We love our pets and one of the things we get to do to show our affection is to feed them. They meet us for meals, or do tricks for treats, or chomp for chews!
But is your beloved pet getting too wide? Being overweight is a common condition we face as veterinarians. So how can you tell?
You score your pet.
Due to the huge variation within breeds, let alone across the species, it is impractical to simply assign a desired weight to any given cat or dog based on just its breed. Instead, veterinarians will use the 'Body Condition Score' (BCS) to explain if the pet is very thin, underweight, ideal, overweight, or obese. These exist in scales of 5 or 9. They aare done with 3 easy steps. Get hands on; a furry coat can trick us!
How to Body Condition Score
Step 1. Feel for the ribs
Place your hand on the side of your pet's rib cage. If you can feel, without pressure, individual ribs under your hand already, you pet is probably too skinny. Now move your hand back and forth along the ribs, still without pushing (think of ruffling a kid's hair). Can you feel the ribs now? If you can and they feel 'like a box of pencils' then you're perfect and go to step 2. If you can't feel them, push a bit until you can find them. Everything you pushed through is fat, and there should be very little of it over the ribs.
Step 2. Check the waistline.
Place your hands on either side of your pet's chest, while standing above or behind them. Bring your hands symmetrically towards their tail. Your hands should noticeably come closer together as they pass from the chest to the abdomen. All dogs (even bully breeds) should have a waistline, although some are less dramatic than others. All cats should have one too along the spine (not down near the belly though; some of them have extra skin there). If the pet is straight from shoulder to hip with no 'tuck', then they have too much fat!
Step 3. Check the belly.
While your pet is standing, place your hand on the lowest part of the chest underneath and run it towards the back end. Your hand should travel up as you reach the abdominal 'tuck'. This is usually the last spot to 'lose' as the pet becomes overweight so a flat belly (no tuck) is a strong sign your pet is overweight. However, remember that cats can hold extra skin dangling down there so don't count that! DO count the fat under the skin though.
Now that you can assess your pet, check out the chart and decide where they fall. If 2.5-3, you're good! If higher, keep reading
5 tips to Trim their Tummies!
1. Play the pounds away
We'd all like to do more walking, and that can help too, but often we're already do as much as we can consistently schedule into our lives. So add in searching games. Hide dinner around the house or toss it into the yard. Use a Kong or other feeding toy. Cut holes in a box and invite them to toss it around to get the food to fall out. Even chasing tossed a kibbles down the hall burns fat.
2. Switch it around
Vegetables make great treats instead of cookies. Try limited amounts of broccoli, peppers or green beans. Small amounts of apple or carrot can replace a dog cookie. Please remember: no grapes or raisins! Alternatively, use the kibble itself; set the dinner meal on the counter and pull each 'treat' from the bowl through the day. Whatever is left becomes dinner. They get their 'treat' and you control the calories.
3. Size does not matter
To a pooch, a treat is a treat. The size isn't important. So break that treat, whatever it may be, into smaller fragments and give a fragment instead. Save the others for the next treat, or the next day.
4. Cutting back Calories
That may mean a new brand, but weight loss diets may not be as good as they look; often they are as little as 5% different from their 'full fat' version. But you can also consider swapping to a canned food (so long as the 'per feeding' calorie intake is less and you take care of their teeth). You can also reduce the portion of the food being given. If they notice the volume change, soak the food to increase the volume (but don't forget their teeth like to chew, so check out our links about dental health!)
5. Let them guide you
The feeding guidelines on the side of the bag are just that; guidelines. Many pets need less than the recommendations. If your pet is padded, adjust the calories down until they are lovely and lean. If summer adventures lower their weight, increase the calories until they are back to their ideal weight. Just remember to bring those calories back down when winter inactivity starts. Let their weight, energy and needs guide you.
Leaner pets live up to 2 years longer than their chubbier counterparts and experience fewer health problems. Act now; use these tips to trim their tummies and keep them with you, healthy and happy, for years to come.
Unsure if your pet's weight is perfect yet? Check with your vet. The in-clinic scales are no-charge and the advice from the front desk staff can be priceless!