Hands up if your pet is a little, shall we say, “chunky”. Even we veterinary professionals have to raise our hands from time to time. We know it’s important to keep our pets slim, but life has a way of happening and our pets’ weights can get away from us.
Some frequent comments we hear (and say ourselves) about our favorite chunk-sters:
- His walks have been shorter because of the bad weather
- She only gets a couple treats a day
- He eats really good, high end food
- She’s the right weight for her breed
- He drives me insane when he is hungry
Luckily, there are great solutions to each of these concerns.
We hear you. Especially during the freezing cold winter, blistering hot summer, or just plain old COVID lockdown safety measures, normal exercise is hard. For some pets, restriction is a necessary part of healing from injury or illness.
We’re here to tell you: that’s absolutely OK! During periods of less exercise, reducing portions will help prevent weight gain. This is what we do for ourselves—when we stop exercising, we stop (should stop?) eating as many burgers and fries, opting for veggies and lean protein instead to keep our weight steady.
It’s A-M-A-Z-I-N-G how many calories can be packed into a treat. Truly amazing. Add the relatively low calorie needs of our pets to this fact, and you have a recipe for disaster. Many pets need just a few hundred calories a day, and a single dog biscuit can have 30+ calories a piece. That translates to a human eating an extra candy bar a day. Make that 3-4 treats a day, and the total adds up fast.
Opt for mini treats, healthy veggies (ask us for safe options), or feeding just a small piece of a treat to solve this concern.
Unfortunately, quality has little to do with calories. In fact, many of the “high end” or so-called “natural” diets available actually have higher calorie contents due to increased oil content. (Pro-tip: this can also interfere with normal digestion, causing softer stools or more frequent bouts of diarrhea.)
Whatever food your pet is eating, it’s the total calorie content that has the biggest effect on your pet’s weight. There are two effective ways to reduce calorie intake for your pet: (1) Reduce portion size or (2) Switch to a lower calorie density diet (see below for more information).
Breed Weight Targets
Breed standards do usually include a weight range. Unfortunately, not every pet is a perfect example of the breed. Think of this in human terms: a healthy adult human may be 90-250 lbs. Some of us, and some of our pets, have larger or smaller frames, higher or lower muscle masses, and ultimately, different ideal weights. Our focus is on what is your pet’s ideal weight. The charts below have a visual guide to assessing where your pet falls.
He drives me insane when he’s hungry.
This has happened in our own homes, and we have the chunky pets to prove it. This is where portion control gets real.
The good news is that there are waaaay better options today than we had 10-15 years ago to help with this issue. A lot of nutritional research completing in the last two decades focused on pet metabolism and we now have foods available to help kick it up a notch while keeping our pets full. Almost every brand has options, usually labeled with one or more of the following terms:
- Healthy weight
- Weight management
- Low fat
There are even prescription diets now on the market that provide a range of calorie densities, depending on your pet’s needs. These specific options may be right if you find no matter what you do, your pet doesn’t lose weight, or you have a hard time limiting portions due to your pet’s…. personality!
Finally, don’t forget that there are a few medical reasons pets gain weight or fail to lose it (we wouldn't be a vet hospital if we didn't mention this!). If the weight change is rapid and unexpected, or slow to respond to normal diet changes, it may be time for a checkup. Annual bloodwork can screen for many of these conditions and help catch them before they cause more serious issues.