Our pets are part of our families. We want them to be happy, healthy and live their best lives. There are many things that contribute to a pet’s health and happiness. Good food, a protected environment, regular veterinary care and love and attention from caregivers are some of the things we commonly think about that lead to full lives for our pets.
However, out of all the things we can do to keep our pets healthy, healthy weight management is number one. Yes, it is more important than anything else you can do. Studies have shown that cats and dogs that are maintained at an ideal weight live on average TWO YEARS LONGER!
It is important to recognize and really understand how excess weight in our pets affects their day-to-day happiness and health. For example, overweight pets are at a much higher risk of developing arthritis, joint injuries, diabetes, pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) as well as liver and urinary problems, most notably in cats. They have a harder time breathing and are much more likely to seriously injure their backs. It is harder for our overweight pets to get up, play, jump and enjoy life to the fullest.
Purina is a great resource for weight guidelines, or “body condition scores” and can help get you started evaluating your pet. These guidelines provide pictures of dogs and cats that are associated on a numerical scale from 1 to 9. A score of 1 is severely thin and a score of 9 is severely overweight. Scores from 4.5-5.5 are considered ideal. These scales are widely used by veterinarians and can help you objectively determine what a healthy weight should look like for your pet.
Some “pro” tips on diet:
Just like people, healthy weight management for our pets is all about diet and exercise. Providing a quality balanced diet and regular modest exercise promotes health and enrichment for your pet. Feed portions; do not free feed. That is important enough to say twice. Feed portions do not free feed. Twice daily meals are ideal for both dogs and cats and will allow you to tailor portion size to each of your pets according to their individual needs. Feed multiple pets in separate areas so slower or more timid eaters are not outcompeted or bullied. Try and incorporate canned food for cats as this will help them as they age. Start young! Although puppies and kittens don’t need calorie restriction, they should still be portion fed, just more often, until they reach adulthood. Be mindful of treats and table food – these are extras and do not provide any additional nutrition, just calories. A healthy pet is a family commitment. All family members must be on board to raise and maintain a nutritionally healthy pet.
Food. Is. Not. Love.
You may need to change old habits. Dogs and cats will welcome attention in their lives equally if not more than food as a source of enrichment and bonding… and attention is calorie free. Daily walks, ball chasing and doggie play dates are good exercise ideas. Laser lights, harness walks, catteries and feather toys are engaging and fun for kitties. So, the next time you reach for a treat for your pet, reach for a leash or laser light or even just kind words and scratches instead. It does not have to be difficult.
Finally for weight management of older, sick or severely overweight or underweight pets, we recommend consulting with a veterinarian prior to undertaking serious diet change measures. Diet management in these cases can be trickier, requiring professional guidance.
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Note: The advice provided in this article is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet’s condition, please make an appointment with your veterinarian.