CVMA-ACMV

Weight Loss is a Challenge But Possible in Pets

September 1, 2015

The single most important step in any weight-reduction program is the acknowledgement that obesity is unhealthy and that weight-reduction is necessary. Unless a caregiver is convinced that obesity is dangerous to their pet's health, the commitment for weight reduction will be incomplete and the program will be doomed to failure.

The aim of any weight reduction program is to decrease the caloric intake (i.e. less food) and increase energy expenditure (i.e. more exercise). The first step in a successful weight reduction program is to have your pet examined by a veterinarian.

The reasons for this are two-fold:
1.    To make sure there is no underlying medical reason for the obesity
2.    To make sure your pet can safely be put on a diet.

Once a veterinarian has examined your pet, it should be weighed and a goal should be set for how much weight is to be lost within a specific period of time. Ideally, your pet should be placed on a reducing diet (available from your veterinarian). These diets are balanced rations that have all the necessary nutrients your pet needs, but less calories than full rations. 

Two Approaches to Weight Loss Prescription Diets
There are two approaches to weight loss prescription diets, the first is the high-fibre low-calorie density product. These provide less calories per bite. So the pet does not need extensive restriction of intake and thus will not beg. 

The second type of product is a newer approach that utilizes feed components to accelerate metabolism, effectively burning calories faster. These products are of excellent palatability and provide in some cases, a manufacturer-guaranteed targeted weight loss if fed exclusively.  You need to speak with your veterinarian about which class of product is appropriate for your pet. 

"Store shelf" versions of weight control food at the local pet food store termed "light" diets are good for maintaining weight loss or preventing obesity, but are not recommended for a weight-reduction program.

Feeding Your Pet
Three to four small feedings a day actually results in more energy loss (i.e. calories burned) than one or two large feedings. You should feed your pet the required daily ration of food but divide it into three to four small feedings or as directed by your veterinarian. 

At the same time, keep your pet out of the kitchen or dining room when meals are being prepared or eaten, since these tend to be the times that begging occurs and snacks are more likely to be fed to pets. Snacks and treats are probably the single most likely cause of obesity in pets and they account for the failure of most weight reduction programs. All treats including milk bones and table scraps should be discontinued for the dieting pet. An exception might be for a prescription diet snack that is very low calorie content that is prescribed by the veterinarian in some circumstances.

Exercise!
In addition to following your pet's diet, your pet may be prescribed a brisk walk at least twice daily for 15 to 20 minutes. For cats, possibly two 5-15-minute play times daily-but note this cat playtime is variable, since some cats resign early! 

During the weight reduction program, you should monitor your pet's weight regularly. This involves weighing your pet on a weekly basis and then charting the weight loss on a graph. Weighing should be done at the same time of the day, preferably before feeding.

Reassessment
Pets should be reassessed once the desired weight loss has been achieved so that the pet can be changed from a reducing diet to a maintenance diet. Otherwise, your pet will continue to lose weight. Some of the new diets have intakes designed for weight loss but also intakes designed for weight maintenance so discuss this further with your healthcare team.

Once the ideal weight has been reached and to make sure your pet does not regain the lost weight, be sure to avoid in-between meals snacks, make sure your pet gets enough exercise daily, continue to chart your pet's weight on a graph, and feed a restricted-calorie diet. Regularly scheduled visits (e.g. every three months) to the veterinarian to monitor your pet's health and weight may help prevent relapses.

Remember that your pet relies on you totally for their health and welfare and overfeeding is just as damaging as underfeeding for their health!

(Revised August 2015)