Some Top Tips to Help Your Pet Lose Weight

The top 3 new years resolutions are to exercise more, lose weight and save money! At Larkmead we regularly see pets that are overweight and just like with us, this can contribute to a number of health conditions. So we're starting 2020 with some top tips for helping your pet to lose weight and happily, if that's your goal too, then walking your dog will help you too!

Top Tip Number 1 - How do I know if my pet is overweight?

Owners often don’t recognise that their pet’s weight is increasing as it is hard to notice small changes when you see them every day. Record your pet’s weight regularly by weighing your dog or cat and document the weight on a growth chart, phone app or in your diary. A weight check will be part of their routine health check when your pet has his/ her annual vaccination at Larkmead and you will also receive a Health Check Form which will inform you of your pet’s weight and Body Condition Score.

As a general guide you should be able to feel your pet’s ribs easily when you run your hands over the sides of their body (but you should not be able to see the ribs).

Other signs of an overweight pet include loss of an obvious waist, their collar may need loosening, difficulty in walking or shortness of breath.

Most pets are fully grown by about 1 year of age ( with the exception of some very large breed dogs who take longer to mature), so look back to their 1 year old weight and that will be their lean adult bodyweight ( You may have this recorded in your pets ‘Progress Diary’ from when they were a puppy or ask at their next visit to Larkmead as it will be on their computerised clinical records). This is the weight you should aim for your pet to be throughout his or her life in order to keep fit and healthy.

Top Tip Number 2 - Why does it matter if my pet is overweight?

Overweight pets can be predisposed to weight related serious conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease, some forms of cancer, and may have reduced life expectancy.

Reduced mobility and osteoarthritis are common in overweight pets and cause pain and discomfort. Also skin problems are often exacerbated in overweight pets.

Prevention is always better than cure so get the whole family involved with controlling your pet’s weight. Discuss with the family the reasons for this, the amounts of food to be given and check no one is giving any treats or extra food.

Top Tip Number 3 -  Are you feeding the right amount?

It is easy to use ‘scoops’, ‘handfuls’ or a bowl to measure the daily ration but it is important to use the feeding guide on the packet as a starting point to check you are feeding the correct amount. ‘Ad lib’ feeding is not recommended, as it is not known how much food is actually being consumed.

Stick to a fixed daily ration which is given every day at the same times. Divide the daily ration into 2 meals. The feeding guide will usually provide a range to cover pets of different breeds and activity levels - as a general rule use the lower end of the range. For example, for a medium sized dog Adult Specific food (see chart in photos) a 20kg dog (using the middle column for a dog that is not overweight), feed total of 240g a day. Divide it into 120g breakfast meal and 120g evening meal.
Calibrated scoops and cups are easy to overfill so weigh your pets food (at least to start with until you are familiar with what it looks like).

This amount has been worked out by the manufacturers to give all the nutrients that your pet needs in a balanced and healthy formula, and will supply the required amount of calories. Therefore if you give any more treats, chews, or extra food on top of this daily ration, your pet’s weight will increase.
If you need to use training treats for reward based training, we recommend that it is taken out of the daily ration and is kept separate for this purpose.

Top Tip Number 4 - What can I do if my pet is always hungry?

If your pet is prone to asking for food by begging, crying or barking, some owners find it hard to resist and give in to their pets demands. Remember that this is a learnt behaviour in both dogs and cats. In the past the pet’s cry has been interpreted as hunger and the owner has subsequently provided more food for the dog to eat.

This rapidly becomes a regular occurrence and a firm habit so it is important to be very strict and only feed at meal times. Also do not feed table left overs while you are eating. Often pets will target one member of the family and pester or beg for food as they soon learn who is the most likely to give in to their demands - ensure that everyone understands the importance of a regular controlled diet and the reasons for this. Pets learn new rules very quickly and the demanding behaviour often stops within days if everyone is consistent.

Remember that dogs are natural scavengers and will still be eager for more food even after you have fed them properly, so don’t give in to those appealing looks.

Of course you can interact with your pet in other ways. An extra stroke or cuddle is always allowed, as is playing a game or with a toy which will increase his/ her activity level.

