Is my cat or dog overweight?
Approximately a third of cats and dogs in New Zealand are overweight. There is a habit of 'spoiling' our beloved pets with edible treats as an act of kindness. Yet, however well-intended, this can result in your pet becoming obese and experiencing a number of serious health issues as a consequence!
Indeed, pudgy pets typically suffer from problems with their joints, lack of stamina, shortness of breath, lethargy and pain during exercise. They can also develop serious complaints such as diabetes, urinary tract problems and even depression. Helping your pet to maintain a healthy weight is key to ensuring that they remain fit and happy. But, how do you go about this?
Is my pet overweight?
Healthy cats and dogs boast a visible waistline and an abdominal ‘tuck’. You should be able to feel their hip bones and ribcage (yet not be able to see them). If you can no longer feel your cat or dog’s ribcage and they have an obvious ‘spare tyre’, then they’re likely overweight. Your pet will also become listless and demand more food. For a more visual tool to check your pet's condition, use the Pet Weight Check.
Cats reach their ideal weight around 1 to 1.5 years of age. If your cat continues to ‘grow’ after this milestone, then there’s a good chance that your furball is becoming too chubby. Most dogs reach their optimal weight around 1 year of age, although some larger breeds continue growing up until 1.5 to 2.5 years of age. Your canine companion shouldn’t put on any more weight after this point.
If you’re unsure whether your cat or dog is the correct weight, then pop to your local vet and ask them to check. You can also keep an eye on your pet’s weight at home. To do this, jump on your bathroom scales and record your own weight. Next, stand on the scales with your cat or dog in your arms (if this is doable) and make a note of your combined weight. The difference between the two readings is your pet’s weight.
Cats and dogs that consume an excessive amount of food, have insufficient exercise and/or are neutered are at a greater risk of obesity. However, gaining weight is a gradual process, so you might not notice the additional weight straight away. That’s why it’s advisable to monitor your pet’s weight, general health and well-being on a regular basis.
10 tips for ensuring that your pet maintains a healthy weight
1) Exercise your dog: On average, dogs should be walked 3-4 times a day, including 1 longer walk of approximately one hour. You can supplement these walks with additional activities including running or playing games such as fetch, scent tracking and hide and seek etc. So, really set your dog to work!
2) Exercise your cat: Play regular hunting games with your cat using rods or laser pointers, and preferably in regular, short bursts of activity rather than a single session: this keeps your cat keen and interested. Cats also prefer to play in the morning and evening. Supply your feline friend with empty boxes and other fun toys, such as toilet rolls and feather wands to keep them entertained. Cats love scrambling to high vantage points from where they can survey their surroundings. So, give your budding explorer access to furniture that encourages them to climb to new heights. If you have an enclosed garden, then allow your cat to play outside. If you prefer not to let your kitty roam free, then try taking your cat for a walk on a harness. Some cats thoroughly enjoy this!
3) Measure meals: Check the packaging of your dog or cat food to determine how many grams your pet requires on a daily basis. Weigh this accurately using kitchen scales. Please note: these quantities assume a complete diet. If you wish to treat your pet to the occasional snack, then give them less at mealtimes to compensate.
4) Keep an eye on your pet’s body weight: If you’re carefully measuring your pet’s food, and your cat or dog is still gaining weight, then gradually reduce the amount of each serving. Conversely, if you notice that your pet is a tad on the skinny side, then add a little extra to their bowl.
5) Make mealtimes a moment of calm: Does your pet gobble down their meal all in one go? Then try using a special slow feeder bowl. And give cats or dogs with a particularly voracious appetite small portions several times a day, rather than the entire amount in one sitting. If you have multiple pets in your household, then allow them to dine separately. This keeps the peace and prevents them from getting their paws on each other's food.
6) Creative feeding: encourage your pet to really 'work' for their food. Scatter kibble throughout the house so that your cat or dog is forced to ‘hunt’ for their food. They’ll revel in this type of exercise because it satisfies their natural hunting instinct! You can also buy fun food puzzle toys for cats and dogs, such as Kong balls or snuffle mats (you can even make these yourself), which provide hours of ‘sniff and search’ enjoyment. Read more about creative feeding.
7) Give snacks in moderation: Stop treating your pampered pet to an endless stream of treats and provide functional snacks instead (as a reward during training for example, or to satisfy your dog's chewing requirements).
8) Break the begging habit: Pets with a tendency to beg are usually quick to pile on the pounds. Begging is a learned behaviour that can also be broken. Try 'spoiling' and rewarding your pet by stroking, cuddling or praising (good boy!) them instead. Your pet is sure to lap up this non-edible form of compensation! Read more about how to stop your pet from begging.
9) Enlist the help of a four-legged friend: When it comes to physical exercise, we humans simply cannot compete with our four-legged friends. So, consider taking on a second pet to keep your cat or dog physically and mentally challenged. Alternatively, you could become a pet sitter at Pawshake and that way secure a playmate for your pet whilst simultaneously providing local pet owners with a much-needed service.
10) Find a pet sitter: Unable to provide enough stimulation for your cat or dog? Then arrange for a pet sitter to keep them amused during those periods that you’re not at home. Many Pawshake pet sitters have specific experience with cats and would be more than happy to make time for your precious furry friend. Find a cat sitter.
And there are countless sporty dog sitters and dog walkers who would relish walking, running, playing or cycling with your dog. Or find a dog walker in your local area.
Is your pet (extremely) overweight?
Does your pet need to lose a lot of weight? Don't panic! There is plenty you can do to help your faithful friend. But helping your pet shed those excess pounds should be tackled using a gradual and sensible approach. Consult your vet, who can determine exactly how much weight your pet should lose and assess their current state of health. They can also prescribe special dietary food if necessary.