Pets are getting bigger (or should we say wider?) — and it's not good news. In 2018, 60% of cats and 56% of dogs in the U.S. were overweight or obese. With the overwhelming amount of information available on types of pet food, diets, and nutrition, it’s no wonder that many pet owners feel unsure about what and how much to feed their dogs and cats. Fortunately, with a little education and some help from your veterinarian, you can keep your pets happy and healthy by preventing overeating and obesity.
There are some physical indicators you can use to help determine if your pet is overweight. One of the tools veterinarians use is called the Body Condition Score, which assesses your pet’s overall body appearance as an indication for the presence and location of fat. Check out the illustrations (don’t worry about the specific terminology) for dogs and cats from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) to see what is considered ideal.
Just as we see in humans, obesity brings on numerous health issues for pets.
The best option is to consult with your veterinarian and determine your pet's ideal feeding and exercise program. While there are tools available online to help calculate how much pets should eat in general, every animal is an individual with their unique lifestyle, metabolism, and any underlying health issues — and all of these must be taken into account. Most pet food includes recommended daily feeding amounts on the packaging, but those recommendations aren't always reliable. Ask your veterinarian to provide you with a customized total of daily calorie needs for your pet and work with them to determine how it can be achieved.
It's important to remember that your pet's total daily caloric intake goal includes all meals and treats. As a rule, treats should never make up more than 10% of the calories in your pet's diet.
A quick look at the back of three different treat bags shows why treats are a factor in overfeeding. A single treat in the first bag might be 15 calories, but 30 calories in the second bag. And a single treat (for example, a bully stick) from bag three could be 90 calories or more. If you have a 20-pound dog and your veterinarian recommends a total of 375 calories a day, you've already used up nearly 25% of your dog's total daily calories on just one (!) treat from bag number three.
There are some simple tips and tricks to managing your pet's weight and helping you avoid overfeeding.
Many of us owners have a tendency to overfeed our pets even though we don’t mean to. It can be tricky to understand how much to feed, how many treats to give, and how both contribute to total calories each day. But it's vitally important for the health of your pet and well worth the effort to pay attention to your pet’s caloric need and adjust your feeding plan to meet it without leading to extra pounds. Using the information above and working with your veterinarian to establish a diet and activity plan, you should be able to avoid overfeeding and keep your furry family members healthy and happy.