Top Tip Number 5 - Weigh your Pet Regularly

If your pet is on a weight reducing diet it is important that he/ she is weighed regularly to check that the weight is decreasing. If you are unable to weigh your pet at home, we recommend you come to Larkmead to use our scales for both dogs and cats. The dog scales are in the waiting areas of all our surgeries, and the cat scales are in the consulting rooms. Depending on what adjustments you have made, this should be initially every 2 weeks. You should aim for the weight to reduce in a gradual and controlled way. A common pitfall is that owners perceive a diet to be working but don’t check with regular weighings and discover months later that their pet has actually not lost or even gained weight!

Our Vet Nurses provide a FREE weight management clinic where an appointment can be made to weigh your pet, discuss feeding in detail and provide a bespoke diet plan for your pet. A balanced diet food is prescribed which is manufactured to provide all the required nutrients, but reduced in calories so your pet will lose weight. It is also designed to help your pet feel less hungry. The nurse consultation is free if the food is purchased from the practice. The cost of this will vary depending on the size of the pet and the quantity bought but an approximate cost of the food would be 58p/day for a 4kg cat and £0.81 per day for a 20kg dog.

Lifetime Care Club members receive a 25% discount on pet food.

Top Tip Number 6 - Remain Motivated!

‘He is like a puppy again’ is a common quote from owners who have successfully reduced their dog’s weight. Many report a huge difference in their pet’s demeanour - often becoming more active and enjoying exercising more as well as other health benefits.

Make sure you remain motivated and keep weighing your pet regularly. If things are not going as planned discuss with our nurses or vets.

All pets are different and you may need to reduce the food further as your pet may burn calories more slowly. If the diet is not working consult your vet or nurse but first check that everyone in the house is sticking to the new feeding regime.

Top Tip Number 7 - Controlled Exercise

Many overweight dogs are already receiving adequate exercise - correcting the feeding is the key to shifting the excess fat. However exercise is also important and most pets benefit from regular controlled exercise. Increasing exercise alone is not usually enough to reduce your pet’s weight although it is helpful.

Check with your vet that exercise is appropriate as arthritic dogs will benefit from some exercise but it needs to be controlled, safe and limited. Start gradually, especially if your pet is elderly, in which case see your vet first.

If your dog or cat is overweight he/ she may be at risk of joint injury such as cruciate ligament damage ( injury to the knee joint) due to excessive strain on the joint. Correcting the feeding and subsequent weight loss to the recommended healthy weight will reduce the risk of this happening.

For inactive cats, there are many games available to try to get your cat moving. Some cats show great interest in chasing toys such as balls or soft toys.

Top Tip Number 8 - Be Prepared!

Scavenging - If your dog or cat is on a weight reduction programme he/ she may surprise you by suddenly showing an interest in stealing food from your bins. Prepare in advance by not leaving food or food waste accessible and placing bins in cupboards or out of the way.

Top Tip Number 9 - Will neutering my dog cause him/her to put on weight?

A neutered dog ( spayed female or castrated male) can maintain a healthy lean weight by being fed the correct amount of food. However this is usually slightly less than the amount they were fed before the neutering so we recommend regular weight checks in the first few months following surgery.

Top Tip Number 10 - What causes my pet to be overweight?

The commonest cause of weight gain is an increase in body fat, usually due to eating too much food, especially when combined with a lack of exercise.

However there can be other contributing factors so we recommend regular health checks with your vet. At Larkmead many pets are already members of our Lifetime Care Club (see link below). As well as receiving their routine annual vaccinations and anti parasite treatment, these pets will benefit from 6 monthly health checks with a vet.

If your pet appears overweight we can reassure you that there are no signs of underlying medical conditions and explain how to reduce the pet’s weight.

Contributing factors to weight gain are age ( older dogs are less active which is why nutrition appropriate for your pet’s age is vital), breed ( some dog breeds are more prone to weight gain), neutering ( food intake should be reduced in most neutered dogs) and medical problems ( very occasionally weight gain is associated with a medical condition that may require specific treatment).

If your pet is overweight and you would like some support in helping reduce it, give us a call and book in for a free assessment with one of our qualified nurses - they can help guide you through a healthy sustainable weight loss process.