It’s time for another installment of Dear Maxine, where our canine, feline, feathered, and occasionally human friends write in to ask questions about health, lifestyle, toys, or just about anything. This week’s question comes from Jack in Rhode Island, who has put on a few extra pounds.
My name is Jack, and I’m a 12 -year-old domestic cat. My human took me to the vet recently for a routine exam and he had the nerve to tell her that I’m… obese! I have always weighed 18 pounds, but recently crept up to 20 pounds over the holidays. I am active and happy, but my owner has put me on a diet, and I am not thrilled about it. I have always been very comfortable in my body and feel like this is body shaming, but my mom is concerned.
Rotund in Rhode Island
Thank you for reaching out! I too have put on a few pounds, and it has been quite the topic of conversation at my home, as well. So, this is what I’ve learned. Obesity is now being called an epidemic among domesticated cats and dogs. According to recent reports, as much as 50% of cats and dogs could be considered overweight or obese. Since most owners aren’t sure what their pet’s ideal weight should be, most vets say the best way to gauge a healthy body weight is by using the body condition scoring model. This visual test is a way to assess if your pet is above, at, or below their ideal weight by simply looking at them. The ideal body of a dog at a healthy weight will have ribs that are palpable without excess fat covering. This means, if you have to “push” through the fat to feel your dog's ribs, they are not palpable. A visible tuck should be seen at the abdomen when viewed from the side. When viewed from above there should be a defined waist at the base of the ribcage. If your dog doesn’t meet this criterion, then chances are he could lose a few pounds. Doctors say that as few as five pounds above the ideal body weight can put your dog at risk for developing some serious medical conditions.
How does this happen? Well, just like our human parents who have gained weight, this doesn’t happen overnight. Simply, dogs and cats that consume too many treats and/or too much food will gain weight quickly, especially if they are not very active. As pets age, their metabolism and activity level sometimes slow down, so the weight will often sneak up to them at this point as well.
If you are happy with the way you look, "what is the problem?" you may ask. Doctors say that as few as five pounds above the ideal body weight for dogs or just 2-3 for cats, can put us at risk for developing some serious medical conditions. Overweight pets experience more stress on their internal organs, and there is a greater strain on their joints and the rest of the musculoskeletal system. Obesity in dogs and cats is associated with cardiopulmonary disease, insulin resistance, osteoarthritis, renal disease, pancreatitis, neoplasia, as well as a shortened life span.
Scary right? So, what can our parents do to keep us happy and healthy so we can live longer lives? If your pets are spayed or neutered, his or her food intake should be decreased by up to 25 percent from the “recommended daily intake” listed on the side of your food bag. Additionally, feed per the amount suggested for your adult dog’s ideal healthy weight, not for their current weight. Here are a few other tips for humans:
1. Eliminate free-feeding: Rather than allow your dogs to graze throughout the day, try feeding smaller, frequent meals.
2. Use a measuring cup when feeding to get the correct amount of food, “Eyeing it’ is a recipe for excess feeding.
3. Be mindful of treats: If you are training your dog and give treats as a reward, remember that those calories count towards their daily allotment. For overweight dogs who can’t spare the extra calories from treats, a good alternative is to “treat” using their regular dog food or try something low fat like green beans.
4. Exercise: For an obese dog, start out slow and increase exercise over time once he starts losing weight. Be sure to avoid exercise during the hottest times of the day, since obese and overweight dogs are more susceptible to heatstroke. Playing catch is also a fun way to exercise your pet. Cats love fishing poles as well.
And most importantly, be patient. You didn’t gain this weight overnight, so you won’t lose it overnight either. Losing weight safely is important and takes time. Aim for weight loss of about one to two percent of your body weight per week. At first, you may notice your dog is begging more than usual. Many dogs will act ravenous even after they have met their caloric requirements for the day. This is normal. They are getting adjusted to their new way of eating.
So, I hope that helps Rotund. Diets are not fun for anyone but hang in there and just imaging how much better you will feel and how much more energy you will have when you shed the extra weight.
Until next time, stay happy and healthy!
Love Maxine (& Brenda Storms)
Think Your Dog is a Healthy Weight? Think Again., Johnna Devereaux C.P.N., July 16, 2020
How to calculate your dog’s weight, Natalie Stilwell, DVM, MS, PhD, December 04, 2019
Health Tip: Is Your Pet a Healthy Weight? MedicineNet. January 10, 2021