Overcoming Pet Obesity

Let’s chat about something NOBODY wants to hear……  We as a country are fat and so are our pets!!! I’m not fat shaming here… just pointing out the obvious.  What are the facts… The 11th annual Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) survey found that 59.5% of cats and 55.8% of dogs classified as overweight or obese in the US. As few as five pounds above your dog’s ideal weight can put her at risk for developing some serious medical conditions including:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Respiratory and Heart disease
  • kidney disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Many forms of cancer – especially intra-abdominal cancers

This is really bad stuff and we need to love our pets enough to make sure their lives are the best they can be – it is our responsibility!!

We all know weight loss can be challenging for anyone, people or pets. We people are responsible for our own diet and exercise regimen, but our furry friends have very little to do with their body condition.  Pet parents’ control everything in their pets’ lives including how much they are fed, what they are fed and how much exercise they get. The great news is losing weight and getting in healthy shape will not only add

years to you and your pet’s life, but it will also make your extra years more enjoyable.


Thankfully, helping your best friend attain a healthy weight may be easier than you think. It simply requires understanding the need for weight loss and fitness, attention to details and simple assistance from your veterinary healthcare team.

Let’s look at some ways we can help our four-legged kids beat this trend and become healthier.

Weight loss – calorie needs

For weight loss, the calorie formulas seem simple enough: fewer calories in plus more calories out equals weight loss. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that formula. You should never put your dog on a diet without the assistance of your veterinary healthcare team. Too many dogs start on a diet and fail to lose weight simply because the diet wasn’t the problem – a disease was.

Some common diseases associated with weight gain include hypothyroidism and hyperadrenocorticism or Cushing’s disease. These diseases, along with others, should be ruled out as possible causes or contributors to your dog’s weight issue prior to beginning a diet.

How do you calculate the calories your dog needs?

You’ll first need to have your dog examined by your veterinarian and an ideal weight calculated. Based on your pet’s degree of excess weight, you may choose a target weight higher than the ideal weight to start.

For many dogs, the best way to feed will be by offering a diet food fed several times per day. It is vital that you count calories during a weight reduction program.

In general, we recommend gradually adding the new diet over a one-week period. Start by substituting one-quarter of the diet for one to two days, then increase to one-half total volume of food for another two days, then three-quarter new food for a final two to three days before completely switching to the new diet.  Not following a transition plan such as this will more than likely result in an upset tummy and a mess on the floor.

Other food related tips:

  • For treats use vegetables such as baby carrots, broccoli, zucchini, celery and asparagus. Dogs love crunchy treats so make it a healthy – and low-calorie – choice.
  • Offer fresh water instead of food. Many dogs love fresh water so when they are lurking near an empty food bowl, try filling up the water bowl with fresh water instead.
  • Do not use a self-feeder. While this seems obvious, auto-feeders are nothing more than an unlimited food machine to a dog.
  • Feed small meals frequently – especially give a last feeding for those dogs that like to wake you up in the wee hours asking for more – divide the total volume or calories into four to six smaller meals.
  • When the bowl is empty and your dog is pleading, add a few kibbles to the bowl. By a few, try 5 to 10 – not a handful.

Exercise – burning calories

Set a goal! Work towards a 20-30 minute daily walk.

If you and your dog are not accustomed to taking long walks, start slow and work up to an achievable goal.  Your veterinary health care team can help you with this.  Make it your long-term objective to eventually walk briskly and focused for between 20 and 30 minutes daily.  Be aware of the temperature and humidity outside especially if your pet is significantly over weight or brachycephalic (short nosed breed like a bulldog or pug).

Here are some additional tips for getting your dog more exercise:

  • If you live in a multiple level home move the food bowl upstairs or downstairs and rotate it so she must always walk to get her food.
  • Move the food bowl as far away from your dog’s favorite locations as possible to encourage movement.
  • Pet your dog or play with it when it begs for food. Many dogs substitute food for affection so flip the equation and you may find that playtime displaces chowtime.
  • Walk your dog or take it outside when it begs. The distraction and interaction may be just enough to make it forget its desire for food.
  • Use toys, balls, laser pointers, squeaky toys, anything your dog finds interesting to chase and initiate physical activity. Try to engage your dog in aerobic activity for at least ten to fifteen minutes twice a day.


Multi-Dog Households

What do you do if one dog is normal weight and the other is diagnosed with obesity? Feed separately – this is the ideal solution for multi-dog households. Feed the dog with obesity its diet in one room while feeding your other dog in another location, preferably out of view from the other dog. After a prescribed time, generally 15 to 30 minutes, pick the food up until the next feeding.

  • Do not leave food out while you’re away. In this scenario, you can’t be sure who ate what.
  • Most dogs will achieve their ideal weight within six to eight months. If the process is taking longer than this, something needs to be changed.

Remember – the reason for your determined effort is to help your dog live a longer, healthier life. Our dogs don’t understand that their excess weight is killing them so it’s up to us to protect them from harm and not inadvertently contribute to their development of debilitating diseases. Together with your veterinary healthcare team, you and your dog can achieve its weight loss and fitness goals safely and successfully…… We need to stop killing out pets with kindness by giving into their begging for extra food and treats…… I know – it’s tough to turn down those adorable sad eyes! Have fun with it and maybe….. just maybe….. we will lose a few pounds at the same time.


Meet Petland’s Consulting Veterinarian, Dr. Thomas Edling, DVM, MSpVM, MPH:
Dr. Edling received his BS in Industrial Engineering from Texas A&M University in 1981 and his degree in Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from Colorado State University. He previously served as Vice President of Veterinary Medicine for Petco and was on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. In addition, Dr. Edling completed the American Board of Veterinary Practitioner’s residency program for Companion and Wild Avian Medicine and Surgery, at North Carolina State University, where he also received his Master in Specialized Veterinary Medicine (MSpVM) in 2001. In 2011, Dr. Edling completed the Master of Public Health (MPH) program at Johns Hopkins University. As a veterinarian, Dr. Edling works closely with the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians (NASPHV).

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