Happy New Year!! We are officially living in the year 2024, isn’t it crazy? I am sure some of us have been working on our resolutions for this new year and I believe it would not be surprising if one of the most popular resolutions for many us may be weight loss or incorporating new workout plans. You may not know this, but pet overweight/obesity is one of the most common health issues we find with pets, so I am going to challenge ourselves to include our pets in these weight management plans for 2024!
Overweight and obesity are known to predispose our cats and dogs to diseases like diabetes, can negatively affect their quality of life as they mature (especially when arthritis is seen due to the extra weight on those joints), and can also shorten their longevity. In order to assess if our pets may be in an ideal weight or not, there are different scales used to assist with this. These scales help us identify what is called the Body Condition Score (BCS). The most popular ones use a scale of 1-9 or 1-5, where 1 represents emaciation (malnourishment) and the higher the number, the closer to obesity that the dog or cat may be. If you search online, you will find that these guidelines are associated with images to help you determine where your baby might be on the BCS scale. Ideally, we want to feel their ribs when we gently feel them on the sides of their chest and we also want to see a waistline from the side and from above.
Before we dive into weight management techniques, it is important to be aware that these should be discussed with your veterinarian prior to starting a weight management protocol, as every pet has different needs and these protocols need to be personalized. That being said, if your baby is overweight or obese, there are three basic things to be aware of, just like with humans: exercise, types of food/treats, and food portion control. As a rule of thumb, please know that whatever you may have been doing so far will need to be adjusted, as continuing with doing the same will not lead to different results. Sounds like an obvious statement, right?
For weight loss, we commonly need to increase the amount of exercise that our pets currently get. Cats can be more challenging to exercise, but you can identify toys or activities that seem to stimulate them and use them to your advantage. Just make sure you have shorter, more frequent exercise sessions with our feline friends. When it comes to food, many available commercial diets are not considered to be very healthy, but there are some excellent options out there. I would recommend to consult with your veterinarian on the best options that may be available and also consider a slow transition from the current food you may be feeding into a weight management option from a reputable company. If your baby may be obese and needing extra help, there are actual prescription diets that can be considered and authorized by your veterinarian.
Also, keep in mind that portion control is very important and the packaging of the food you are feeding will let you know how much to feed per day. When offering treats, consider healthier options like baby carrots, green beans, diced apples, and cucumbers. Once again, remember portion control! Needless to say, changes do not happen overnight, so please be patient and consistent. After starting a strict weight management protocol, consider checking your pet’s weight at the 3-6 month mark for progress monitoring.
While weight gain is usually caused by lifestyle related factors, I need to note that there are other possible causes, which include hypothyroidism, diabetes, and Cushing’s disease, among others. There is a common thought that after spaying or neutering a dog or cat, weight gain will follow. While this can be somewhat true with some pets, it is because their metabolism changes and we have to adjust their lifestyle accordingly to avoid them from gaining weight. It is also worth noting that weight loss may be related to some conditions and diseases, including muscle wasting from aging, hyperthyroidism in cats, kidney disease (mostly with cats), and even different types of cancer. I mention this because if your baby is losing weight and it is not on purpose, you would need to consult with your veterinarian to further assess what may be going on.
Whether our babies may be more curvaceous or not, as parents, we need to monitor for trends of weight gain or weight loss to be able to potentially identify any possible problems or for tracking the achievement of weight management goals. This is yet another reason why it is vital to have our babies examined by the veterinarian every 6 to 12 months to determine if anything has changed and what may need to be done to help them out.
I am excited that we can welcome a new year together and I am looking forward to an outstanding and positive year 2024 with all of you! Until the next time, abrazos!!