“He’s Not Fat, It’s His Fur”

No, I’m sorry to tell you, but Tiny isn’t so tiny. Most of the clients that have come to see me have seen me on my soap box about pets being overweight. Now, I’m going to talk about obesity here. And yes, the word is OBESITY! Most of the patients coming in are not just a little overweight, they are VERY overweight! Some pets do come in and look great so obviously this is not for them. This is more for the dogs and cats that have to waddle. There are three main categories I will talk about when it comes to pets being overweight. Before we can talk about why they are overweight, we need to first discuss how to tell if they are overweight.

This is called Body Condition Scoring or BCS. There are two different number systems to use. There is a 1-5, 1 being skin and bones, and 5 being a blimp. The other number system is 1-9. 1, again, being skin and bones, and 9 being a blimp. I prefer the 1-9 system because it gives me a wider range to use. Not all dogs will be a 4 on the 1-5 system, they can either be a 7 or 8 on the 1-9 system. Most people get caught up on the actual weight itself. They want to know the number and want to know what number the pet should be. The actual weight is not that important to me, I just care how they look and what their BCS is. If they are 80 pounds and a 5 out of 9, then I’m happy. If they are 8 pounds but an 8/9, then they need to lose weight. The chart up top will help you figure out if your pet is overweight or not. The two biggest things to pay attention to are the ribs and waist line. If you can lay your hands on both sides of your pet’s chest, with them standing, and can feel the ribs with gentle pressure, that is a good sign. If you have to apply more pressure to tell if you are feeling ribs or not, then the pet is overweight. If your fingers fall in between the ribs, then they are too skinny! The next part is the waist line. You want the waist to tuck in on the sides and bottom a little. We are looking for that hour glass figure! If your hands go straight from the ribs to the pelvis, then the pet is too heavy. If the waist tucks in so far that the pelvis is sticking out through the skin, the pet is too thin. We need to find that happy medium between too plump and too skinny.

fat cat on scooter
“Ok, so I figured my pets are overweight, why does it matter?” That is a very good question that the people at Purina set out to answer. They studied Labrador Retrievers for 14 years! They fed half of them a restricted diet and the other half were free fed. The results were remarkable. The age at which 50% of the dogs were treated for arthritis between the two groups was a difference of 3 years! The free fed dogs were treated at about 10 years and the lean fed dogs didn’t need treatment until 13 years! More important than the arthritis treatment, the life span between the two groups was incredible as well. The free fed dogs average life span was 11.2 years and the control fed dogs average life span was 13 years! That’s almost an additional 2 years with your pet! Most owners only expect their labs to live to be about 10 or 11, but here we can see if they are fed correctly and are at a healthy weight, they can live to 13 plus years! These are the biggest reasons I have such a long discussion with clients about pet’s weight! There is no reason a pet can not live a long healthy life at a healthy weight. Now, on to the 3 biggest factors to help your pet lose and maintain a healthy weight.

cat exercise ball
1) Exercise
This is probably the number one reason clients have for their pets being overweight. “Well, it’s probably our fault because we don’t go on as many walks as we should.” Daily exercise and walks for your canine companions will definitely help to burn a few more calories. Some owners just don’t have the time to commit to walking their pets. There are some exercises that can be done without leaving the house, or better yet, without leaving the couch! If your dog will fetch a ball or favorite toy, you can toss that around the house and have them bring it back to you. You can also make them do “squats,” or make them sit and stand, sit and stand, sit and stand for a treat(we will talk about what are good/not so good treats later). That’s all well and good for a dog, but how are you going to exercise your grumpy, lazy cat? We can try a couple different things for cats. First is a nice laser pointer and have your cat chase it around for a bit. They even have automated laser pointers that will entertain your cat all by itself! The next could be a feather toy or a ball on a stick. You can dangle this in front of your cat and try to get him to chase it and jump around to try and catch it. Any movement will generally be better than nothing. Now, exercise is very important, but it is not the most important part of a healthy weight.

sad cat w carrott
2) Treats
Some clients will tell me that their dog or cat only eats a small amount per day. “How can he gain weight when I only feed him a cup per day?!” Then we find out that Fluffy is getting milk bones and Greenies and people food! Even though those pieces may be small, treats like that can have a lot of calories in them! A 22 pound (10 kg) dog’s daily caloric needs are about 630 kcal/day. A regular Greenie is (according to their website) 85 kcal/treat. Now that doesn’t sound like a lot when the dog needs 630 kcal. However, that 85 kcal is 13% of the dog’s daily requirements! Most owners are not going to cut back the food for one treat, although the pet is now getting 113% of it’s daily requirement. Over time that can make a big difference. I was unable to even find the calorie content per treat of Milkbones on their website. So, what are the options as far as treats go? The only processed treat that I like is made from the same company that makes the maintenance food that I use here. The IVet treats are high quality treats and the dog treats only have about 6 calories/treat with the feline treats only having 3 calories/treat! For the 22 pound dog, one treat is only 1% of the daily requirement! Our other treat options are going to be primarily veggies. Believe it or not, dogs love carrots! With cats we need to stick with the low calorie treats that we have. But dogs do great with veggies! A little over 2 ounces of carrots is going to be about 25 calories. That is much less than the Greenie listed above! Not many people are going to measure out the ounces of carrots, but it is save to say a couple pieces or couple baby carrots are going to be much better than Greenies or Milk Bones. If we do use veggies, we just need to make sure to wash them before giving them to our pets though.

Dinner Time!!!
3) Food
This isn’t necessarily the type of food, there is another blog about that. This is more about the AMOUNT of food. Most clients that come in guess at how much their dog is eating. I have even had owners tell me they just feed one cup a day, but that cup is a Big Gulp cup from the gas station! The bag of food that you get from either the store or the vet will tell you how much to feed according to your pet’s weight. This is what you should go by. Different bags are going to have different digestibility which is going to require different feeding amounts. 1 cup of IVet maintenance does not equal 1 cup of Pro Plan. If a pet is overweight, I like to start by feeding as if the pet were 10% lighter. Once the pet gets down to that weight, then we decide if the pet still has more weight to lose. There are other diets that help with weight loss more than the regular diets. IVet makes a reduced fat diet that tells you exactly how much to feed your pet to help them lose weight. If the pet is extremely over weight, Purina has a prescription diet formulated specifically for weight loss. Both of these are good options for weight reduction.

A healthy body condition scoring of your pet is very important. It could mean the difference between treating arthritis early or even having to euthanize your pet early! Exercise, the right treats and the correct amount of food are the keys to improving and maintaining a healthy weight for your pet.