In 2017, an estimated 60% of cats and 56% of dogs in the United States were overweight or obese, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. An overweight cat or dog is likely to develop diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, kidney disease, cancer, and the excess weight will lead to a shortened lifespan. We must do better.
This is not surprising since the large majority of Americans are overweight. (It is projected that 3/4 of the American population will be overweight by the year 2020.) So if we can't keep our own weight in check then how do we monitor our pet's weight? Here are some suggestions to help:
* If you don't know if your pet is overweight than take him/her to your vet for an evaluation. Your veterinarian will use a Body Condition Score to assess your pet's weight and determine the ideal weight so that you have a goal to shoot for.
* A dog can safely loose 1-3% of his/her body weight over the course of a month. For cats, 0.5-2% of body weight can be lost per month. Most people don't realize how many calories the "treats" add! You must cut out the treats and look at the total calories your pet is getting on a daily basis.
* Just like with us humans, it's all about a balance between diet and exercise. As a general recommendation, dogs need at least 30-minutes of physical activity a day and for cats three 5-minute intense play periods. If your cat or dog is laying around the house, lounging on the couch, then less calories will be needed than for an active pet. If you can increase the amount of exercise your cat and dog receives then their body will gain muscle mass and will in turn burn more calories. Find activities in the house that motivate your cat to wake up from that multi-hour "cat-nap". Try getting him/her to chase a laser light, climb a "cat tower", get your cat used to a harness and take them for a walk, have plenty of toys around the house and try catnip sessions.
* Did you know there are now "Pet Activity Monitors"? A Fitbit for your dog or cat! This would be beneficial for a baseline. If you can find out how much exercise your pet gets on on a daily basis in an overweight state with the amount of food you currently feed (including the treats!) then you can track both when you make the changes.
* Just like with us, done properly the change takes time. Your pet's weight loss goal should be over the course of 6 - 12 months. Weigh your pet once every 3-4 weeks so that you can gain reassurance that your current program is working. If it's not, its time to re-evaluate. Your veterinarian can provide some guidance. Remember, your pet's weight contributes to other medical issues that can arise later in life. Feed a healthy diet in a proper amount that is proportionate to your pet's activity level and your will prolong their life, and their quality of life.