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Helping Your Pet Stay Lean & Healthy

According to the Association for Pet Obesity, 54% of dogs in the U.S. are overweight, and nearly 20% of dogs can be classified as obese. The story is even worse for cats – 59% of cats are overweight and over 30% of cats are obese. This is bad news for our companion animals, because carrying around too much extra weight can lead to a laundry list of health problems, including arthritis, orthopedic problems, diabetes, respiratory issues, and all around shortened lives. Making sure your pet stays at a lean, healthy weight can go a long way towards ensuring they have a long and healthy life!


What is a “body condition score”?

The body condition score is how your veterinarian evaluates your pet’s, well, body condition! It is somewhat subjective, based on your veterinarian’s physical exam and observations. This score is usually based on either a 5-point scale or a 9-point scale, with 1 being extremely underweight, usually including loss of muscle mass, no body fat, and prominent bones, and either 5 or 9 (depending on the chart) being extremely obese, with large fat deposits over the ribs and throughout the body. Ideal is a 4-5 on a 9-point scale, or 3 on a 5-point scale. If you would like to see a visual representation of this scale, The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention has a good one here.


What is ideal?

An ideal body condition means your pet has ribs that can be easily felt with gentle palpation, with minimal fat covering them, a visible waistline when viewed from above, and an abdominal “tuck”, meaning your dog’s abdomen tucks up after the rib cage, slanting up to meet the waist at an angle rather than straight across or a more rounded shape.


What can you do?

How can you help your pet maintain an ideal body condition?  Here are some tips for making sure your pet stays lean:

  • Make sure you are feeding your pet an appropriate amount of food! This is harder than it sounds, because feeding guidelines for pet food can be misleading. Remember, the goal of a pet food company is to sell food – your pet may need less than you think! The guidelines on a bag of pet food are very rough guidelines, and the amount your pet needs will depend on species, breed, activity level, age, and even type of food! Your veterinarian can help determine the right amount of food for your pet.
  • Be mindful of treats and snacks! Treats are great for training, helping our companions through stressful situations like vet visits or large crowds, or just staying busy when company is over, but as their guardians we need to remember that those treats contribute to their total number of calories in a day. Some treats, like bully sticks, are surprisingly high in calories! Try to stick with healthier options like carrots or apple slices or even pieces of your pet’s regular food when possible, and save the higher value, higher calorie things for when you really need them.
  • Make sure your pet gets plenty of exercise! This is good for you too! Just poking around in the back yard or laying in a sun beam aren’t enough for most companion animals. Your dog needs to go for regular walks, and your cat should have several opportunities throughout the day for vigorous play, to keep their bodies moving and healthy. Pets who experience chronic pain from arthritis or old injuries may not want to stay active – managing their pain with pain relievers, cbd products, massage, and acupuncture can help make sure they get moving!

If your pet is already pushing the higher end of the scale, you may need to take some additional steps to reverse the weight gain. For many pets, decreasing food and treats and increasing exercise is sufficient. Regularly checking your pet’s weight will help to track your progress. Some pets can have complicating factors, such as a genetic predisposition to weight gain, thyroid issues, or necessary medications that can contribute to weight gain. For these pets, you will need to formulate a plan with your veterinarian that will help meet all of your companion’s needs.

How about you – could your pet stand to lose a few pounds? Do you have any tricks or tips to share? Let us know in the comments!

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