Obesity is the most important medical disease in pets worldwide. Overweight cats are at increased risk for developing diabetes mellitus, cancer, skin disease, oral cavity disease, and urinary tract disease. Overweight dogs are at increased risk for developing diabetes mellitus, arthritis, and urinary incontinence. Excess fat tissue can also adversely affect respiratory, metabolic, and kidney functions. Since this issue is so important, our team at Johnson County Animal Clinic would like to offer information about pet obesity and weight management, to help you keep your pet trim and healthy.

Assess your pet’s weight

You may think your pet’s weight is acceptable, but looks can be deceiving. Have your pet assessed by our veterinary professionals, to determine if they need to lose weight. In addition to tracking your pet’s weight, we will assess their body condition score and their muscle condition score, to accurately evaluate their weight status. These scoring systems provide consistent methods to monitor your pet’s weight. The muscle conditioning score (MCS) evaluates muscle mass and involves palpation over the head, shoulders, back, and pelvis. The body conditioning score (BCS) evaluates body fat, and requires visual observation and palpation, especially in medium- to long-haired pets. 

Realize that weight management in pets is a lifelong process

Successful weight management has two main phases—the initial weight loss, and subsequent maintenance of the ideal weight. Weight management is about not only feeding the appropriate diet, but also lifestyle changes that will be necessary throughout your pet’s life, to sustain their ideal weight. Changes to consider include:

  • Diet — Your pet has distinct nutritional needs based on their size, breed, age, physical activity, environment, and unique health issues. Our veterinary professionals will advise you on the most appropriate diet, to ensure your pet loses weight safely. The amount you feed your pet is also important. Use a measuring cup to accurately measure the food amount suggested for your pet. You can also use pet calorie calculators to help estimate your pet’s energy requirements.
  • Exercise — Getting your pet moving will help their weight loss process. For sedentary pets, introduce light exercise initially, and then gradually increase the intensity level. Exercise is recommended not only to help in the weight loss process, but also to provide needed physical enrichment for your pet.
  • Environmental enrichment — Ensuring your pet is mentally and physically engaged will help distract them from wanting to eat. Give them new sights, scents, and activities to enjoy on a regular basis. Use food-puzzle toys for their meals, to make them use their brains to access their food. These toys make meal time more entertaining, and prevent your pet from eating too fast.
  • Medical concerns — Certain medical conditions can cause your pet to gain weight, or make losing weight difficult. This is yet another reason why our veterinary professionals should assess your pet, to check for underlying disease processes, including:
    • Hypothyroidism — The thyroid gland produces thyroid hormones, which are responsible for regulating metabolism. When the thyroid gland underproduces thyroid hormones, the pet’s metabolism can become sluggish, resulting in weight gain. In addition to weight gain, signs include lethargy, coarse hair coat, and dry, itchy skin. Medications are available to manage this condition.
    • Hyperadrenocorticism — Also known as Cushing’s disease, this condition is usually caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland, which overproduces adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), and causes the adrenal glands to produce excess cortisol. Signs include increased appetite, increased thirst, increased urination, lethargy, and poor hair coat. Medications are available to help manage this condition. In some cases, surgery is needed to correct the problem.
    • Arthritis — Pets affected by arthritis may have decreased mobility, which makes losing weight difficult. Joint supplements and pain medications may help improve their mobility, making exercise easier.

Find alternate methods to reward your pet

Food is not love, and treats should comprise no more than 10 percent of your pet’s total daily calories. Begging is usually attention-seeking behavior, unrelated to hunger or nutritional needs. When your pet deserves praise, use other rewards, such as petting, offering favorite toys, going for walks, or playing a game.

Set goals and monitor your pet’s progress

Our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited veterinary professionals will help you set realistic goals to help your pet lose weight safely. Rapid weight loss, especially in cats, can cause significant health issues, such as hepatic lipidosis. Once we establish a reasonable goal, you will need to monitor your pet’s progress with regular weigh-ins and BCS assessments. This will help you know if the weight loss program is working for your pet, so you can make adjustments if they aren’t making progress.

Maintaining an ideal weight has been proven to reduce illness, and improve pets’ quality of life. If you are concerned about your pet’s weight, do not hesitate to contact our team at Johnson County Animal Clinic, so we can rule out any potential health issues, and, if necessary, help your pet lose their extra pounds.