglass shape with a defined waist or midsection. Finally, when looking at your pet from the side, the stomach should slope up slightly towards the midsection area.
Some clear indicators that your pet may be overweight or obese include an abdomen that hangs towards the ground or a more rounded body shape when viewed from above.
Risks of Obesity in Pets
Your pet’s weight has a significant impact on their overall health and well-being. If your pet is overweight, this puts him or her at a higher risk of high blood pressure, arthritis, kidney disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, decreased immune function, and many forms of cancer. This is due to the increased strain that it is putting on their body. Left unaddressed, this could shorten their lifespan.
What Can I Do to Prevent Obesity?
While there are some genetic factors that may cause your pet to gain weight easily, many of the causes of obesity are in our control. Just as we are encouraged to make healthy life choices in our own lives, we need to do the same for our pets. This includes healthy eating and plenty of physical activity. Here are 7 changes you can make in your daily routine to improve your pet’s health and prevent obesity from becoming a problem.
Avoid Overfeeding Your Pet
One of the biggest factors in terms of your pet’s weight is the food that he or she is eating. You want to choose a nutrient-rich food that is formulated for your dog’s specific life stage. Additionally, you should pay careful attention to portion control. If you are feeding a commercially available food like kibble or canned food, take note of the recommended serving sizes. If your diet of choice is a homemade or raw diet, talk to a pet nutritionist to assess and determine the correct caloric intake for your pet’s optimal health.
If your pet is currently overweight and you are working on a weight loss plan, you may wish to incorporate a ‘diet’ food. These foods are formulated with high nutrient content and lower calories to help satisfy your pet’s nutritional needs while reducing their overall calorie intake.
Stick to Scheduled Feeding Times
Does your pet graze on their food throughout the day, eating when they see fit? Doing so may encourage them to eat more than their recommended calories over the course of a day. Additionally, this makes it very difficult to determine exactly what your pet has eaten to adjust their meals if needed. Instead, set a feeding schedule and stick with it. Only give your pet food at the scheduled mealtime, providing them with ample time to eat before taking it away. It won’t take long for your pet to adjust to the schedule.
Use Food Puzzles or Games
Rather than just giving your pet a bowl of food, why not turn mealtime into a game? Not only will this make the whole experience a fun mental challenge, but it will also create an opportunity for your pet to burn calories during mealtime. This includes hiding your pet’s food so that they can ‘hunt’ for it or using food puzzles and food toys. If you have multiple options available, you can change it up from time to time, making each meal even more exciting.
Limit the Treats
Okay, this one may be difficult for some of you! We all love our pets and enjoy spoiling them from time to time, however, spoiling them too much may have a negative impact on their health. Either skip the treats altogether or use them sparingly. Also, don’t forget to incorporate the calorie count of the treats when figuring out how much food your pet should be eating each day.
Pet owners that are busy training their dogs or cats may rely on treats as a reward. This doesn’t mean that you need to give up on your training plans! Choose a healthy, low-calorie training treat or explore the other non-treat rewards that you can offer your pet.
Focus on Hydration
Make sure that your pet has access to plenty of fresh water throughout the day. We have long recognized the role that water can play in weight loss and management for humans. This can also be applied to our pets. Studies have found that proper hydration is associated with reduced calorie intake and overall weight loss. If you notice that your pet isn’t drinking as much water as they should, you may need to consider making small changes to encourage them to drink more. Using a pet fountain is a great option, providing clean, filtered water while the movement of the fountain may trigger more interest.
Encourage Your Pet to Be More Active
Sitting back and hoping your pet will play on their own simply isn’t enough. You need to be engaged in your pet’s exercise and playtime, encouraging them to get up and moving. There are many ways that you can do this, depending on your pet’s personality and preferences. If your pet loves a specific toy, use that toy to amp up playtime. Try playing games like tug or fetch to keep your pet interested in play for a longer period. Another great way to encourage physical activity is to take your dog or cat hiking or exploring outdoors. Regardless of your pet’s breed or size, hiking is a fun way to get your bodies moving together, as well as a great chance to bond with one another. Start small with simple, easy trails and work your way up over time.
Get the Whole Family Involved
Whatever changes you are making, you need to include the whole family if you want this to be successful. If you’re cutting treats out to help your pet lose weight but your children are still sneaking treats throughout the day, you aren’t going to make any progress. Discuss the new rules and why they are important. Consider giving your children a task to help as this will help them be more invested in the effort. Together, you are much more likely to see a real lasting change.
What are your favorite ways to get up and moving with your pet? Let us know in the comments below!