Coming off some over indulgence during the holiday season and entering a new year is a time when many of us promise ourselves that we will eat better and get more exercise. While our pets are obviously not concerned with making their own resolutions, as owners it is a good time to take a look at their diet and exercise plan on their behalf. At least with our cats and dogs, it is not their own willpower that will probably let them down mid-February!
The truth is that an alarming number of pets in North America are overweight. In a 2015 study it was estimated that 54 per cent of dogs and 58 per cent of cats were overweight, with 20 and 28 per cent respectively being officially classified as obese.
For our pets, the motivation is not having a “beach body” come spring, but there are other far more important reasons for weight loss in these cats and dogs. Because both diet and exercise are completely in the hands of their people, our canine and feline companions can really only fail if we let them down.
As with all of us, the secret to weight loss is not really a secret at all. It is all about the balance between the right diet and the right amount of exercise. Personally, considering the latter, and especially for our dogs, I get the sense that very few are not getting enough exercise. As a rule, I find that Beachers make a point to keep their pooches active.
What I suspect to be the real culprit then is how many of us are killing them with kindness. Unfortunately, when I say “killing them” I am not really exaggerating at all. The number one reason for electing humane euthanasia for dogs comes when we can no longer maintain their comfort from arthritis and degenerative joint disease. Dogs as we have bred them are bigger and live longer than nature ever intended. The joints that support that weight are being asked to do more and for longer that they were ever designed for. We have very little control over the genetically determined part of that, but we can at least do whatever we can to not ask even more of those poor hips and knees by getting them to carry excess weight.
The same is true for our feline companions, although we are much less inclined to feel that this discomfort is having a huge impact on their quality of life, so it often goes more unnoticed.
Unlike dogs, who will continue to try to struggle through the pain to do their usual thing and can be seen stiffly hobbling out the door for their daily walk, we now know that cats will just become less active and sleep more, because it is just more comfortable than moving around.
The idea that cats just sleep more when they get older is now seriously questioned as we realize that over 80 per cent of cats in their senior years suffer from some arthritis, and they will all spend more time in a day active and less sleeping when they are placed on an anti-inflammatory pain medication.
So, as long as we are getting our dogs out for at least 45 minutes every day, and interacting with our indoor cats regularly, the area we should all focus on is diet.
Your vet should be able to provide you with nutritional guidance specific for your pet and situation. This starts with an assessment of their body condition to determine an approximate body fat percentage.
We can then compare the current weight to an ideal weight and develop a dietary plan to get you there, based on daily calories and the right balance of protein, fat and carbohydrate. As a rough guide most adult cats need around 200 calories per day and a 30kg (66lb) dog needs around 1500 calories per day.
For weight loss, we will need to create a deficit of daily energy intake so that the body begins to burn some of its stored fuel. There is tremendous variability in the calorie content of a cup or a can of one food compared to another, so you will need to do some math to work out the right amount to feed to reach your goal, and it will be very different for different foods.
Again, your vet should be able to help you with both a recommended diet type and a calculation for weight loss, then maintenance. Your job will then be to make sure that you are first measuring that food very carefully and be diligent accounting for any extra treats.
Many cat foods for instance are in the 400 – 450 calories per cup range, so as you can imagine a well rounded 1/4 cup twice a day to reach that 200 calories could easily turn out to be closer to 250 – 300 calories – up to 50 per cent over their requirement.
Likewise, many of the “table scrap” treats our dogs will crave are very high in calories.
In addition to the calorie content, just as it is for people, where those calories are coming from plays a big role in weight gain and loss. As a rule, lower carbohydrate and higher protein diets tend to favor weight reduction.
This is especially true for cats, who are true carnivores, and as such have higher protein requirement to start with. This is why we tend to prefer canned diets for weight loss in cats over dry; canned foods contain more protein and fewer carbs than their kibble counterparts.
It is also worth noting that it is much easier, and will avoid you having to feel like the bad guy, to keep your pet in an ideal weight range rather than having to put them on a more restrictive diet. Dogs especially can really pull on our heart strings by looking devastated due to a reduction in their food portion, so much so that many owners just can’t take it and cave in.
If you feel that your pet may be a little chunky, I urge you to not consider this as just the way they are, or even worse, as cute. Talk to your vet about developing a weight loss plan and then stick to it as best you can. Remember it’s up to us and the benefits can literally save your pet’s life.