Overweight pets face significant health risks that can cause or exacerbate a wide variety of chronic conditions, ultimately leading to shorter, less comfortable lives.
Pet owners play an important role in managing their animal companions’ weight safely. By working with Ballantyne Veterinary Clinic, we can improve both the quantity and quality of your pet’s years by helping them maintain a healthy weight through a combination of proactive strategies.
Causes of Pet Obesity
Pet obesity is an epidemic-level problem. According to the American Animal Hospital Association, up to 59% of dogs and cats are overweight. So, why all the heavy pets? There are some common causes:
- Overfeeding: Every pet is different. Age, activity level, breed, and season can affect how many calories a pet needs. Even if you follow the guidelines on the back of the pet food bag, you can end up overfeeding without realizing it. Once you factor in treats and table scraps, that’s a lot of cupboard love.
- Lack of exercise: Exercise can help pets to burn calories by increasing their metabolism, however, the amount of calories burned in general will not be sufficient to help an overweight pet lose weight without also correcting the calorie imbalance. A combination approach can be most helpful, with a calorie reduction and an increase in exercise mutually reinforcing each other.
- Medical conditions: Your pet’s weight can also be affected by underlying medical conditions. Before making a weight loss plan, your vet may want to do some lab tests to check for certain diseases affecting metabolism.
It’s easy to feel judged when weight is brought up during a vet visit, even though that isn’t the intention. We will endeavor to be as kind and considerate as possible when having this discussion, but please remember, our job as veterinarians is to help you keep your pet healthy and happy for as long as possible, and proper weight management is a critical factor in long-term health.
Health Risks Associated With Pet Obesity
It can be tempting to underrate the severity of the risks associated with pet obesity. However, managing the weight of our animal companions is a vital aspect of their long-term health.
Obesity affects both longevity and comfort. Even a slight weight reduction can significantly decrease health risks for an overweight animal. Failure to properly manage weight can lead to a wide variety of issues and complications for pets, including:
- Joint problems
- Breathing problems
- Back issues
- Higher risk of complications from anesthesia
- Higher risk of some types of cancer
Pet obesity is a challenging topic, and it can be difficult for a layperson to determine if or when there is a problem. According to one study, 39% of pet owners with overweight animals did not know that their pet was too heavy. However, regular veterinary visits can help you identify the problem and keep you and your pet on track toward a solution.
Determining Your Pet's Ideal Weight
There are many factors to consider when beginning a weight management journey with your dog or cat. At Ballantyne Vet, we take a holistic view, carefully balancing nutritional needs, individual medical issues, and breed or species-specific concerns when determining goal weight.
We use tools and guidelines like body condition score and muscle condition score — both of which use visual cues and palpation to assess your pet's body condition — as a baseline for weight management.
Body condition score looks at fat amount, fat distribution, and body shape to assign a score on ar 9-point scale, which we will discuss with you when talking about your pet’s weight. Muscle condition score concerns the amount and quality of muscle on an animal’s frame. Both are vital to your pet’s overall health.
In addition to general guidelines, we will also account for breed-specific needs. For example, two separate dog breeds may have similar skeletal sizes but different ideal weights due to dietary and medical concerns specific to their breed.
Because pets can’t tell their owners exactly what they need or how they feel, deciding to limit their food can be difficult. But you don’t have to do it alone. We can help you figure out a healthy goal weight for your animal.
How to Help Manage Your Pet’s Weight
Working with an expert during a pet weight loss journey is vital for ensuring that the process is safe and comfortable for your pet. It’s usually not as simple as feeding an animal less, as this can result in unmet nutritional needs. Ballantyne Vet can help ensure that your animal loses weight in a controlled way that protects its health.
A weight management plan may significantly change several aspects of a pet’s life, including:
Caloric intake is typically the number one factor that changes when you get serious about weight management for your animal. Depending on the individual pet, you may need to reduce the amount of your animal’s current food or switch to a food designed to support its metabolism.
There is no one magic diet food that we recommend over all others. Instead, we make recommendations based on each pet as an individual after considering its specific health concerns like allergies or potential pregnancies for breeding animals. The plan will also account for cost, availability, and the number of other pets in the home.
You may also need to limit treats and table scraps. While giving in to begging behavior is tempting, overindulgence can have serious consequences. Treats should make up no more than 10% of a pet’s daily caloric intake, and you should carefully account for calories from treats when doling out food at mealtime.
While individual needs and preferences may vary, pets benefit from daily exercise. In general, dogs need at least 30 minutes of activity every day. On the other hand, cats need at least three high-intensity play sessions of at least 5 minutes to thrive.
Factors like age and breed can also significantly impact how much activity and exercise an animal requires for optimal health and happiness.
Medication and Treatment
Sometimes weight gain can be caused by underlying medical issues that affect metabolism, appetite, or energy level. Diagnosing these issues may take time and require multiple tests, but weight gain caused by an illness or chronic condition may not be treatable through lifestyle changes alone.
Depending on their diagnosis, pets may need medication, some for a short time and some for life. Once treatment of the root cause of the weight gain begins, pets may still need to make lifestyle changes to shed excess weight.
Monitoring and Tracking
Keeping track of progress is an integral part of any pet weight management journey. Careful monitoring ensures that the plan can be changed quickly when a strategy is ineffective and protects pets from losing too much weight too fast.
Steady, controlled progress is the goal. Sudden weight fluctuations can be dangerous, and changes to your animal’s routine can have unexpected consequences. Never be afraid to contact our team at Ballantyne Vet if you have concerns or notice significant changes.
Helping a dog or cat lose weight will involve the entire family, and everyone that cares for the pet should be aware of any changes and why they are essential.
Pet weight management is a significant commitment that requires time and effort. Family members may need to change how they interact with and reward the pet. Replacing food rewards with time and attention, increased play, and introducing more active feeding strategies like slow feeders or food puzzles can all be promising strategies for supporting weight loss.
Sometimes loving your animals means making hard choices on their behalf. But remember: You are responsible for creating a healthy environment and routine for your pet.
Beginning a Pet Weight Management Journey
Inadequately managing an animal’s weight can seriously affect its health, comfort, and longevity. Overweight pets face a higher risk of developing chronic conditions and are more likely to suffer complications during medical procedures. They recover from injuries slower and experience reduced quality of life.
However, pet obesity is a reversible condition. A good diet, proper exercise, and medical intervention when necessary can make a world of difference to an animal. By working with our team, South Charlotte pet owners can develop a plan to help their pets lose weight and improve their overall health.
If you are concerned that your pet may be overweight, contact Ballantyne Veterinary Clinic to schedule an appointment. Our caring and supportive staff is ready to help you start your pet’s weight management journey.