You may jokingly describe me as “more to love,” but really, I’m miserable. 

I’m your overweight pet.

While I love what you feed me—all those extra treats taste great and make me feel special—the feeling only lasts for a moment, because I know those tidbits are adding up on my waistline and subtracting years from my life. 

Learn about pet obesity’s true cost and prevent “more to love” in your pet from becoming “less life to live” with this guide from South Shores Pet Clinic.

High calories, higher cost—weight-related health risks in pets

Overweight and obese pets are at increased risk for many chronic conditions. According to one study, overweight dogs live two-and-a-half years less on average than healthy weight pets. Excessive fat tissue increases a pet’s likelihood for life-limiting diseases, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Orthopedic conditions
  • Diabetes
  • Respiratory conditions
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Kidney failure
  • Skin disorders
  • Compromised immune health

Yet overweight pet numbers continue to surge. Over the past decade, one nationwide veterinary hospital chain witnessed a 108% increase in overweight canine patients and 114% increase in overweight felines. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, roughly half all U.S. pets are overweight—that’s approximately 56 million cats and 50 million dogs with an incalculable amount of preventable pain, heartache, and loss.

Flipping the scales on pet obesity 

However, obesity’s devastating effects are entirely preventable, so long as pet owners make a conscious effort, and be patient and persistent in their pet’s battle against their bulge. Here are seven simple strategies for pet weight loss and healthy weight management. 

#1: Assess your pet

Check your pet’s body condition at home. Can you feel their ribs without pressing hard and squeezing their chest? Can you see a visible waistline from above and from the side when they are standing? If your pet’s body is shaped more like an ottoman than an hourglass, your pet needs to lose some weight. 

Use body condition score (BCS) charts to quickly and easily track your pet’s progress during weight loss. The charts are more accurate and individualized than a number on the scale or a breed-based range. If your pet’s score falls outside the ideal, you need to consult with our South Shores Pet Clinic veterinary team. 

#2: Talk to your veterinarian

While pet obesity is most often associated with excess calorie intake and inadequate exercise, several health conditions commonly cause sudden weight gain, so scheduling an examination at South Shores Pet Clinic before attempting a pet weight-loss program is imperative. Our veterinarian will screen your pet for thyroid and endocrine dysfunction, which are known to alter pet metabolism, and examine your pet for weight-related complications, such as arthritis pain, orthopedic injuries, or respiratory conditions, that reduce your pet’s mobility and prevent weight loss.

#3: Make healthy nutrition choices for your pet

Food is the body’s fuel—inappropriate ingredients and a diet imbalance can affect your pet’s metabolism, decrease their energy, alter digestion, increase inflammatory pain, or leave them feeling hungry and depressed.

A balanced nutritional diet that includes protein and healthy complex carbohydrates and is fed in appropriate portions can accelerate pet weight loss and help pets feel fuller longer. Ask your veterinarian to calculate your pet’s daily calorie intake, to customize a diet, and make food recommendations, so you’ll know exactly what and how much to feed at each meal.

#4: Step up your pet’s daily exercise

If your pet’s activity is limited to going from their bed to their food or water dish, you need to step it up. Physical activity is an absolute necessity for weight loss, but most of today’s house pets don’t get the heart-pumping aerobic exercise their bodies need to burn calories and stay fit.

After your pet’s veterinarian clears your pet for physical activity, start slowly with daily low-impact exercise, such as a short, brisk-paced leash walk for dogs, or a few minutes of toy play for cats. Avoid high-impact activities (e.g., fetch, jogging, or repetitive jumping and climbing), take a break whenever your pet seems tired, and gradually increase the physical activity as your pet’s stamina and weight improve.

#5: Treat your pet to low- or no-calorie rewards

Who can resist those begging eyes? You can! The next time your pet nudges your hand or gives you “the look,” respond with a low calorie substitute, such as:

  • Apple slices
  • Green beans
  • Watermelon
  • Carrots
  • Catnip
  • Plain air-popped popcorn 
  • Lean skinless meat (e.g., chicken or turkey)

Or,  reward those pleading eyes with a fun activity, such as a petting session, play with a favorite toy, or a quick walk around the block, that will also strengthen the pet-owner bond. 

#6: Feed your pet small meals and ditch the bowl

If your pet typically grazes on their food throughout the day, change the buffet-style routine for a “sit-down meal.” Divide your pet’s daily food into two or three equal portions that you offer at regular times during the day, which will improve digestion, reduce overeating, and enhance metabolism.

For added exercise and mental stimulation, place your pet’s meal in a treat ball or puzzle toy, or hide kibble in a snuffle mat or foraging toy.

#7: Share your fitness goals with your pet

Goals are better when you achieve them together, so get active with your petset personal and team goals, such as steps per day, minutes of activity, calories burned, or a “couch-to-5k” training plan. Pet activity monitors, such as Fi, Tractive, and Whistle, can record your pet’s movements and help you set and track progress toward customized fitness goals.

The only way to truly ensure that your pet has “more to love”—and they will have more time for you to love them—is by promoting and maintaining their healthy body weight. If your pet’s weight is concerning, schedule an appointment at South Shores Pet Clinic.