“How big will my pet grow?” is one of the most common questions veterinarians are asked during a new puppy or kitten exam. Hopefully, this question will result in a conversation about one of the most common health problems in our companion animals: Obesity. Keeping your pet at a healthy weight can reduce the risk of many illnesses. More often, we worry about diabetes and arthritis in our pets, but obesity can lead to serious issues like heart disease, liver problems, and even skin conditions. While the health problems that can result from obesity are many, its prevention is straightforward.
After a discussion about how large their puppy or kitten will grow, pet owners will commonly feed their pet until they are that size or a size that they believe that breed should be. It is important to realize that even within a specific breed, there can be large variations in the size of the pet. For example, some large male Labradors can be 90 lbs. However, most Labradors at that size would be morbidly obese. Amongst adult cats, the ideal body weight can be anywhere between from 7 to 20 lbs.
With obesity, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Most cats and dogs are at their adult stature shortly after they turn 1 year old. At this age, they are still very playful and burning plenty of calories each day by either chasing toy mice or running in a park. The amount of calories they need at this stage in life will differ from what they will need as a middle-aged and older pet. In addition, when a pet has an injury and must have their exercise temporarily restricted, the amount of calories they are fed may need to temporarily be adjusted. Weighing your cat or dog at least twice a year is the best method to monitor their weight and adjust their food amounts accordingly. This can be done at home with a scale or many veterinarians have one that they will let their patients use for periodic weight check-ins. It is also a good idea to ask this follow-up question at each annual vet exam, “Is my pet still a healthy weight?”
When determining a weight loss plan, it is very important to read the label on your pet’s food. The amount of calories in pet food can vary greatly from 275-400 calories per cup. The type of food can matter even more than the quantity. Particularly for cats, it is shown that feeding a canned–food–only diet will reduce the risk of obesity and other health problems.
It is our responsibility to our pets to feed and care for them in a manner that will maintain their health. While giving endless treats may make them temporarily happy, there are healthier ways to bond with our pets. Especially with very small adult dogs and cats, we must remember that even a “small handful” of treats may amount to most of their caloric needs for the day. Showering our pets with affection and play will bond them to us even more than flavor-enhanced treats and overfeeding. As long as they are healthy, plenty of exercise and play will help burn calories while also bringing joy into your pet’s life…and your own! If an appropriate diet and exercise regime do not seem to be enough to keep your cat or dog at a healthy weight, then discuss any possible health problems with your veterinarian. You can determine a weight management plan together for a better quality of life for your pet.