Can Your Pet Escape That Winter Weight?


Dr. Christine Calvert
Owner, Calvert Veterinary Center

As we approach the holiday season, we can’t help thinking about all the great food we like to share with family and friends. It is also a good time to think about helping your pets get in shape and prevent the dreaded excess “winter weight.”

Obesity is an increasingly common problem that affects 40 to 50 percent of our pets today. The effects of obesity are far-reaching, predisposing our pets to insulin resistance, type II diabetes, orthopedic disease, heart disease and certain types of cancer. A pet is not in ideal health when it is not at its ideal weight. However, many of us have also discovered how difficult it can be to get motivated to help our pets lose weight.

We will discuss five mistakes often made in a pet weight loss program that prevent us from seeing results. Avoiding these mistakes will help your pet be more successful at achieving its weight loss goals.

Mistake 1: Not understanding the effects that obesity has on our pet’s body. The mechanisms of obesity are becoming clear. Fat is now recognized as an endocrine organ (able to release hormones). The release of these hormones causes inflammation in the body and interrupts the proper feedback mechanisms that normally regulate hormones. This is why obese pets are much more likely to develop diabetes, which requires insulin injections to treat and develop certain types of cancer. Heart disease is also associated with an increase in inflammation caused by excess fat tissue.

Mistake 2: Not setting proper weight loss goals. For any weight loss program to be successful, realistic and attainable goals need to be set for your pet. Your veterinarian will determine an ideal body weight based on your pet’s age, body condition score, and breed. The amount of calories that need to be fed to attain this goal weight will be carefully calculated by the veterinarian. It is important to measure the amount of food as recommended and to feed within the guidelines that are developed specifically for your pet. Many pet owners think about a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet as may be recommended for themselves; however, pets, especially dogs, come in many shapes and sizes. A small-breed dog, such as a Boston terrier or a yorkie, may need only 300 calories per day whereas a Labrador may need 1,200 calories per day. Knowing the proper number of calories your pet should consume is the first step in ensuring it is successful at losing weight.

Mistake 3: Not tracking your pet’s progress. We all lead busy lives, so a weight-check appointment for your pet may not be a top priority. Monthly weight checks recorded by a veterinary staff are the best way to ensure that you stay on track with the weight loss program. A veterinarian can provide graphs showing your pet’s progress and help you celebrate its successes or help troubleshoot if the weight loss is not going as planned.

As with humans, we need to ensure that pets are losing weight at an appropriate level. An ideal target for weight loss is 1 to 3 percent weekly for dogs and 0.5 to 2 percent in cats. These percentages may not translate into large amounts of pounds lost, but keep in mind that a 10-pound cat needs to lose only one pound to have lost 10 percent of its body weight. This goal may take one to five months. Weight checks are also a good way to bring your pet in for a “happy visit,” especially if it suffers from anxiety of coming to the doctor’s office.

Mistake 4: Not addressing activity as part of the weight loss equation. Everyone knows that calories burned or used must be higher than calories consumed to achieve weight loss. This means the more activity or exercise you can give your pet, the quicker you will see results. With dogs, target at least three 20-minute walks per day to help burn calories. As your pet loses weight, it will have more energy and be able to walk longer. It is, without a doubt, more challenging to increase activity in a cat. Cats can get bored quickly, so rotating toys or using laser pointers and treat dispensers can help pique their interest.

Mistake 5: Using the wrong food. Simply reducing the amount of food that is fed to your pet may not be the answer to its weight loss problems. If we restrict over-the-counter diets, we can create a subclinical nutrient deficiency since these foods are not designed for calorie restriction. The other problem is that over-the-counter light foods do not always accurately list the calories per cup of food. Most of the caloric information is based on calculations of the guaranteed analysis numbers rather than an actual analysis of the food.

Using prescription diets have been proven to give excellent results and allow pets to feel full while eating them. Again, just as with any human diet, it will not work if your pet doesn’t feel full. To help with satiety, canned diets can be used along with dry food. The canned food has fewer calories per volume since there is a lot of added water; this will provide a more immediate filling feeling to help your pet feel full. Another trick for dogs is to substitute green beans or carrots for a portion of their food. In cats, steamed zucchini can be used to supplement. Start with three to four cubes added to their regular meal.

These tips will help prevent begging and “counter surfing” behaviors, which can be frustrating for you and be detrimental to the weight loss program. Lastly, treats are usually higher in fat and calories than pet food, so do not unravel your progress by giving too many treats. Treats should make up only 10 percent or less of the total calories fed per day. Be sure to review the calorie counts for the treats you are feeding; it is surprising how many calories can be in a small treat!

It’s never too late for your pet to achieve their ideal weight. Studies show that pets that are at an ideal body condition live on average two years longer than pets that are overweight.

Find out how your pet can get healthy too! Calvert Veterinary Center has been serving Pasadena and surrounding communities for over 14 years. The office is conveniently located at 4100 Mountain Road in Pasadena. Call 410-360-7297 or visit to schedule an appointment.


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