Statistics show that more and more Americans are overweight. And because our lifestyles also affect our pets, obesity in pets has risen drastically in the last few years as well. The same health problems that shadow overweight people also apply to pets — diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, joint and spinal problems. In a few cases, as with a hypoactive thyroid condition, the disease may be responsible for excess weight.
The solution is the same. The only way to lose weight is to eat less and exercise more. (Always talk to your veterinarian before placing your pet on a diet and exercise program.)
The major pet food manufacturers in the United States spend thousands of dollars to formulate foods that are healthy and nutritious. Many companies offer life stage based foods specifically for young animals, active pets, or senior adult pets. Unfortunately we often destroy the balance of these foods by adding table scraps or lots of snacks. Think of dog biscuits and treats as junk food - they are the potato chips and cookies of the pet world. An occasional treat is fine, but not so much as to be a major part of the pet's diet.
Measure the amount of food you feed your pet. Many dog food companies will list recommended feeding amounts on the bags, but these may be too high for your pet. In general, feed 1 cup of dry food, or one 16-oz can of food, for every twenty pounds of body weight per day. It may be in divided meals. Smaller more frequent meals may keep your pet satisfied, even though the total amount of food is less.
Buy a premium food if possible. The producers of name brand foods usually have invested more money in quality ingredients and research. Store brands may not be of equal quality. In general, a quality dry food or canned food is better than the prepackaged moist foods. These foods often contain a lot of salt, sugar and dye. They taste great — just like junk food, but may not provide the level of nutrition your pet needs for a healthy life.
Exercise your pet. It can be as simple as a walk around the block. Start slowly with overweight pets, and increase the pace and distance gradually. Playing in the backyard can also be a fun way to burn calories. Throwing a ball, Frisbee, or stick for your dog will encourage running and retrieving (if your dog is so inclined). During summer months many dogs like to swim, and this is a good form of exercise for obese pets. Water helps reduce the strain on joints and provides buoyancy.
Exercise should be done regularly, not “hit or miss” or only on weekends. As with people, tolerance for exercise and an increase in the body's metabolic rate occurs only with regular activity. An occasional walk is good, but not enough to qualify as an exercise plan.
Have your pet examined by your veterinarian. Weigh your pet in regularly and chart the progress you are making. If no weight loss occurs after diet modifications and exercise plans have been established, then your veterinarian may want to run some blood tests to check your pet’s health.
This article is provided as a general overview of the topic. Always consult your veterinarian for specific information related to diseases or medical care for pets.