The following tips and advice are largely based on chapter 8 of the book “Obesity in the Dog and Cat” which is available at https://www.crcpress.com/9781498741477
- It all starts with an accurate diet history.
You need to know how many calories your pet is currently consuming in order to best determine where feeding adjustments need to be made. Check all product packages, manufacturer websites, or directly contact manufacturers to get these values. Add up all the sources of calories to see how much your pet eats every day.
- Don’t forget about treats, supplements, flavored medications, food supplied by neighbors, etc.
There are a lot of extra places where calories can find their way into an animal’s daily intake. In general, it is recommended the main diet that provides a balanced nutrient profile comprise at least 90% of your pet’s intake, while calories supplied by other food items like treats and flavored medications provide not more than 10%.
- Always base feeding recommendations on an ideal or target weight.
This is the weight you are aiming for your pet to achieve and is the number used to estimate daily calorie requirements. Your veterinarian can help you determine this number and then give guidance regarding new calorie goals.
- Implementing the weight loss program should be as easy as possible.
Depending on how much weight your pet needs to lose, their main diet may need to be changed. Ask your veterinarian to provide very clear and concise feeding advice and amounts, including recommendations for treats. They may be able to provide recommendations for common commercially available low calorie treats and information about treats you are already accustomed to feeding.
- Make sure the prescribed weight loss program is realistic for you to follow.
If your veterinarian gives recommendations for a plan you would never be able to implement in your home, don’t be afraid to say something. Let them know what will or will not work with your pet(s), family, work schedule, etc. and have them brainstorm with you to find attainable solutions.
- Automated feeders can be a wonderful resource.
Some feeders will allow for providing food to an individual pet while also limiting access to other pets. Other feeders excel at providing specific amounts of food at multiple regular intervals.
- Feeding toys and puzzle bowls can increase your pet’s enrichment during feeding time.
Especially useful for cats, these tools can be filled with food and hidden around the home to encourage movement through the “hunting” experience and to also slow down those pets that have a tendency to quickly consume their food.
- Follow up is key!
Preschedule recheck appointments for weigh-ins at regular intervals. These help to keep you accountable to the weight loss program and also provide an opportunity for the veterinary staff to address concerns to help your pet achieve weight loss success.
- Small rewards or other acknowledgments of success can go a long way.
You may not realize your pet’s weight loss program has been as successful until you sit down and track the numbers. Consider keeping a chart to help you follow your pet’s starting weight and the target weight you are hoping to achieve. Regularly add weight updates to the chart and plan special rewards for your pet along the way. Consider rewarding your pet with a new toy or a walk in a fun new location when they achieve specific milestones such as being halfway to their target weight.
- After reaching the target weight, maintaining weight loss requires continued attention.
It is imperative to devote just as much attention to this phase as to weight loss in order to ensure any rebound weight gain is spotted early and rectified. At a minimum, cats and dogs that have successfully lost weight should return to their veterinarian for weight rechecks every 6 months to maintain accountability. This is the best way to make sure all the work you put into achieving successful weight loss does not go to waste.