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How Do I Help My Pet Lose Weight?

We’ve all heard the statistic, but if you haven’t, here it is – roughly 53% of dogs and 58% of cats in the U.S. are fat or obese. The sad fact is that those pets are at increased risk for serious disorders like diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and cancer.

You might even have a chubby pet in your household, and if you do, I get it. My dog’s weight has been creeping up on the scale for years. It can be really hard to slim down your pet, and it takes real persistence and patience because pets don’t usually lose weight quickly. Here are some tips that I’ve learned, both from personal experience and from the great doctors at AERC.

1. Rule out disease first.

I know your pet looks overweight to you, but he or she might actually be sick. Some diseases, like Cushing’s Disease in dogs, manifest with a potbelly, so rule out illness first. Once your primary care vet has given your pet the all-clear, he or she will likely give your dog or cat a body condition score. That’ll be a good gauge of your pet’s progress, so make a note of it.

2. With your vet’s help, decide upon a preferred method of weight loss.

For example, if your pet is able-bodied, you might just be able to increase his or her exercise to see results. If your pet readily accepts new diets without issue, a prescription diet specifically for weight loss may be the best choice. If exercise or a new diet aren’t in the cards, perhaps you can reduce how much you feed of your pet’s current food. In any case, have your vet help you calculate how much to feed, because the recommendations on the back of the food bag are usually too high (which may be how we got here in the first place!)

If your cat or dog has reached expert-level at stealing additional goodies, whether from another pet’s bowl, the counter, or the garbage, you’re going to have to include those calories, too.

A note on cats: while no pet should go long periods of time without eating, cats in particular can develop a dangerous condition called hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease, if they go without food for a few days. So if you switch your cat’s food, make sure he or she is eating the new diet regularly. AERC’s board-certified criticalist and toxicologist, Dr. Justine Lee, wrote a blog on hepatic lipidosis where you can get additional information.

3. Be consistent.

If your pet should eat a total of two cups of food a day, make sure you’re feeding 16 ounces, not just two “cups” from whatever-sized container you’ve been using. And you’ll

have to ignore those adorable begging eyes. Remember that you can show your cat or dog love in ways that aren’t edible. You can also make treats from your pet’s own dry or canned food and subtract those from the daily caloric allowance.

4. Measure progress.

If you’re able to pick up your pet and stand on an (accurate) scale at home, you may be able to check progress without going in to your vet’s office. I would still encourage you to bring your pet in for weigh-ins as often as you and your vet deem appropriate. Most primary care clinics love to see your pet for a quick weigh-in, and they’re usually free of charge. At a weigh-in, technicians get the opportunity to bond with your pet without a needle in hand! And just like humans often find it easier to lose weight with a community, you will appreciate the encouragement, celebration, or commiseration the veterinary staff can offer.

I hope these tips help you help your pet get to a weight with which you can both be happy!

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