Diet and Exercise: Keys to Weight Loss Success in Pets
JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM

Memes and videos of roly-poly dogs and cats may make us chuckle, but these animals’ pudginess is no laughing matter. The latest survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention reported that nearly 60% of dogs and cats in the United States are either overweight or obese. Yikes!

As in humans, obesity has serious health consequences in animals. It increases the risk of many illnesses like diabetes, liver disease, and arthritis. Obesity can also make a pet intolerant to heat and make it harder for them to breathe.

Veterinarians use what’s called a body condition score (BCS) to determine whether a pet is at an ideal weight or carrying extra pounds. Fortunately, you can use the BCS system at home to evaluate your pet. Certain physical features, observed from the top and side of an animal, indicate excess weight and a sub-optimal BCS: sagging belly, fat pads in various body locations (hips, chest, etc.), and undetectable ribs.

If you suspect your pet is overweight, take them to your vet for a more thorough assessment. Don’t let shame or fear of judgment keep you from going to the vet’s office—the sooner you acknowledge your pet’s weight problem, the sooner your pet can start shedding weight and getting healthy again.

Make the Plan
Just like in people, weight loss in pets involves reducing caloric intake and increasing calorie burn. Fortunately, you don’t have to go it alone—your veterinarian can help you devise an individualized diet and exercise plan for your pet.

There are a few ways to reduce your pet’s caloric intake, like feeding smaller quantities of your pet’s regular diet or gradually switching to a commercially available weight loss diet. Other strategies include eliminating table food (very important!!) and feeding only healthy treats like fresh fruits. Your veteterinarian can help you put together a dietary plan that reduces calories while maintaining optimal nutritional intake.

Increasing calorie burn through physical activity must be done according to your pet’s current health status. For example, if your pet has arthritis, playing fetch won’t be very practical. Your veterinarian can help you determine which exercises your pet will be able to do, such as walks or swimming in the pool. As your pet loses weight and gets healthier, they may be able to handle more exercise.

Stick to the Plan
Here a few tips for staying the course:
• Be patient! Your pet’s weight loss won’t happen overnight.
• Be consistent. Consistency is key to achieving and maintaining weight loss.
• Make it fun! Weight loss doesn’t have to be drudgery.
• Make sure everyone in your household follows the plan.
• Schedule regular weigh-ins with your veterinarian. They can recommend adjustments to the plan if necessary.
• Maintain the weight loss. Once your pet has achieved their ideal weight, they’ll need to keep it off. Your vet can devise a ‘maintenance’ plan to prevent weight gain.

Obesity is a serious, but solvable, problem in pets. If your pet is overweight or obese, take active steps to help them lose weight and improve their health.