Help your Furry Friend Lose Weight this New Year

Have you spoiled your pet a bit too much over Christmas? Let's talk about pet obesity, why those extra pounds can be so dangerous, and how you can help your furry friend slim down...

Almost half of all dogs in Australia are overweight. And although there are some medical reasons for weight gain in pets, most overweight animals simply consume more calories than they use up.

A recent survey of veterinarians revealed that, in their view, only 3% of obese dogs had a health condition (such as Cushing’s Disease and hypothyroidism) that contributed to their excess weight. This means that the remaining 97% of overweight canines were overweight because of how their owner looked after them – too much food, too many treats and not enough exercise.

It’s tempting to spoil our pets. After all, we love them, they’re part of our family, and who could resist those cute puppy dog eyes or pitiful meows? But overfeeding our pets is often more cruel than kind…

Your overweight pet is at risk of several health conditions that can seriously affect their quality of life, including:

  • Arthritis. When joints have to carry a lot of weight, they are subject to more wear and tear. This can lead to degeneration of the cartilage and painful arthritis.
  • Breathing difficulties. It’s not easy for your pet to breathe when there is a layer of fat surrounding their chest.
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Liver disease

Even if your pet doesn’t suffer from the above conditions, research shows that when food intake is managed properly, our furry friends are likely to live longer.

So how do you tell if your pet is obese? 

It’s not always easy to look at your furry friend and get a good idea of their body condition. Some dogs and cats have thick or fluffy coats that make it hard to see what’s underneath. That’s why you need to use your hands as well as your eyes to tell if your pet is carrying too much weight.

Look at your pet from the side and from above. You should see an obvious waistline just after the ribcage. If it isn’t there, if your pet’s body is essentially rectangular, then it’s a good sign that they should probably lose some weight.

Move your hands over your pet’s chest and try to feel their ribs. There should only be a thin layer of fat over their ribs, and you should be able to feel the individual bones easily. If you can’t feel any ribs at all, then there is work to be done. Some particularly overweight cats also have a large sagging fat pad on their tummy towards their hind legs.

Of course, if you’re unsure, the best thing to do is to take your pet to the vet. They’ll pop them on the scales and will be able to give you an idea of how much weight your furry friend should lose.

How to help your dog lose weight

Your dog’s obesity is most likely because he is eating too much and not exercising enough, so it should be fairly easy to help him lose the excess weight. Just feed him less and walk him more… right? Of course, it’s easier said than done.

Here are some suggestions to guide you in dieting your dog:

  • Feed your dog ‘to condition’. This means that you should only use the feeding guide on his packet of food as a suggestion. If he is gaining weight, feed him less, until you can see his waistline and feel his ribs.
  • If your dog has a lot of weight to lose, use a prescription diet food like Hilll’s Canine Metabolic or Hill’s Canine Low Fat-Glucose Management-Gastrointestinal. This will allow him to reduce his calorie intake while still getting enough of the other nutrients he needs.
  • No more between-meal treats or bedtime snacks, unless it is a healthy option. Offer your dog some steamed green beans or small cubes of cooked pumpkin as treats.
  • Your whole family must be on board. There’s no point in you working hard to make your dog trim if another person is sneaking him snacks.
  • Harden your heart to those soft pleading eyes. Trade a treat for a massage, a brush or a game of ball in the back yard. There are other ways of showing your dog how much you care that don’t involve food.

Obesity is a preventable condition that has many adverse effects on your dog’s health. If your canine best friend is carrying a few extra kilos, put him on a diet. He’ll enjoy a better quality of life, for longer.

How to help your cat lose weight

Domestic cats aren’t naturally active. After all, they don’t have to hunt for their food; it’s brought to them on a platter. They can, and often do, spend their time lazing around in comfort which uses up very few calories.

When it comes to putting your cat on a diet, it needs to be done carefully. Although you may be pleased to see your feline friend trim down quickly, cats that lose weight too fast can develop a condition called hepatic lipidosis. This condition occurs when the liver is infiltrated with fat, and it doesn’t function properly. Affected cats are off their food, they usually vomit and may become jaundiced.

To avoid this, you need to carefully control your cat’s weight loss journey and this is often easiest by using a prescription weight loss food such as Royal Canin’s Feline Obesity Management or Hill’s Feline Metabolic. Make sure you measure what you put in their bowl at mealtimes because it’s easy to be too generous, especially with dry food.

While you can’t put a leash on your cat and take them for a walk, you can still increase their exercise through environmental enrichment. There are great toys you can buy, such as the Frolicat Bolt Laser, that encourage playtime. You can also put your cat’s food bowls up on a bench or shelf, so they have to jump or climb to reach their food.

It’s not easy putting your cat on a diet. Cats can be quite demanding when they want more food, and they may not be too enthusiastic about any increase in exercise. However, it’s important that you persist because in the long term, it will be very good for their health.