Many pet owners and pets have gained weight during the pandemic. Here are some thoughts on how both you and your pet can shed some pounds.
Confirm There Is No Underlying Medical Condition
We’ll leave your medical health up to the supervision of your own doctor, but here are the things that Brookfield Veterinarians ask themselves when evaluating the reasons behind any significant weight change in pets:
Gradual or Fast Onset?
For the most part, weight change in animals and humans takes place over time, not over the course of a few weeks. If you have noticed that your pet has gained (or lost weight) in a short amount of time, allow us to do an examination. There may be an underlying medical condition causing the change. In cats, weight loss, excessive thirst, and hunger are often attributable to a relatively common and treatable thyroid disorder called hyperthyroidism. Dogs too can suffer thyroid issues, but theirs is often associated with weight gain.
As people and pets age, changes in hormone levels and metabolism leave us both more prone to weight gain. Older dogs and humans may not need as many calories because neither of us is as active as we once were. But we also want to ask ourselves if a decrease in activity is due to more than just age. Painful arthritis often causes dogs and cats to move around less; so do some other significant underlying medical conditions. If you feel that your pet isn’t as active as he or she once was, mention it to us at his or her next annual visit.
Is the Weight Gain A Behavioral Issue?
Sometimes pet owners introduce a new pet to the family. An existing pet in the household may protect his or her turf and eat the newcomer’s food as a way to exert dominance. Dogs and cats both frequently eat their own food and any other food left out for other pets in the household. If your pet is gaining weight, monitor which pet is eating what food and when.
Get Fit At The Gym, Get Skinny In The Kitchen
While working out, running, and other forms of exercise are an important component to weight loss, the real headway is made in paying attention to how many calories you or your dog eat and where those calories come from.
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, the following is an approximate list of daily caloric needs for average indoor pets by weight:
Species and Weight Calories
10 lbs. 180-200 calories
10 lbs. 200 to 275 calories
20 lbs. 325 to 400 calories
50 lbs. 700 to 900 calories
70 lbs. 900 to 1050 calories
90 lbs. 1100 to 1350 calories
This is only a jumping off point. If you really want to take a deep dive, you can use the Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center Calorie Calculator to get a closer (but still approximate) look at how many calories your pet should be consuming per day. According to the Ohio State website, the calculation for a dog or cat’s daily caloric intake starts by computing the number of calories your pet needs just to perform essential body functions like breathing, digesting, brain function, and so forth. This is known as a pet’s Resting Energy Requirement (RER), the calculation for which is explained on the site.
Next, Ohio State recommends that you multiply the RER by a factor that considers age, species, spay/neuter status, and activity level to determine the ideal, daily caloric intake for your specific pet. You can view a table of these factors on their site and determine your pet’s ideal daily caloric needs.
Not surprisingly, daily caloric intake for humans is based on the same factors (minus our spay or neuter status). The U.S. Department of Health has rough caloric guidelines that include considerations for age and activity levels, but there are also more detailed calculators like the one found to calculate your daily caloric requirements for maintenance or for weight loss found on calculator.net.
Calories from Protein, Carbohydrates, or Fat
Today, it’s common for people to eat carbohydrate-restrictive diets as a way to drop weight quickly, but there are enough contradictory studies and reports of adverse reactions to restrictive diets that we recommend you receive your diet directions from an experienced doctor.
Pet diets too are best undertaken in collaboration with one of the veterinarians at Brookfield. We have decades of combined experience helping all kinds of pets of all ages and species lose weight safely. Still, we know that many of you just want some general advice so we’ll give you some starting considerations:
Learn How To Read A Pet Food Label
Many pet food labels list the percentages of protein, fat, and carbohydrates as a percentage of the food as it comes in the can or in the bag, but this can be misleading. A wet food usually contains 70% water or more, so if a product lists fat as only 4% of the diet ‘as fed’, the amount of fat by dry weight is actually 13.3%. You can calculate the percentage of an ingredient by dry weight by subtracting the percentage of moisture from 100 and then dividing the percent of fat, carbohydrate, or protein listed on the can by that answer. For the example above, the formula is 100-70= 30; 4÷30= 13.3%. For more help on how to read a pet food label, click the link to go to an article written by Dr. Silke Bogart of Brookfield Animal Hospital.
Be Able to Discern Real from Rumor
There are a lot of untruths swirling around the quality of food that American pet food suppliers put into their food. Most of it should be dispelled. In large part, American made pet foods are very safe and provide more than enough of your pet’s daily caloric and nutritional needs. You can find out more pet food myths here.
Understand Your Pet’s Daily Protein Requirements
According to Ohio State Veterinary Medical Center, adult dogs need 1 gram of protein per day, per pound of body weight and adult cats need 2 grams of protein per, day per pound of body weight. Puppies and kittens and older pets need slightly more. To learn how to calculate the amount of grams of protein in a diet, you can visit the Whole Dog Journal website.
An Enormous Impact on Health
Studies repeatedly show that obesity decreases a pet’s life expectancy. Excess weight can lead to diabetes, osteoarthritis, respiratory disease, hypertension, and cancers. In a study of Labradors, researchers fed half the dogs whenever they indicated that they were hungry and restricted the calories for the other half. Results showed that the restricted group lived almost 2 years longer than the free fed group and had fewer chronic diseases such as osteoarthritis. The take home message from this study? Pets may live longer, and more comfortable lives if kept closer to their optimal weight.
Did You Know that Fat Makes Fat?
Evolutionarily it makes sense for the body to want to retain fat in case there’s a food shortage. But without a food shortage (and most of our pets have ready access to food), it’s easy to gain excess weight and difficult to lose it again. So how does our body try to retain fat?
Existing body fat secretes various substances to stimulate the growth of more fat cells and to slow down metabolism (causing the plateau in weight loss that many of us experience when we diet). These substances also cause inflammation. Consequently, overweight pets are in a state of chronic inflammation, including inflammation of the joints or osteoarthritis. Arthritic pets are less active which, in turn, promotes more weight gain. Additionally, as pets age, they have less lean body mass lowering their total energy needs. A 7-year old dog needs about 20% less calories than a young adult dog. All these factors contribute to the pet obesity problem.
When dieting, you and your pet will benefit from dividing your allotted portion of food into smaller portions that you eat more frequently throughout the day. Eating frequent, smaller portions levels out blood/insulin levels and reduces in-between meal hunger.
Body Conditioning Score
Use this chart to quickly determine your pet’s body condition score, one of the first steps in identifying pets that need nutritional assistance.
Feeding a Puppy and Kitten
Since puppies and kittens grow faster than adult animals, they need greater amounts of nutrients and proteins. Typically this problem is solved by purchasing a food designed for juvenile animals, but double check with Brookfield before making your selection. If you own a large or small breed dog, note that both have specific puppy nutritional requirements. Call Brookfield and we’ll help you figure out a healthy and safe feeding schedule.
You got the pet, now interact with it. A long walk with your dog is good for the dog, your own health and, if you bring your significant other along, a great way to catch up and grow your own personal relationship. Drag one of your kids along and see what’s doing in their world. While text messages and Facebook feeds have a magnetic pull on our attention spans, they’re still empty calories for the mind. Nothing beats time in this great world of ours directly interacting with the people and sights in it or taking time to be alone with one’s thoughts.
If your dog or cat is already overweight, give us a call so we can walk you through a weight management program. Fast, drastic weight reduction, especially in cats can be fatal. Really!
50% Off First Exam For All Adopted Pets!
Whether you are a new or existing client, Brookfield offers 50% off the cost of your pet’s first physical examination.