Pet obesity is a growing problem in the United States, leading to numerous serious health issues for affected dogs and cats. Our Southern Kern Veterinary Clinic team knows you want to keep your four-legged friend as happy and healthy as possible, and we provide weight management tips to help prevent obesity-related problems.

#1: Understand pet obesity dangers

You may think a few extra fat rolls won’t hurt your pet, but carrying excess weight can lead to many significant health problems for your four-legged friend, including:

  • Mobility issues — Overweight pets can have difficulty performing everyday tasks, such as climbing stairs, jumping onto the couch, getting in and out of the litter box, and grooming themselves. In addition, the added weight places excess strain on their joints, putting overweight pets at increased risk for arthritis.
  • Disease — Overweight pets are at increased risk for several diseases, such as diabetes, kidney disease, hypertension, respiratory complications, heatstroke, and several cancers.
  • Reduced quality of life (QOL) — Overweight pets tend to be less playful and interact less with their owners. 
  • Reduced longevity — Overweight pets tend to live about two years less than healthy weight pets.

#2: Recognize when your pet is overweight

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s 2022 Pet Obesity Prevalence Survey, 59% of dogs and 61% of cats are classified as overweight or obese, but 36% of dog owners and 28% of cat owners failed to recognize their pet was overweight. The best way to evaluate your pet’s weight status is to assess their body condition score (BCS). This is a nine-point scoring system in which one is emaciated, five is ideal, and nine is obese. Steps include:

  • Feel your pet — When you lightly run your fingers across your pet’s side, you should be able to easily feel and count their ribs. 
  • Observe your pet from above — When you look at your pet from above, you should be able to see an indentation behind their rib cage. 
  • Observe your pet from the side — When you look at your pet from the side, their abdomen should slope upward toward their hind limbs. 

#3: Schedule regular wellness veterinary visits

Annual or biannual wellness visits help our Southern Kern Veterinary Clinic team track your pet’s weight, and we can show you how to perform an accurate BCS so you can monitor your pet’s weight status at home. These visits are also important so we can detect illnesses, such as Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism, and diabetes, in the early stages before they cause weight problems for your pet.

#4: Calculate your pet’s daily caloric needs

Pet food labels provide recommendations on how much food to give your furry pal, but you should calculate your pet’s specific caloric needs to ensure they receive the right amount. Considerations include your pet’s breed, age, weight, BCS, activity level, and spay or neuter status. You can use an online pet calorie calculator to make the process easier. 

#5: Measure your pet’s meal portions

Once you know how many calories your pet needs each day, read the label to determine how much food this equates to and split the amount into two or three portions so you can feed your four-legged friend throughout the day. Use a measuring cup to measure your pet’s meal portion precisely to ensure they receive the right amount. If you have a cat or small dog, consider using a kitchen scale to measure their portion size more accurately because one or two extra morsels can be a significant amount of calories for your little furry friend.

#6: Limit your pet’s treats

Treats are great to help encourage and reward good behavior, but ensure your pet’s treats account for no more than 10% of their daily calories. In addition, choose healthy, low-calorie treats, such as baby carrots, snap peas, green beans, and blueberries.

#7: Avoid giving your pet table scraps

Feeding your pet table scraps can quickly lead to unwanted weight gain. In addition, many common human foods are toxic to pets and put their health at risk. Ensure your entire family, including your children, know not to give your pet food from their plates. In addition, keep your garbage in sealed containers and your counters food free to prevent your pet from scavenging an off-limits snack.

#8: Keep your pet active

Exercise is an important aspect of pet weight management. Every pet needs daily physical activity to stay fit and healthy. Recommendations include:

  • Walking — Take your pet for a walk around the neighborhood. Ensure you keep the pace brisk to get their heart rate up to an appropriate level.
  • Swimming — Swimming is a great activity for water-loving dogs, and is especially good for arthritic pets to lessen the strain on their painful joints.
  • Fetch — Fetch is a great way to get your pet moving that doesn’t require strenuous activity on your part.
  • Playing — Use a wand style toy or laser pointer to entice your cat to stay active.
  • Competitive sports — If you have an active dog, consider trying out a competitive sport, such as agility, flyball, or dock diving.

#9: Monitor your pet’s weight

Weigh your pet and assess their BCS every one to two months so you can ensure they maintain a healthy weight. This will help you notice small changes so you can adjust their diet or seek veterinary help to determine the cause. 

Never put your four-legged friend on a diet without veterinary supervision, because sudden calorie restriction can lead to medical problems, such as malnutrition and hepatic lipidosis—a potentially life-threatening liver disease. If your pet is overweight, contact our Southern Kern Veterinary Clinic so we can devise a safe weight loss program.