Added/Modified on January 14, 2017
The “Fat Cat” Dilemma
Mirroring the human obesity epidemic, U.S. pets have reached monumental proportions. It is estimated that 50% of U.S. pets are overweight or obese. Unfortunately, many people don’t see overweight pets as a problem. In fact, fat pets are often seen as “cute and cuddly” or as subjects of humor….they often grace cartoons, greeting cards and internet sites in all of their chubby galore. However, when you begin breaking a sweat when picking up your pet or he begins cleaning the floors with his stomach and his food bowl is bigger than yours, there is a problem!
All joking aside, health risks of obesity are real. Obesity contributes to many medical conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, heart and lung disease, high blood pressure and compromised immune function. It has been well documented that pets maintaining an ideal body weight live 15% longer, and with less disease, than overweight pets. It is a fact that pets will live shorter lives if obesity is not addressed.
So, what can you do?
Recognize the problem and take action on your pet’s behalf! The first step is to recognize that your pet has a weight problem. Ask your veterinarian or consult a body condition scoring system to determine if your pet is overweight. Click here to view body condition scoring systems for dogs and cats:
Chances are if you run your hands over your pet’s side and can’t feel their ribs, they are overweight. The weight equation is very simple….pets that consume more calories than they burn WILL gain (or maintain a heavy) weight.
Create a specific weight loss plan and goal—get your veterinarian involved
Once you have determined your pet is overweight, you must determine their IDEAL body weight. Your veterinarian should help you with this determination as it will depend on the breed and build of your pet. There are also medical conditions that can contribute to obesity and your pet should be fully evaluated before beginning a weight loss program.
Once the ideal weight has been established, the best weight loss plan is one that provides approximately 75%-80% of the calories your pet would require at that ideal weight. Many pet owners make the mistake of feeding “label recommendations”. Remember—pet food label recommendations are intended for weight maintenance in a healthy pet and feeding these amounts will lead to continued weight gain in an overweight pet.
Example: Inactive 10 year old, 13 pound (5.9 kilogram) domestic shorthair cat. Ideal weight is determined to be 9 pounds (4.1 kilograms). The calories that an average 9 pound cat requires each day are calculated as follows:
(4.1 x 30) + 70 = 193 calories
The calories that the 13 pound cat should be fed daily to achieve the 4 pound weight loss is calculated as follows: 193 x 0.8 for weight loss = 154 calories
In general, pets should lose about 2% of body weight each week and your pet should be weighed at least every two weeks for adequate monitoring. If your pet is losing too quickly or not quickly enough, the daily calories will be adjusted. When the goal weight is achieved, a new plan for food intake must be made.
In our example above, this obese cat needs to lose 30% of its original body weight. The amount of time it should take is approximately 15 weeks.
Change your feeding and treating practices
So now you know how many calories to feed….but what and how you feed it is important also!
Many veterinarians recommend “diet”, “lite”, or “reduced” foods to achieve weight loss in pets. This is unnecessary and weight loss can be achieved by feeding less of your pet’s current diet. If your pet seems unsatisfied by the amount of food they are getting on the new weight loss program, you can consider a “diet” food that has less fat and calories in a larger volume of food. Just beware of inferior ingredients, such as corn or rice fillers, inferior by-products or meat meals as these are not healthful ingredients.
Pets should be fed 2 to 4 small daily meals and not allowed free access to food all day long. This “free feeding” approach can contribute to unnatural hormonal signals which can make weight loss even more challenging. If you are away from home for large portions of the day, there are feeders that can be set on timers to ensure your pet is getting food only at meal time.
Treats are the biggest source of “hidden” calories for pets. The calories given as treats must be deducted from the total daily food amount. For example, if your cat should eat 200 calories each day and you give 50 calories as treats, you must ONLY give 150 calories of food throughout the day. Although this sounds like a no-brainer, pets are often grossly overfed because treats are not accounted for. I recommend feeding no more than 10% of daily calories as treats and finding high quality protein/low calorie treats.
Exercise, Exercise, Exercise!!!
Increasing your pet’s daily activity will allow them to burn more calories each day. Exercising is obviously easier to achieve in a dog you can walk and run versus a cat who requires coaxing to move, however, there are many interesting interactive cat toys available to improve activity and a laser-pointer session may be right up your cats alley!
Weigh your pet weekly using the same scale. If weighing at home, weigh yourself holding your pet and then alone and subtract the difference. Keep a log of these weights to monitor for progress. If your pet plateaus at a certain weight, make sure no one in the house is “cheating” by giving extra treats and then contact your veterinarian for additional advice on calorie restriction. Once the ideal weight is reached, the food amount will be increased.
In our example above, the calories would be increased to 193 calories each day when the cat reaches 9 pounds.
You must continue weighing and monitoring your pet for weight re-gain and make further adjustments if necessary.
Good Luck on this weight loss endeavor with your pet…you will be amazed at how much healthier and livelier your pet seems once they start slimming down!
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