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Help your pet lose weight the smart way: Feed less, exercise more

July 2, 2019

pet parent playing fetch with dog

We get it: Doling out treats and bites of your delicious dinner makes your dog happy and your cat purr with contentment. That makes you happy, too. We humans create meaningful bonding experiences over food and it’s no different when we spend time with our animal friends.

Why is pet obesity dangerous?

When our pets gain weight, we may think that squishy pudge around their middles makes them even cuter and gives us more to cuddle. But the truth is, most do not realize our pets are overweight and that is unhealthy for them.

How many pets are carrying extra weight? According to the 2018 survey results from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 50 million cats and 56 million dogs in the U.S. are overweight or obese.

Overweight

These pets have a body condition score of 6-7 on a 9-point scale. In this scale, 1 is excessively thin, 9 is obese, and 5 is ideal.

  • 25.7% of cats
  • 36.9% of dogs

Obese

These pets have a BCS of 8-9.

  • 33.8% of cats
  • 18.9% of dogs

Compared to human scale numbers, those 5, 4, even 3 pounds of extra baggage on your pet may not seem like a big deal. But it’s widely cited that pudgy pets carry an elevated risk of secondary conditions, including hypertension, diabetes and cancer.

Aside from health issues, being overweight or obese can diminish a pet’s quality of life.

  • Older pets may have difficulty walking, playing and doing the things they love, because the excess weight can exacerbate joint pain caused by arthritis.
  • Extra bulk puts more pressure on the lungs. Breathing becomes more labored, making walks and ball tosses less fun.

But here’s the part that’s really unsettling. Obese dogs have shorter lifespans by an average of two years. That’s according to a comprehensive study by the University of Liverpool published in early 2019 that examined 20 years’ worth of data collected on 50,000 dogs and 12 breeds.

While the effect of obesity on cat lifespans is less clear, your holistic vet would likely urge you to get your furry friend to a healthy weight.

How do you know if your pet needs to lose weight? The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention has a breed-based weight range chart for dogs and cats.

Certainly, you’ll want to get the most out of life with your furry friend. Helping your pet shed excess pounds through a healthy diet and increased activity is a smart way to do it.

How do you put your dog or cat on a weight-loss plan?

Holistic vets concur: Too-large portions in the food bowl and too many handouts are making our pets fat. Here’s what you can do right now to rein in the calorie count while keeping your pet healthy and satiated.

However, keep in mind that every pet is different, and you may need to adjust your feedings based on their needs to get to the outcome you're looking for.

Stop free-feeding your pet

Yes, free-feeding is convenient. Just pour the food in the bowl and let your pet graze throughout the day, while you top off as needed (or by demand). More than likely, this method is stacking extra calories on top of their daily minimum, and these get stored as fat. Really, it’s not unlike the unconscious snacking we humans do that causes our own weight gain.

Switch to the mealtime approach

Offer meals on a schedule, one bowl for each pet, within the same time frame each day. If pets are eating from each others’ bowls, mealtimes should take place in separate rooms, doors shut.

Take it slow

Reduce portions gradually, no more than 5 percent a week, using a food scale. Even if your pet is very heavy, beware of a drastic calorie reduction. It can mess with your pet’s metabolism, create nutritional deficiencies or cause them to act out (such as getting into the trash or stealing food from another pet’s bowl), all of which will undermine your mission. More importantly, rapid weight loss can cause a serious illness in cats called fatty liver disease which can cause liver failure. The maximum weekly weight loss range for cats is 0.5-2% of their weight. In a 20-pound cat, that's 6.4 ounces a week. However, it's safe for dogs to embark on a more rapid weight-loss plan, at 1-3% of their body weight per week, which is 0.5 to 1.5 pounds for a 50-pound dog.

Try a weight management diet

Many brands of pet foods offer special diets that lower the calorie count but offer a boost in fiber content to help pets feel fuller longer. But not all of these foods are created equal. The first thing you’ll want to look for is lean, high-quality proteins. Meat or low-ash meal should appear first on the ingredients list. Opt for foods featuring nutrient-dense complex carbs, like legumes, oats and barley. Steer clear of ingredients like corn and wheat, as these can be contributing to your pet’s weight gain.

Offer the right supplements

When choosing a weight management diet, premium foods featuring the right blend of supplements can help you see better results.

  • L-Carnitine is a supplement that can boost fat metabolism, but not all supplements are alike. Carniking is a special grade of this amino acid used in NutriSource’s Weight Management Diet. Research shows that when dogs and cats are fed diets featuring Carniking, they have reduced body fat and increased lean muscle mass.
  • If weight is causing difficulties with walking and playing, chondroitin and glucosamine are supplements that can offer pain relief and increased mobility.
  • Finally, formulas featuring probiotics and prebiotics can rebalance your pet’s gut microbiome, improving digestion. This can reduce gassiness and help your pet better absorb the nutrients their bodies need to be healthy. Look for a minimum of 80 million colony-forming units in every serving.

Trade in the treats

If treats are built into your routine with your cat or dog, pare these back. Look for treats that come in smaller bites or training treats. These are often 5 calories or less. Many pet parents find their dog will snap up crunchy, low-calorie carrot sticks, sliced apples and snap peas just as eagerly as the traditional biscuit.

How can your dog or cat get more exercise?

Along with a healthy, well-balanced diet, boosting your pet’s activity levels can help them develop lean muscle, burn fat, and feel good all over. Here are some quick, easy activities dogs can do with their human families to get them moving while stimulating their minds.

  • Turn potty breaks into walks.
  • Head to the back yard and play fetch, Frisbee or tug-of-war.
  • Take your dog running or biking.
  • Go swimming.
  • Bust out the local guide and find new parks and paths to explore for longer walks.
  • Host a doggie playdate and give those pups some off-leash backyard fun time.
  • Instead of handing out treats, hide them. Let them sniff them out using their powerful noses.
  • Play hide-and-seek with their favorite toys.
  • Play this fun "come when called" game in the backyard, offering praise and tummy rubs instead of treats.
  • Buy a doggy backpack, so they can carry a little extra weight during walks.
  • Enroll in an agility or advanced obedience class.
  • Sometimes, even the best pet parents can use a helping hand. If getting outdoors to exercise your pet poses difficulties to you, hiring a dog walker can be a great solution.

As for feline fitness, these fun activities encourage more play and exploration to get your cat moving. Keep in mind, while younger cats will readily engage in playtime, it can take more ingenuity to figure out what inspires an older, more sedentary cat to get up and moving. Start with brief sessions of play, and experiment until you find something that engages your cat. Try these to boost your cat's activity level.

  • Feathers on the end of a rod encourage your cat’s instinct to chase.
  • A laser pointer often gets many cats springing to their feet to pounce on that bug-like point of light.
  • Leave out an open paper bag or empty box or two. Add old gift tissue or crushed sheets of office paper, and they’ll have a blast pawing, batting and exploring.
  • Set up a cat tree or condo to encourage climbing.
  • Offer treats through an interactive food puzzle.
  • Finally, think about adopting a friend for your cat. Solitary cats sometimes benefit from having a pal that draws out their playful side.

Now that you know why a healthy weight is good for your pet's health and well-being, why not begin today?

NutriSource Weight Management offers nutritious and delicious meals for dogs as well as cats to help your pet reach their ideal weight range ... the healthy way! Visit your local, independent holistic pet supply store to find NutriSource products.