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Like humans, dog and cats used to spend a lot of energy finding and catching their food. Now that food is constantly available with very little effort it is easy for the body’s energy equation to shift to more energy consumed than used. In strict nutritional terms, all you have to do to lose weight is consume less energy (food) than the energy you expend (exercise). Then why is this so difficult?
Why lose weight?
Thin is healthier. Leaner dogs and cats live longer than overweight dogs and cats and have less of the following health problems.
Most of us can recognize when animals are really overweight, but it is important to try and make changes before the signs are too obvious and the problem becomes really big (no pun intended!). Remember, 5 extra pounds on a dog or cat can be equivalent to 50 extra pounds on you or me!
Check the ribs. In short-haired dogs and cats you should see some outline of the ribs. In long-haired pets you should be able to feel the ribs under their coat. Or bring your pet to one of our knowledgeable staff at Pet Valu.
Check the waist. Like humans, the waist is the first thing to disappear when a pet gains too much weight. Both dogs and cats should have a narrowing between the ribs and the hind legs when seen from above, and a noticeable tuck when seen from the side.
Does your pet jiggle when they walk or run? The layer of fat under the skin allows the skin to move more when they are moving, or when you are petting them. Cats often deposit more fat in the upper chest, so look and feel between their front legs.
How much is your pet eating?
A good place to start in helping your pet lose weight is to know how much you are feeding them. Measure their daily food consumption in cups, cans, or by weight. It is very important that you include all the treats you are giving your pet in the measurement. This includes biscuits, chews, bread, and stuff off of the table. If the amount of treats fed varies from day to day estimate them on a weekly basis and divide by seven. Measuring food consumption by weight is best because it is easier to include all the treats given. It is helpful if you can convert the amount of food given into calories, but if most of the food given to your pet is a prepared food, this is not necessary.
Especially with small dogs and cats, it’s best to measure in grams or ounces because they consume only fractions of cups. The difference between ½ and 5/8 of a cup is 20% more food. If you ate 20% more food you would blow up too! If using cups, at least measure all the food for the day into another container and feed meals from it, to limit the chances of mis-measuring multiple times.
How to Feed Your Pet
Switching foods to achieve weight loss is not always necessary. There are cases where changing foods is not practical, especially if the pet is on a special diet for a reason, or particularly in the case of cats, your pet may not let you change their food. Feeding a weight loss food usually makes it easier for you to manage your pet’s weight loss. Make sure treats are less than 10% fat. If you don’t know the fat level in a treat, then you probably shouldn’t be feeding it – especially not while your pet is overweight. With most pets, the interaction with you is usually more important than the size of the treat. Ideally treats are small enough and offered in limited quantities that they make an insignificant contribution to the total daily calorie intake. Dogs that are given large treats or biscuits need to have an equal weight removed from their usual daily food.
More important than measuring calories consumed by your pet is to measure his or her weight. The importance of being able to track the weight can’t be emphasized enough.
Here is how I recommend you feed your pet to get sustainable weight loss:
Decide if you are going to change to a weight loss food or stay on the current food. Switch to low fat, small-sized treats. Our staff can help you with this.
The goal is for your pet to lose 2% of body weight (but not more than 5%) in a 2 week period. For example, a 16 lb pet should lose 1/3 lb in 2 weeks. If your pet is not losing weight fast enough, reduce the amount fed by approximately 10% and maintain feeding that amount for a 2 week period. For example, if you have been feeding 100 grams a day, reduce it to 90 grams. Continue to reduce your pet’s food intake by a further 10% every 2 weeks, until your pet is losing 2% body weight in a 2 week period. Most pets will require a 20-30% reduction in food intake to achieve this rate of weight loss; some will need up to 50%, but advise if reducing consumption by over 50%.
At the start of their weight loss program, weigh your pet every 2 weeks. Once you have established they are losing weight at the proper rate you can weigh once a month. It helps to keep a weight loss chart to monitor progress. Be patient, if the pet is 25% to 30% overweight it may take 6-10 months to achieve full results.
Once the weight is lost, the last thing you want is for your pet to regain it. When your pet’s target body condition has been achieved, increase the amount of food fed by 10% every 2 weeks until desired weight is maintained. Don’t look at the feeding chart to judge how much to feed – look at your pet’s body condition and weight. Exercise should continue after the weight is lost.
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