Weighing In on Pet Weight

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Congratulations dearest reader! By the end of this article you will have the power to help your furry friends live an extra two years!

Every time your pet visits a veterinary hospital, you have likely noticed that he or she has been placed on a scale to determine its weight. This is because weight is an incredibly important medical tool. Weight indicates whether your growing puppy or kitten has been increasing in weight at an appropriate rate or that a possible illness may be causing a fluctuation of weight in either direction.

What is the ideal weight? Vets combine the weight in pounds, overall look of a dog, and their physical examination to determine your pet’s Body Condition Score (BCS). The BCS is a scale ranging from 1-9. A BCS of 4 or 5 is considered ideal weight, below 4 is underconditioned and above 5 is what I call “overloved.” For every number above 5, your pet is an extra 10 percent overweight.

Weight discussions can be a sensitive topic, but it is important one because numerous studies have shown dogs of ideal weight live an average of two years longer than a dog that is too heavy. While it may seem simple to keep your pet at an ideal weight, there are some factors that are out of a pet parent’s control that can make it incredibly challenging.

Have you been walking your pup the same amount every day, feeding the exact same amount of food, and following the feeding guidelines on the bag of food?  And there are some medical conditions that can cause weight gain or loss despite pet parent’s best intentions.

This is always a great place to start when determining cause of unintentional weight gain. Just like every human food, every bag of pet food has a different amount of calories. Therefore, it is important to treat every bag of food separately and not carry over the same feeding plan from one diet to the next. Sometimes, the feeding guidelines on the bag of food can also be higher than necessary for your dog. This is not the food company’s fault because every dog has a different lifestyle. If a bag of food recommends to feed your Chocolate Lab 2.5 cups of food a day, that can be misleading. If your dog is a couch potato, like my dog, that 2.5 cups might be a bit excessive for his metabolic needs. If your dog is a weekly marathon runner that same 2.5 cups might not be enough. Reach out to your vet to discuss the exact diet you are feeding it and we can calculate the daily caloric intake needed to meet your dog’s needs and help ensure they maintain an ideal weight.

Dogs can be affected by hormone disorders such as Cushing’s or hypothyroidism and these can cause weight gain as well. These are both hormone disorders that can be diagnosed by your veterinarian with a few tests. If your dog is diagnosed with either of these disorders, they can be managed with medication. Arthritis can be an indirect cause of weight gain. If a pet’s joints get stiff or sore, they will be less inclined to go on the long walks they used to love. Luckily, there are joint supplements like Cosequin and Dasuquin that can help promote joint health. There are also medications that can help relieve inflammation related pain. Please do not use any human medications for your pets without consulting a veterinarian first though.

While cats do tend to sleep a large portion of the day, it is still important to manage their weight and ensure that their beauty sleep does not impact their overall health.

 If your cat is gradually losing weight despite maintaining the same lifestyle and food, this could mean there is an underlying illness. When cats begin to lose weight, veterinarian tend to think about diabetes, hyperthyroidism, or kidney disease. Bloodwork can test for these diseases and then appropriate treatment can begin. It is important to note that, overweight cats are highly predisposed to developing diabetes. Therefore, keeping your cat at an ideal weight has the power to help prevent disease.

Here’s an overloved cat tip. Does your cat throw a hissy-fit when their dry food bowl is halfway empty? If your cat is on the overloved side, I recommend switching to a wet food diet. Wet food has a higher water content which can trick a cat’s stomachs into thinking they are fuller faster. This can help a cat gradually lose weight over months. A safe weight loss goal for a cat would be about a half pound decrease over one-two months at a time. Losing weight too rapidly can be dangerous for cats; therefore, weight checks every three-four weeks are important. You can weigh your cat at home.

While today’s society has started to glamorize larger cats and dogs, helping your pet stay at an ideal weight can help them live an extra two years. Please don’t hesitate to ask your veterinarian if your pet’s weight is appropriate at your next visit.

Rochelle Camden, DVM, is an Associate Veterinarian at District Veterinary Hospital.