Taking steps to actively address and resolve a weight problem will help to improve your pet’s health and well-being, and ensure that there is less stress on the joints, circulation and other vital bodily tissues, organs and systems.
1. Seek Professional Advice
Before putting your pet on a diet, it is important to first seek the advice of your vet. Some animals may be overweight as a result of a medical condition, certain drugs or rare genetic defects; and therefore it is important to rule out clinical problems beforehand. Many practices run free nurses’ clinics / diet clubs and will be able to help you weigh your cat or dog with accurate scales, advise of your pet’s optimal weight, set achievable targets and provide motivation and support.
2. Increase Exercise
Once a pet becomes obese, a vicious cycle often develops. The extra weight means that many animals have difficulty exercising because of the adverse effects on locomotion, heart function and respiration. Obese animals have a slower metabolic rate, and their individual “set point” for body weight is higher than it should be. This makes achieving and maintaining weight loss difficult once obesity is established. Breaking the vicious cycle requires diet, exercise, stimulation and motivation. Increase exercise gradually to minimise fatigue and injury. Swimming at a hydrotherapy pool (with expert supervision) is an excellent means of exercise for obese dogs. Even cats can be encouraged to exercise! Why not place the feed bowl at the top or bottom of the stairs (if you have them) so that your cat has to go up or down them before eating. Cat nip is a great way to get most cats moving. Play-time is both physically and mentally stimulating for your pet, so be sure to invest in some new and interesting toys to keep up interest.
3. Reduce Calories
If you are feeding a commercial dry cat or dog food and want to attain weight loss, you would need to feedonly about 60-75% of the amount suggested forthe pet’s desired weight rather than actual weight.This can represent a considerably lower volume of food, which may not be very satisfactory. For this reason, lower calorie feeds can be very helpful. Wet food will always be a lot lower calorie than dry because of its much higher moisture content, so it is a good way to increase volume for the larger appetite. If feeding a combination of wet and dry food, be sure to decrease the dry food accordingly.
4. Scrutinise the Usual Feeding Regime
Record all of the food your dog or cat usually eats (be honest!) over a three day period. You can then look to see where reductions can be made. By all means, continue to reward your cat or dog for good behaviour, but you must ensure that any treats given are healthy and nutritious so you don’t end up undoing all your good work. All treats should be worked for. Don’t forget to reduce the volume of the main feed volume accordingly to allow for any extra calories in the additions.
5. Devise a Sustainable Lifestyle Plan
Just like with people, it is far better to establish a healthy eating plan that is going to be easy to maintain long-term rather than try to make dramatic changes which usually result in losing the weight too quickly and then finding it creep back on once things revert to normal. Life-style changes are better than diets for both people and pets; and these sustainable changes to the daily routine will help promote long-term good health.
6. Make Sure All the Family are on Board
It’s important that everyone in the household appreciates that these changes are being made to benefit the health of their much loved family pet. They won’t be doing the cat or dog any favours slipping treats or extra meals down.
7. Undertake the Changes Gradually
This will give the digestive system time to cope with any new ingredients and the new nutrient balance if you are changing the food. This will also enable the stomach to shrink slowly and prevent hunger. Dramatic reductions in the calorie intake are not recommended as this can not only result in a very unhappy pet who may start indulging in antisocial behaviours such as begging, bin raiding and coprophagia (stool eating), but also slow the rate of metabolism making weight loss more difficult.
8. Set Achievable Short-Term Goals
Create (or download) a weight chart and keep this up to date. As you monitor your pet’s progress you should also start to notice a visible improvement to the bodily condition, better exercise tolerance and a more alert and happy cat or dog.
9. Consider Smaller, More Frequent Feeds
Three or even four small feeds per day rather than one or two bigger meals are often helpful for the dieting pet as this will help to stabilise the blood sugar and promote good serotonin levels. We commonly know serotonin as the “happy hormone” but it is also responsible for dietary satisfaction. Promoting good serotonin levels can help to prevent hunger when a pet is eating less calories. Because the gut has to do less work at any one time, and the digestive enzymes are kept ticking over efficiently; small frequent feeds may also help to improve the metabolism and ensure maximum benefit is derived from the nutrients in the food. This is very important when a pet is on a restricted calorie weight management plan. The additional feed times add interest to the day too. Use a smaller bowl; the feed portions won’t look as little so this can be psychologically advantageous for the humans helping with the weight management plan. Do be very careful not to exercise dogs too near to their mealtimes though because this may increase their risk of bloat.
10. Address Causes of Weight Gain
Animals become overweight if their calorie intake exceeds that which the body requires to maintain condition and provide energy. Physiological, genetic and environmental factors may also play a part. Identifying the reason or combinations of reasons for the problem in the first place means that the necessary life-style changes can be made to help prevent a recurrence.