Learn how to encourage safe weight loss in your overweight cat or dog.
Prior to starting a weight reduction program with your pet, it is crucial to first visit your trusted veterinarian for a wellness examination. Their trained medical opinion will help confirm the diagnosis that indeed your critter is too plump and provide you with a targeted healthy weight range. ? So…How do you get your cat or dog to safely lose weight?
Tip #1: Account for what they are currently eating
If find that the most important piece to successful weight loss in your pet, is to acknowledge what they are truly eating on a daily and weekly basis. If we don’t own up to what they are consuming, we are setting ourselves up for failure. There are typically multiple people if not multiple pets living in your family home. You may be the sole feeder of your critter. However, do you really know if anyone else if giving food/treats to the critter too? You know how hard it is to say “No” to those cute little faces as they beg for extra treats or table foods!! I always ask my clients to first write down everything their cat or dog is eating over a few days. This food diary will help account for every last treat or morsel that passes their lips. Due to their smaller stature, every calorie is weighed much more than in a human (ie: a 10 lb cat needs approximately 206 kcals vs a 150lb human needs approx. 2000 kcals to maintain healthy body weight). Also, consider if your plump furry friend is stealing food from another food bowl because this adds considerable calories to their daily consumption! That rawhide chew counts, too! Believe it or not, your dog eating (1) 6oz rawhide chew (667kcals) is like you eating 10 donuts!! YIKES!!!
Tip #2: Account for any daily exercise
Do you walk your dog religiously every day for 15-30 minutes or does your dog simply walk about in the backyard? Does your cat eat, groom, sleep, repeat or does your cat have multiple play sessions every day in between eat, groom, sleep, repeat cycles? Exercise is an important piece to wellness and maintaining healthy body weight in all species. Animals that are couch potatoes will burn far fewer calories than those that are playing/moving around throughout the day.
Tip #3: Stop offering processed treats
The pet food/pet treat industry is so important that they dedicate an entire grocery aisle to cat and dog foods/treats! It drives me literally insane how the pet food industry uses your love for your pets to make a buck all while sacrificing good quality nutrition for your pet. 99.9% of all commercially available cat and dog treats are junk. Yes, JUNK. They are full of fillers, empty calories, artificial colors/flavors, and are highly processed. You purchase these products because you love your pet and part of your bond is to physically nurture them by feeding them. You want to give them something they love and look forward to eating. I get it. What you may not realize is that those Begg’n Strips, Snausages, and Temptation treats are not a healthy snack and may be contributing to your pet’s obesity.
Realistically, everything in moderation is the key take away point. 1 processed treat on a weekly basis would be tolerable. Think about ice cream. If you are eating it daily, or even multiple times a day, how do you think your waistline is doing to fare? Not. So. Good.
Alternative snacks are available for both cats and dogs alike that would nurture them physically as well as your human: animal bond. For dogs, I like to offer lean meats that are baked or broiled (chicken, lean pork, lean red meats, even fish). A 1-inch cube would count as 1 treat. Fruits and veggies such as fresh green beans, carrots, a slice of an apple, or a piece of a banana would also work. One of my favorite zero calorie treats is ice cubes! Some dogs go wild for a piece of an ice cube! I do recommend that you offer crushed ice cubes to help prevent tooth trauma. You could even freeze low sodium/fat-free chicken or beef broth to entice your dog to try it out! For cats, consider offering them a ¼ inch cube of lean meat (chicken, lean pork, lean red meat, or fish/shrimp). Some foodie kitties will dabble with fruits and veggies, but most turn their nose up to it. Fresh or dried catnip and fresh cat grass are practically zero calorie options that most cats go wild over! Offering a piece of their dry kibble is a reasonable alternative as well.
Tip #4: The Magic Equation
Ok…drum roll…. HERE is the magical equation that will determine the number of calories your critter needs to maintain healthy body weight. The key point is that you MUST use the IDEAL weight. This figure would be best determined by your trusted vet. IF you use your current critter’s weight, you will simply maintain their current body condition…NOT the goal ?
(Weight in kilograms x 30) +70 = kilocalories needed to consume daily to maintain a HEALTHY weight
Current weight = 20 lbs
Ideal weight = 15 lbs
15lbs / 2.2 = 6.81kgs
(6.81 kg x 30) + 70 = 274 kcals
Tip #5: Identify how many kcals are in your critter’s food
This can be a bit tricky. Have you ever looked at the back of your pets’ food bag? It is a maze of information including manufactures recommended feeding recommendations. For the love of God, stay away from these guidelines!!! Remember, they are biased towards selling more dog or cat food. They literally want you to feed your critter as if it were an Olympic athlete. And we all know that the vast majority of our beloved pets are living the life of luxury! Following these guidelines likely will result in weight gain and inflate your monthly pet food bill!
