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As in people, weight problems in pets are an increasing problem. Some dogs and cats are overweight for medical reasons, but most obesity is due to them eating more calories than needed and the excess calories are stored as body fat. Many owners feed their pets too much as a way of showing affection and love, so inadvertently pet owners are often the cause of the weight problem!
Overweight pets are at risk of health problems such as diabetes mellitus and arthritis so their lifespan may be shortened. If you feel your pet is heavier than they should be, it is best to see your vet who will go through the following points:
1. Establish a Weight Loss Plan
Your vet will do a thorough examination, including weighing them. They then rule out any medical conditions that can cause obesity. Next they determine the ideal body weight for the breed and age of your pet and calculate how much weight should be lost. The weight loss goal must be realistic, long term and achievable for the pet and owner.
A good goal is 1-2% of body weight lost per week and it is part of a “Weight Loss Plan”. It can take 3-6 months to achieve the goal weight and for the pet to stay healthy in the long term. The Weight Loss Plan will involve diet, feeding times, exercise and regular weight checks.
A specially formulated weight loss food is the best way for your pet to lose weight. These foods are lower in fat and calories and often higher in protein and fibre, so your pet does not go hungry. e.g. Hill’s Prescription Diet. It is important to feed the recommended amount, accurately measured out.
The feeding of table scraps must be eliminated and any treats factored into the overall daily caloric intake. If your pet is fed by multiple household members (or neighbourhood!) it is important they adhere to the diet or all your effort will go to waste!
3. Type of feeding
The Weight Loss Plan calculates the total number of calories to be fed per day. This should then be divided into two to four smaller meals. Feeding pets more than once a day boosts their metabolism and stops them becoming too hungry and begging for treats!
Ad lib (free choice) feeding should be stopped as it encourages pets to eat when bored and not just hungry, thereby encouraging weight gain. Automatic feeders that release a set amount of food per meal are helpful if you are not home to feed all the meals. In a multi pet household, always feed pets separately so you know how much has been eaten by whom!
In addition to reducing calorie intake, it is important that your pet exercises to use up calories. At least 30 minutes of activity each day is recommended for dogs and cats.
For dogs with joint problems, swimming is a great alternative. Exercise for cats can be harder, but toys to play with and chase are helpful. If you don’t have time to walk your dog regularly, there are many experienced dog walkers available for hire.
5. Monitor Progress
It is important to weigh your pet every two weeks during their Weight Loss Plan. This is best done at the vet and provides encouragement to keep going, as the programme may take several months. If your pet is not losing weight, the daily calories may be restricted further. Always ensure that no one in the house is cheating by giving the pet extra food or treats!
A good way to help you through the weight loss process is to take a ‘before’ diet photo, some during the weight loss and one at its conclusion. This provides lots of encouragement. Once the ideal weight is reached, it is important to continue weighing and monitoring your pet for any future change in weight.
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