Go look in the mirror. Are your pants a little tighter? Have you been loosening your belt a notch? Maybe the buttons on your blouse are pulling a bit? The signs of weight gain can be quite obvious for us humans.
Now go look down at your four-legged friends. It’s not as obvious, is it? That’s because they’re probably not dressed in a four-piece suit — or maybe they are. We won’t judge. But even though it’s not quite as easy to detect weight gain in our pets — unless they are clearly showing signs of obesity — it’s not impossible.
In honor of National Pet Obesity Awareness Day on Oct. 10, we’ve compiled the signs, the risks and the solutions to keep your pet at a healthy weight.
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, your pet is a healthy weight if:
• His or her ribs are easily felt;
• He or she should has a tucked abdomen (no sagging stomach); and
• You can see his or her waist when viewed from above.
Your pet is overweight if:
• It is difficult to feel ribs under the fat;
• He or she has a sagging stomach;
• He or she has a broad, flat back; and
• He or she has no waist.
To make it even easier, the association compiled these handy charts to determine if your dog or cat is underweight or overweight.
A healthy weight is extremely important for all of us, whether we move on two legs or four. An overweight pet has an increased risk of diabetes, liver problems and joint pain, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Other risks of excess weight include osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, heart and respiratory disease, cranial cruciate ligament injury, kidney disease, many forms of cancer and decreased life expectancy (up to 2.5 years).
Some breeds are more prone to obesity than others. According to WebMD, small breeds include cairn terriers, dachshunds, Scottish terriers and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Medium breeds include beagles, cocker spaniels and basset hounds. Large breeds include labs, golden retrievers and Rottweilers. Giant breeds include Bernese mountain dogs, Newfoundlands and Saint Bernards.
First you need to figure out your pet’s caloric requirements. Consult your veterinarian to make this determination. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention calculates that a 10-lb. cat requires about 180 to 200 calories a day, a 10-lb. dog requires 200 to 275 calories, a 20-lb. dog requires 325 to 400 calories and a 50-lb. dog requires about 700 to 900 calories. (Be aware that these calorie counts are guidelines for average, lightly active adult spayed or neutered dogs or cats ¬— a 1- to 7-year-old animal receiving less than 30 minutes aerobic activity per day. The caloric needs of a particular pet may differ depending on lifestyle, genetics, activity level and medical conditions.)
When it comes to food choice, PetMD recommends a diet rich in dietary protein and fiber, but low in fat. Dietary protein stimulates metabolism and energy expenditure, and gives the feeling of fullness.
(Check out our very own infographic, which details which foods you should never feed your dog.)
Regular exercise will be key in lowering your pet’s weight, as well. It not only burns calories, but also reduces appetite, changes body composition and will increase your pet’s resting metabolic rate, according to the ASPCA. In addition, PetMD recommends leash walking your dog for at least 15 minutes twice a day, and playing such games as fetch.
And take a good look at your habits and your pet’s habits. Are you giving him or her too many treats and not enough opportunities to exercise? Do you feed your pet scraps from the table? The ASPCA recommends removing your pet from the room when the family eats, feeding him or her several small meals throughout the day, only feeding from the pet's bowl and providing nonfood-related attention.
And we’ve got some good news for cat owners. Obesity tends to be less common in cats than in dogs, because cats have a better ability to regulate their own energy intake. But there is another factor to consider when managing weight gain in your feline: hunting. It may be necessary to confine your cat to the house to prevent "additions" to the diet.
Neutered and indoor cats are at the highest risk of becoming obese, due to lack of physical activity or changes in metabolism, according to PetMD.
In addition, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention will be conducting its Sixth Annual Pet Obesity Awareness Day survey on Oct. 10. Click here for more information and to participate.