According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, nearly 60% of U.S. pets are overweight or obese. Those extra pounds predispose your pet to diseases such as osteoarthritis, cancer, and other adverse health conditions.
To help your pet slim down, follow our team’s weight loss tips.
#1: Schedule a veterinary appointment
Pets’ weight gain may be related to more than their diet, so before reducing their food amount or changing the food to which they have become accustomed, bring them to Gentle Touch Animal Hospital for a complete veterinary examination. Hormone dysfunction, including the thyroid or adrenal gland, can affect your pet’s metabolism, and cause rapid and unexplained weight gain. You may not be aware your pet is experiencing debilitating joint pain, making them reluctant to move or exercise. Other health conditions, such as pregnancy, cancer, or fluid retention, may cause a round or distended abdomen—creating an overweight appearance.
In addition to a thorough physical examination, your pet’s veterinarian may recommend blood work or diagnostic imaging to rule out a medical cause for their weight gain. If your overweight pet is deemed otherwise to be healthy, a weight-loss plan is in order, and we will provide you with step-by-step directions for your pet’s weight-loss journey. This includes:
- Tailored nutrition — Many over-the-counter weight management diets use empty filler ingredients to help pets feel satisfied. If necessary, your pet's veterinarian will create a customized diet recommendation to fuel your pet’s fat-burning processes, without sacrificing high-quality nutrition.
- Body condition scoring — The body condition score (BCS) is a hands-on assessment that evaluates your pet’s physical composition—not only their body weight. We will establish your pet’s BCS baseline to evaluate their weight-loss progress, and help you learn to monitor their weight at home.
- Ideal weight recommendation — Based on your pet’s height, build, BCS, and current weight, their veterinarian determines your pet’s ideal weight, and establishes monthly or quarterly weight-loss goals.
#2: Practice portion control with your pet
An appropriate feeding routine is essential to your pet’s weight management. Use an online pet calorie calculator, or ask their veterinarian the amount you should be feeding them. Use a measuring cup or gram scale to ensure you are feeding your pet the correct portion sizes. Feeding multiple small meals throughout the day improves your pet’s metabolism, digestion, and overall satisfaction—making them less likely to beg for table scraps.
Another method to help your pet feel full and content is to put their food in a slow-feeder bowl, lick mat, snuffle mat, or puzzle toy. These feeding devices challenge your pet’s problem-solving skills and reduce unhealthy gulping. In addition, these mealtime challenges encourage your pet’s instinctive behavior such as foraging, sniffing, and manipulating objects to access their prey (i.e., food).
#3: Replace your pet’s treats with nonfood rewards
Pets who receive tasty treats for everyday behaviors (e.g., eliminating outdoors, coming when called, or simply looking cute) quickly learn how to play the game and turn their owners into full-time treat dispensers, which quickly leads to unwanted weight gain and a reduced activity level—as pets learn that small efforts reap generous rewards.
If your pet needs to lose weight, replace treats and tidbits with rewarding activities. Some nonfood rewards include:
- Petting and snuggling
- Teaching your pet a fun trick
- Brushing your pet’s coat
- Playing with a special toy (e.g., short-distance fetch or tug-of-war for dogs, or a brief laser pointer game for cats)
- Taking a walk
- Going for a car ride
Try various nonfood reward options, and let your pet demonstrate the ones they find most rewarding. As an added bonus, nonfood rewards provide you and your pet with emotional satisfaction through relationship-building and shared experiences.
#4: Offer water to your hungry pet
Like humans, pets may confuse thirst for hunger—a scenario especially common in cats, who tend to drink less water than their body needs, especially if they eat a dry food diet. If you find your pet begging for table scraps, cruising the kitchen, or gazing forlornly at their empty bowl, refill their water dish or install a pet water fountain. Freshwater often piques your pet’s interest and encourages them to quench their thirst. In addition to being calorie-free, water provides your pet energy, boosts their mood, and accelerates weight loss. Drink up!
#5: Get your pet moving with fun low-impact exercise
Daily activity is essential for your pet’s physical and emotional health. Exercise burns calories, strengthens muscles, improves cardiovascular function, and releases feel-good endorphins that naturally relieve stress and improve your pet’s mood, rest, and behavior.
Before beginning a new exercise routine, consult your pet’s Gentle Touch Animal Hospital veterinarian to ensure a new activity will not cause them pain or discomfort. Remember to start small—gradually increase your pet’s daily activity over several weeks. Engaging your pet’s instincts and curiosity can help boost their interest and willingness to participate in one of these physical activities:
- Sniffari — Scatter a portion of your dog’s kibble in untreated grass, and let them sniff out each piece. Sniffing is a richly rewarding behavior that can boost your dog’s mood and encourage movement.
- Musical bowls — Place your cat’s bowl in a new location for every meal to encourage them to hunt for their food, or try these indoor hunting toys.
- Prey time— Engage your pet’s predatory behavior with prey-like toys such as erratically bouncing balls for dogs, and motorized toys, or feather wands and flirt poles for cats. Keep exercise sessions short and successful to prevent your pet from becoming frustrated, and rotate toys often to prevent boredom.
Once your pet shows progress, gradually increase their activity level and cardiovascular challenge, which may be a steady leash walk for dogs, and a sustained two- to five-minute play session for cats. Avoid high-impact activity that could lead to injury or exhaustion.
Do not let your pet’s extra weight prevent them from enjoying a long and healthy life. Schedule a weight-loss consultation with our Gentle Touch Animal Hospital team.