It is estimated that 30-40% of dogs and cats are overweight, and a portion of those pets are obese. While it is true that certain medical conditions such as hyperadrenocorticism and hypothyroidism can cause weight gain, most cases of overweight pets are due to decreased exercise and increased food intake. Pets that carry excessive weight are predisposed to many illnesses including arthritis, diabetes, cruciate ligament tears, reduced life span, back disorders, tracheal collapse, laryngeal paralysis, and cardiovascular disorders. While not directly proven, some doctors believe hormone changes after neutering can cause animals to gain weight. Whether or not that is accurate, it is important to monitor your pet’s weight as early as 6-8 months of age.
The first step in weight loss is to re-evaluate your pet’s diet. This includes any treats, table food, rawhide bones, and “medication hiders” (i.e. peanut butter, cheese, etc. that is used to give daily medication). It is an eye-opener when you realize that some dog biscuits have several hundred calories per biscuit! It is generally recommended that during the time you are trying to have your pet lose weight, there are no treats or table food given. If you have to give daily medication hidden in a treat, try a canned form of a reduced calorie diet. When your pet does achieve the desired weight and it is a must to give table food, give vegetables such as carrots, green beans, etc, and stay away from meats and very starchy veggies such as potatoes. Of course it is highly recommended no table food is given at all!
There are many diets available that market for weight loss. As long as your pet is on a well balanced diet recommended by your veterinarian, you may not have to put your pet on a special food. Also, if your pet is on a prescribed diet for joint, cardiac, kidney, or liver disease, do not change diets unless instructed by your vet. Most premium pet diets have a chart on the bag that is a guideline for owners on how much to feed their pets. Feed your pet for the weight you want them to be, not the weight they are currently! If you find you are already feeding your pet the appropriate amount, then decrease that amount by 25%.
A weight loss program would not be complete without exercise! This is very important for your pet’s overall health. If your pet is very overweight, start out slowly, for example, a 10-15 minute walk around the block several times a week. As they lose weight, increase that amount to 30 minutes most days of the week. Also be aware that throwing a ball playing fetch in the back yard or playing with your cat inside counts! Cats love to chase laser pointers-you can purchase one at any large pet store chain.
If you find you are doing everything right and your pet is still not losing weight, talk to your veterinarian about a special diet. There are low-fat diets, low-carbohydrate diets, you name it. Ask your vet which diet is appropriate for your pet. Blood work should be performed to rule out any medical conditions that could cause weight retention. Remember that certain medications such as steroids and anticonvulsants can cause a pet to be heavy.
When all else fails, there is a drug called Slentrol that is approved for dogs only. It claims to suppress the appetite and reduce a small portion of fat absorption in the small intestine. Talk to your veterinarian to assess the need for this medication in your pet.