Amongst all of the mumbo-jumbo, you will find “X” kcals/cup of food OR “X” kcals/can of food. THIS is what you need to calculate how much food to feed. If you aren’t able to find this information on the bag or can of food, try searching online at the pet food website. IF this information is STILL not disclosed, consider switching to a different brand of food. This would be highly concerning to me as it should be readily accessible for you the consumer.
Tip #6: Get everyone on board
If you are the only person in the household, and you are on board with committing to a healthier lifestyle for your pet, you are half way there! However, if you are one of the multiple people living in the household, and NO ONE else is on board with the new feeding routine, you are fighting an uphill battle!! Without 100% commitment, you are likely to see mediocre results and likely give up on the entire plan.
I recommend pre-measuring out the food/treats for the day. Have them set out so that everyone knows when they are gone, they are gone! This will help everyone in a busy household stay on track.
Tip #7: OBSTACLES!!
I get it. We are all creatures of habit. Change is tough…REALLY tough. There are going to be obstacles to overcome…like free-choice feeding/group feedings and social eating pets (ie- table feeders). I am a firm believer that there is ALWAYS a way around obstacles. The question is, are you up for these following remedies??
- Free Choice Feeding– meaning you put down food and let the critter/critters graze throughout the day.
Problem: you literally have NO idea how much food the plump critter is consuming on a daily basis
Solution: STOP FREE CHOICE FEEDING! Offer 2 meals a day with the correct amount of food in each meal. I promise, your pet will not starve. They will learn very quickly that the buffet style feeding is no longer an option. Do not give in and offer treats to entice them to eat a meal. They will get hungry and eat the next meal when offered.
2. Group Feeding– meaning you are feeding multiple critters at once where they have access to eat from another pet’s food bowl.
Problem: you literally have no control over how much your plump pet is consuming because they are eating out of their bowl and everyone else too!
Solution: SEPARATE FEEDINGS! Separate the plump pet from the others during feeding time. Either choose to stand there to mitigate the feeding frenzy OR use a physical barrier to prevent over-consumption.
3. Social Feedings– meaning your pet joins you at the table to eat when and what you eat.
Problem: our meals contain higher levels of sodium and fat that are not safe for our cats and dogs. You also lose track as to how much food they have consumed as it is unmeasured and unaccounted.
Solution: Offer pre-measured food portions to your pet during your meal time. This ideally is a balanced dog or cat food that they are already accustomed to eating. Who’s to say that you can’t feed them their meal all while you eat yours? However, there are plenty of dogs (especially toy breeds) that literally refuse traditional dog food. I would highly recommend visiting www.balanceit.com This allows you to have a veterinary nutritionist create a home cooked meal that is balanced and healthy for your pet. You will need to purchase their vitamin/mineral supplements as each meal is calibrated on the basis of your pet consuming these supplements. They are priced right and well worth your pet’s health and wellbeing.
Tip #8: Exercise!
Exercise is critical for your pet’s wellbeing…including social/emotional and physical. Dogs can be exercised through walking, jogging, swimming, and playtime. There are feeding toys that are a neat way to get them up and moving. By placing some of their meal into the toy, they quickly learn to roll the toy and are rewarded with a few pieces of kibble. I recommend that you ask your trusted vet for the best exercise options for your pet. This would be based upon their age and any concurrent medical/physical conditions.
Cats can be a bit tricky to introduce exercise into their daily routine. Most cats are not leash trained and the idea of taking them on a walk is not a likely remedy. IF you have stairs in your house, entice your cat to walk the fight of stairs all while you carry their meal. They will eagerly follow you practically anywhere just to get that coveted meal ? Play with them! Offer a laser light or feather toy for them to chase. Even if your cat can’t pounce and run just yet, simply batting with their front feet is still considered exercise! As they lose weight, they will be feeling ready to run/pounce/jump in no time! There are feeding toys available that offer a great way to get them up and moving. You simply place part of their meal in the toy and as they bat at it, kibble will trickle out for them to gobble up!
With any new endeavor, struggles are likely to present themselves. That’s life. Your greatest challenges tend to yield your greatest rewards. Keep your eye on the prize! The prize is making your beloved pet healthier so you can enjoy them for many more years yet to come. You’ve got this!