So, your pet’s a little … fluffy. Don’t spend time feeling guilty or embarrassed—instead, take action. Help your pet return to the path of health and fitness by making a few simple changes in how you care for them, as outlined in this guide from The Pet Clinic of Salem

Why pets become overweight

Like us, most pets enjoy a tasty treat. Dogs and cats are opportunistic eaters who will happily eat large amounts of the things they crave—which, like us, tend to be foods that are sweet, salty, and high in fat or carbohydrates. Processed pet treats, poor quality pet food, and table scraps are common sources of empty calories, and can pack pounds on your pet.

Today’s pet has an additional challenge—inadequate or nonexistent physical exercise. The average house pet rarely gets an opportunity to run freely and enjoy reliable cardiovascular, fat-burning, muscle-building activity. Leisurely strolls or sniffing adventures around the neighborhood are great for your dog’s mental health, but not for their waistline.

Extra pounds equals extra problems for pets

While popular culture has glorified the chubby Chihuahua and the “not fat but fluffy” feline, overweight pets are not “more to love.” In fact, they have less love to give—on average, obese pets live shorter and less healthy lives.

Fat cells are not benign padding. They are pro-inflammatory, and can make your pet’s internal systems perpetually irritated and inflamed. Chronic inflammation is a stressful condition that harms the body and increases your pet’s risk for life-shortening conditions, including:

  • Cancer
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Orthopedic problems 
  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Heart issues
  • Skin disorders
  • Respiratory conditions 

How to assess your pet’s body condition

Your pet’s healthy weight is more than a number on the scale. Their overall body condition is a better predictor of their total wellbeing, and requires only a simple two-point look-and-feel assessment that can be performed at home.

  • Ribs — You should be easily able to feel the ribs under only a light fat covering. If you have to apply more than gentle pressure to feel the ribs, your pet is overweight.
  • Waist — Pets should have a slight visible tuck behind their rib cage when viewed from above and the side. If your pet is a coated breed, you’ll need to feel for this with your hands.
  • Cats — Cats can be more challenging to assess than dogs. For an illustration of each feline body condition score (1-9), consult this helpful guide.  

We recommend a weekly hands-on evaluation to get a feel for your pet’s condition and note any changes, so you can make adjustments accordingly. 

Everyday ways to help your overweight pet

So, you may be asking—what now? If your pet needs to lose weight but can’t be motivated to exercise, or turns up their nose at a low-fat diet, things can feel hopeless. But, it doesn’t have to be that way—here are some simple tips for healthy and effective pet weight loss.

  • Visit the veterinarian for a full exam — Weight gain can have a medical cause, so you should begin with a visit to The Pet Clinic of Salem. Our veterinarian can rule out common endocrine disorders that may be contributing to your pet’s body condition, and look for pain or discomfort (e.g., arthritis) that may affect their willingness or ability to exercise. If your pet is healthy, we can establish a goal weight, provide nutritional counseling, and develop a safe weight loss plan.
  • Feed a veterinary-recommended food — Pet nutrition can be a confusing and overwhelming topic for the modern dog or cat owner. With so many pet food choices and claims, making confident decisions about your pet’s diet can seem impossible. Unfortunately, many popular brands are unsuitable for the average pet, and may contain unresearched ingredients that can lead to health issues. Our veterinarian can provide you with recommendations for a healthy and complete diet that will meet your pet’s unique nutritional needs.
  • Measure your pet’s food If you’re not sure how many calories your pet should be consuming per day, use this calculator, or ask our team. Feeding your pet precisely portioned food ensures their body has the appropriate energy to power every function, without excess that becomes stored as fat—and is proven to help dogs live almost two years longer. Dividing your pet’s portion into two meals—rather than feeding ad lib or once per day—can also speed your pet’s metabolism and boost fat burning.
  • Ditch the pet food dish Pets are more satisfied when they eat slowly. Replace your pet’s basic bowl with a slow-feeder bowl or interactive food-dispensing toy.
  • Find new ways to indulge your pet Those big begging eyes are hard to resist, but you must train yourself to respond differently to your pet’s pleas for “people food” or treats. Replace calorie-rich rewards with fun alternatives, including:
    • One-on-one attention
    • Walks
    • Playtime

  • Safe and effective calorie burning exercise for pets — If your pet is well enough for exercise, start with a low-impact physical activity and be mindful of their joints, which may be carrying extra weight. Ideal exercise should be consistent—daily, if possible—and increase your pet’s heart rate. Some great starting options include:
    • Power leash-walking (i.e., no sniffing)
    • Swimming
    • Underwater treadmill
    • Interactive or motion-activated toys for cats (e.g., feather wands, balls, or motorized “prey” that triggers chasing and predatory behavior)

If your pet is significantly overweight, has additional health problems, or you’d prefer the accountability and structure of an organized feeding program, contact The Pet Clinic of Salem. We can help you and your pet make positive strides toward a longer, healthier life together.