A dog leaping for a frisbee on the beach wearing a collar and ID tag.

7 steps to help obese pets lose weight

Team Walmart Pets

June 16, 2021

5

min read

No one likes thinking they’re turned their pet into a fat cat or dog. And sometimes, people will pretend there’s nothing wrong with their pet and call them a chonk or chonky, like it’s a good thing.

Parents will even take it personally when their vet suggests their pet needs to lose some weight. Maybe they feel guilty for overfeeding or not exercising their dog or cat enough. Maybe they’re struggling with weight or body image issues of their own. Maybe they think their vet is judging them. Whatever the reasons, there are many benefits to living a healthy lifestyle for both pets and their parents. 

Obesity causes many health problems for dogs and cats. Type 2 diabetes begins in a cat’s food bowl. Crippling arthritis is complicated by excess weight and a deficiency of activity. These two conditions alone cause undue pain to furry friends, cut loving lives short and cost pet parents billions in vet bills. 

But here’s the thing: they’re all almost completely preventable!  

7 tips to help pets lose weight

Start prevention with your pet’s own weight loss plan by incorporating these seven simple weight loss tips into your daily routine.

Know how many calories your pet needs

Do you know the number of calories your pet needs each day? If not, you don’t know how much you should feed. And you can’t always trust the feeding suggestions on the packaging. 

Feeding guides are formulated for adult, intact (not neutered), active dogs and cats. If you give the amount on the label to an older, spayed or neutered obese Chihuahua, you’re probably feeding 20% to 30% too much. Don’t just “feed less,” though — you could accidentally cause serious nutrient imbalances or life-threatening liver failure. Instead, ask your vet to calculate your pet’s precise caloric needs. 

To get an idea at home, try this formula: 

  • Divide your pet’s weight by 2.2. 
  • Multiply this figure by 30, then add 70. 

That gives you a general idea of how many calories to feed per day to a typical sedentary, indoor, spayed or neutered dog or cat weighing between 6 and 60 lbs. 

For example, Bowser weighs 44 lbs. 44/2.2 = 20. 20 x 30 = 600. 600 + 70 = 670. 

Of course, each pet’s metabolism is unique, so consult with your veterinarian before cutting calories — or if your dog is smaller or larger than this range. 

Measure your pet’s food

Chances are, you already have the single greatest tool in the fight against excess weight: a measuring cup. Some pets, particularly cats, are fed an “all-day buffet” that results from the “just keep the bowl full” feeding method. The problem then becomes tracking how much your pet is really eating each day. 

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention has obesity charts for dogs and cats. Their studies have shown that feeding as few as 10 extra tiny kibbles of food per day can add up to a pound of weight gain per year in indoor cats and small dogs. So after you calculate how many calories your pet needs, determine how much food you should feed at each meal — and then measure accurately. 

Remember: whenever you give your pet some treats, be sure to count those calories, too. Many pet parents feed the proper amount of food but sabotage their efforts by adding one or two high-fat, high-calorie treats throughout the day. As few as 30 extra calories per day means your pet gains over 3 lbs by year’s end. (These numbers are the same for pet parents, too!) 

Low-fat diets? Nope, cut the carbs

You might think the secret to getting your fat cat or fat dog to lose weight is a low-fat diet. Actually, it’s the carbs. Most pets don’t need a high-carbohydrate diet. Yet that’s exactly what they’re being fed. 

Many popular pet foods contain 60% or more carbs — check the label! In general, most vets recommend a low- or grain-free option with a protein source as the first ingredient as the best diet dog food for weight loss. This also goes for overweight cats needing to slim down. And there’s diet cat food you can try as well.

Opinions on dietary strategies vary though, especially if your pet has underlying medical conditions, so be sure to ask your veterinarian before changing diets. If one particular formulation doesn’t work well, change tactics within three months. 

Be smart about treating your chonk

When it comes to treats, furry friends don’t do division, especially the chonkers. Break their snacks into small pieces and only give one to your chonky dog or cat when they earn it. Be cautious about giving your pet a treat because you feel bad about leaving him home alone or to seek forgiveness when you return. 

Instead, use food treats to encourage and reward good behavior. Pets (and people) need to learn to earn extra goodies. Praise, pet and play more rather than constantly reaching into the cookie jar.

Exercise daily

To live a long, comfortable and disease-free life, research proves our most powerful partner is daily exercise. Studies over the past 20 years have shown that maintaining lean body mass and aerobic fitness reduces risks of developing type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, kidney diseases, respiratory conditions and many forms of cancer.

Speaking of partners, many pet parents already have a built-in, no-excuse exercise buddy. Sure, you can give your dog a cookie, but what he really, desperately wants is your interaction, your affection, your time. Exercising together is a great way for you both to benefit. For humans and hounds alike, as little as 20 to 30 minutes of brisk walking at about a 15- to 18-minute per mile pace is all it takes to boost immune function, improve cardiovascular health and reduce stress and anxiety. 

Do yourself and your dog a favor and commit to daily walks, rain or shine. After all, the health benefits of walking extend to both ends of the leash! You’ll see friends, catch up on neighborhood news and enjoy viewing the world outside your windows. Dogs likewise need environmental stimulation to remain physically, mentally and emotionally healthy.

For cats, try playing with a laser pointer, remote-controlled toy or even a balled-up piece of paper for five to 15 minutes every day. Chances are you’ll have a chuckle, and you both will enjoy the time spent bonding. 

Supplement their diet

Almost every two- and four-legger can benefit from taking a daily omega-3 fatty acid supplement. These powerful essential oils pack a potent antioxidant punch proven to help prevent and treat numerous diseases. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids may help ease achy joints and potentially promote weight loss. 

L-carnitine has been shown to aid weight loss and support lean muscle mass. Ask your veterinarian if either or both of these supplements make sense and get the right dosage for your pet. 

Opt for natural foods

If you’re going to give your pet goodies, make ’em count. Too many commercially available pet treats are the equivalent of a box of doughnuts. They’re “calorie grenades” laden with sugar and unhealthy fats. Opt instead for functional treats that boast a bonus, such as cleaning teeth or promoting mobility with ingredients like fish oils

As an alternative to highly processed biscuits, try offering your pet whole food snacks such as small pieces of baby carrot, green bean, celery, broccoli, cucumber, sliced apple or banana. These naturally nutritious tasty tidbits are a healthy option for many dogs. For cats, try a flake of salmon or tuna when you’re feeling generous. Who knows? Maybe your pet’s new healthy habit will rub off on you, as well!

Now is a great time to be your pet’s health superhero. Remember: Your daily choices have a real impact on your pet’s well-being. We all have to eat, so why not give our food a little thought? We all need to move, so why not make our activities meaningful? The same holds true for pets, who can’t make those decisions on their own — you must decide for them. 

It’s our responsibility as pet parents to keep our pets at a healthy weight, which means feeding them healthy, nutritious foods, tempering the treats and including exercise in their daily routine. By following these seven simple suggestions, you’ll be on your way to your pet’s best — and healthiest — year yet!

Pet Health

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash