A Weight Management Treatment Plan for Your Pet

Obesity is, unfortunately, a common disorder of companion animals. While there are various risk factors like breed and life stage that are out of your hands, your local veterinarian can provide you with the appropriate tools and support when dealing with the challenges of managing your pet’s weight.

Actually creating and sticking to a weight management plan for your dog or cat can be a daunting task, which is why we have prepared the following pointers to help you get started and keep you motivated along the way.

Understand the risk factors and consequences of obesity in pets

Senior adult dogs and cats (10+ years) are more at risk for being overweight than pets in other age groups. Adult large breed dogs are most at risk for obesity. Even if your pet is not currently overweight, it is important to take preventive measures, especially if your pet falls into one of these categories.

Obese pets have a shorter life expectancy than pets with normal body weights and have a potential risk for joint diseases, cardiac and respiratory diseases and diabetes. This is why it is important that you and your veterinary medical team work together to help prevent and/or manage this condition in your pet.

You can stay informed about the latest overweight and obesity trends by viewing our annual State of Pet Health Report at stateofpethealth.com

Talk to your veterinarian

The cause of your pet’s weight problem should be determined first to rule out any medical issues and to create a successful weight management plan. Start by visiting your local veterinarian to get an overall health assessment and understand your pet’s unique weight management needs.

Choose the right food

Feeding a high quality diet, restricting caloric intake (including treats and human food) and increasing activity are the most successful methods for weight loss in dogs and cats that are otherwise healthy. Nutrition consults with a veterinarian and pet food specially formulated for weight loss, can aid in reaching a healthy weight.

If your pet needs to switch to a new diet, your doctor will choose a diet that is specially formulated and may include:

  • A reduction in fat
  • An increase in pet vitamins and minerals
  • An increase in protein to minimize lean tissue loss. Extra protein may also help your pet feel fuller.
  • An L-carnitine supplement, which helps maximize the amount of fat and minimize the amount of lean tissue lost during weight management.
  • The addition of fiber which allows you to feed your pet a greater volume of food without adding calories.
Monitor feeding amounts

The exact amount you should feed your pet depends on the diet used, your pet’s activity level and ability to exercise. The calculations should be based on your pet’s target body weight and Body Condition Score (BCS), not current weight. It’s important to remember that this is only a starting point. If, for example, weight loss slows, the amount of pet food may be decreased from 5-10 percent. In general, the recommended rate of weight loss for your pet should be 1/2 to 1 percent of body weight per week but this should be specifically tailored to your pet’s individual needs.

It is not recommended to simply follow the manufacturer feeding guidelines on the diet without first consulting your veterinary medical team. These are guidelines that are developed for the needs of the average pet. The true needs of the individual pet can vary by as much as 25 percent depending on their breed, body composition, environment and activity level.

To make the most positive impact, food must be measured precisely, preferably with the use of electronic scales are. Remember not to feed your pet additional foods such as table scraps and treats. Healthy treats may be allowed if they are taken into account in the overall daily ration and provide less than five percent of total daily requirements.

Increase your pet’s activity level

A high quality diet combined with an increase in activity is ideal. Success in the long run comes from a change in lifestyle to prevent rebound weight gain.

For dogs, exercise may include lead or off-lead walking, games such as Frisbee or fetch, swimming/hydrotherapy and using a treadmill. For cats, you can encourage more activity with play sessions using cat toys, such as fishing rod toys and motorized units. Cats can also be encouraged to “work” for their food through the use of feeding toys or placing their food dish up high where activity is needed to reach it.

Acknowledge and address the challenges

You may encounter a few problems during your pet’s weight loss program including difficulty in your pet adapting to the new diet or reduced amount of food; behavioral problems related to this, with inopportune vocalizing, aggressiveness and/or stealing of food or an unexpected slow rate of weight loss and side effects of drug therapy (if used).

Your veterinarian should supervise your pet’s weight management plan. Your pet’s progress should be closely monitored and rechecks should take place every two to four weeks. Your veterinary medical team will provide you with feedback, encouragement and support.

Remember, not only is weight loss important, but adopting a healthy lifestyle is equally beneficial. Once your pet has reached the target weight, continue with regular rechecks. Your doctor will help select a maintenance level to keep your pet’s weight stable.

Stay informed

Between regular checkups with your veterinarian, you can learn more about your pet’s nutritional and overall health needs in a variety of ways. Below is a list of related articles from our Pet Health Library and links to other important Banfield resources.