Chew on this: 05/12

Weight loss for pudgy pets

By Jayne Powers

Pets, like people, get pudgy – even obese.

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 53 percent of dogs and 55 percent of cats in the United States are obese or overweight.

Other pets are not immune to this pet health crisis. If Polly wants a cracker, think twice. Obesity is the No. 1 health problem in pet birds. The main culprit: Food is typically always available, and they don’t have to work for it.

Sadly, pet owners often don’t see their pets as fat because they are often overweight themselves.

This situation puts pets and their owners at risk for a myriad of similar health risks that include osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular and kidney disease and even some cancers. It also affects life span. Life expectancy in overweight dogs, for example, is decreased up to 2.5 years.

In hot weather, a fat cat or dog tires more easily, and it breeds bacteria and fungi in extra skin folds, increasing the likelihood of skin diseases. Having an overweight pet also raises the risk for complications from anesthesia during, say, a teeth cleaning.

The science behind pudgy pets is not difficult to understand: pets are fed too much food and don’t get enough exercise.

Pets also don’t self-regulate their food intake. A 2012 study in Behavioral Ecology found that some dogs will eat twice the needed calories when offered excess food.

The solution: feed your pet less, and take your dog for a brisk walk or romp in the woods. With cats, make them work for their food by building a pet puzzle. See the sidebar, “Build your own pet puzzle,” for instructions.

Now, let’s break it down step by step. First, determine the health condition of your pet. A good place to start is by using the Body Condition Scoring Chart developed by the Veterinary Medical Center of The Ohio State University. Find the chart at

Here’s what to look for when determining if a pet is at his or her ideal body weight. Your pet should have an obvious waist, similar to an hourglass figure, when viewed from above. Your pet’s tummy should tuck under near the flank area. You should also be able to easily feel your pet’s ribs and spine through a thin layer of fat. If in doubt, take your pet to the vet.

Next, figure out your pet’s caloric needs. This figure will vary, depending on your pet’s activity level, age and individual metabolism, which is affected by whether a pet has been neutered or spayed; pregnant or nursing. There are many different online calculators and sources. Again, your vet is often the best source to define your pet’s ideal weight.

To get a ballpark, use this calculation: Multiply your pet’s weight in pounds by 14 and add 70. This amount equals the number of calories your pet needs to meet basic metabolic functions. Remember, it is a rough estimate.

To determine your pet’s total daily caloric requirements, take the result of the previous calculation and multiply this number by one of these factors: 1.0 (for weight loss), 1.2 (to maintain weight of an inactive or obesity-prone pet), 1.6 (for an average neutered adult pet) or 2.0 (for a very active pet).

When figuring out how much to scoop out of a can or from a bag of dry food, don’t rely on the recommended feeding amounts on the back. These guidelines relate to pets fed under laboratory conditions. Talk to your vet about how many calories your pet should consume.

Once you know that figure, use the caloric information on the back of your pet food to determine the appropriate amount, and don’t guestimate when it comes to measuring portions. Use a measuring cup to get it right. If you switch pet brands, recheck the caloric information because calories per portion can vary widely among brands.

For more resources, check out Purina’s Project: Pet Slimdown site at or the Pet Weight Management page published by Hill’s pet-food company at

Jayne Powers, MA, is a certified nutritionist and personal fitness trainer based in Washington, DC. Her column, Chew on This, speaks from the science of the current state of knowledge about all facets of nutrition. Find her online at, or email your fitness questions to

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Jayne Powers
Jayne Powers, MA, is a certified nutritionist and personal fitness trainer based in Washington, DC. Her column, Chew on This, speaks from the science of the current state of knowledge about all facets of nutrition. Find her online at

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