How to Keep Your Dog or Cat at Its Correct Weight

Three Methods:Analyzing Your Pet’s WeightHelping Your Obese PetHelping Your Underweight Pet

Obesity in pets is the biggest problem facing dogs and cats these days. Just like their human counterparts, obese pets are much more common than underweight pets, although that occurs as well. Neither extreme is desirable.[1] Whether your pet is obese or underweight, there are some things you as the owner can do to help your pet achieve a desirable weight.

Method 1
Analyzing Your Pet’s Weight

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    Know the issues related to obesity. The first step in combating pet obesity is to make sure your pet is not suffering from a medical illness that either contributes to obesity or is a complication from being overweight. In dogs and rarely in cats, hypothyroidism, or low thyroid hormone levels, can cause a pet to gain weight. Hypothyroidism can also cause a dog’s hair to thin or fall out in patches. The dog may also become less playful and energetic.
    • Increased secretion of hormones from the adrenal glands or from an insulin secreting tumor can also cause obesity. But by far the most common cause of obesity is eating too much food without an increase in exercise to compensate.[2]
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    Look for underweight issues. Pets can become underweight for a variety of reasons, including problems with the intestines, stomach, pancreas, or liver. Hyperthyroidism in cats leads to over secretion of thyroid hormone, which can also cause your pet to be underweight. Being underweight can also be caused by intestinal parasites, especially in young animals, as well as infections or tumors.
    • Intestinal problems and internal parasites can also cause vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. Hyperthyroidism can make a cat ravenous and have very loose stools. Infections and tumors can cause a variety of symptoms, including fever, loss of appetite and energy, or occasionally no specific symptoms.[3]
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    Know the complications of weight problems. Diabetes is a severe consequence of obesity in pets just as with humans. An animal with diabetes can lose weight rapidly, urinate more frequency and in larger volumes, have an increase in thirst, and be more susceptible to infections, especially urinary tract infections.[4]
    • Extra body weight can also stress the bones and joints in the body, leading to arthritis. It can also harm internal organs leading to a decrease in lifespan for the overweight pet.
    • Being underweight can make a pet more susceptible to infectious illnesses. Young animals that are underweight due to parasites can have intestinal problems well into adulthood and after the parasites are destroyed.[5]
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    Determine your pet’s weight status. You will first want to determine if your pet is obese, underweight, or at her ideal weight. Your veterinarian is your best source to help you to determine this. The vet can also point you in the right direction for a suitable diet to help your pet gain or lose weight safely. If you want to try to figure it out at home, you can determine it based on a condition score. Because of the vast variety in dog breeds, and to a small extent cat breeds, there is a wide variation in what is normal taking account the pet’s age, frame size and breed. To find a body condition score for your dog and cat, you need to do a physical examination. The condition is rated on a scale from 1 through 5 as follows:
    • 1. Emaciated: Ribs, spine, bony parts of the body are plainly visible. Little muscle mass. No body fat.
    • 2. Thin: Ribs are easy to feel, bony parts of the body are visible. Abdomen (waist) is “tucked up” from the side and “sucked in” from the top view. Little body fat.
    • 3. Ideal: Ribs are felt with a little body fat between the ribs. The abdomen is “tucked up” from the side. Good muscle mass.
    • 4. Overweight: Ribs are felt with more fat covering. Abdomen tuck is present, but not as discernible.
    • 5. Obese: Ribs are covered in a heavy layer of fat. Abdomen is rounded. Has fat around the neck, limbs, and tail.[6]

Method 2
Helping Your Obese Pet

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    Do weekly weigh ins. Once you have determined your pet’s body condition score, you can help your dog or cat to lose, gain, or maintain her weight. As you work with your pet, you need to do weekly weigh ins to track your progress. Keeping track of your pets progress through weekly weigh-ins is a great way to keep you on track and moving toward your pet’s weight goal.
    • It might be hard to weigh your cat. Do the best you can with the scale you have.
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    Walk or run your pets. One of the best ways to help your pet lose weight is to help her get more exercise. Walk your pets daily. Most dogs exercise at least 30 to 60 minutes of exercise daily. Smaller dogs need 10 to 30 minutes daily. It is complicated to walk a cat, but you want attempt to get her to walk around the yard or house with you or play running games with your cat for 10 to 30 minutes each day.
    • You can also train your dog on a treadmill if you don’t have a great place to walk her or if it is too cold or rainy outside to walk every day.[7]
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    Vary the activity. Just walking it great, but as your pet gets stronger, you should vary the intensity and variety of exercise daily. What kind of exercise you choose will depend on the type and size of pet you have. Cats love toys like feathers on a string or laser pointers. Plus these give you good interaction with your cat. Obese dogs may need a more gradual start up in exercise, especially older dogs. Leash walks on cool mornings are an excellent starting points. Even if your dog can only walk a few blocks at first, that is a start.
    • Always ask your veterinarian how much exercise your dog or cat can tolerate.[8]
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    Change the way you feed your pet. One of the main reasons that pets become obese is that they eat too much. Feed your pet the recommend amount of food daily as recommended by your veterinarian. If you feed your pet twice a day or more, split the recommended amount of food between the feedings. Use a measuring cup to actually measure out the exact amount of food.
    • Don’t feed your pet table scraps. Your dog or cat needs fewer calories than you expect. Feeding pets from the table or feeding leftovers can unbalance a pets' diet quickly. Most human food is typically too high in fats, salts, and sugars for pets.
    • Talk to your vet about cutting down on how much you feed your pet. Some vets suggest cutting the amount of food your pet gets every day by a third from where she starts. This will reduce her food intake and should help you lose weight.[9]
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    Prevent overeating. Your pet may be obese due to overeating. Some cats and dogs are simply gobblers and always want to eat. Try feeding your pet a few bites several times a day to get her into healthy eating habits. Once she stops begging between the frequent meals, slowly increase the amount of food at each meal and decrease the amount of meals. Eventually, your problem should be solved and you'll have a nibbler that doesn't overeat.
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    Limit treats for dogs. If you feed your dog treats, be sure to include this as part of the diet daily calories. Feeding treats can be overdone. Feed low calorie healthy treats to your pet, either commercially prepared dog treats, carrots, apple slices, or green beans. Also try saving some of your dog's dry food and give it as treats. If your dog likes carrots, frozen peas, apples, or other vegetables, give these as low fat, high fiber treats.
    • Instead of handling a treat to your healthy dog, toss it a distance from you so the dog is encouraged to trot across the room or down the hall to get the treat. Add a phrase like "go far" as you toss the treat. Most dogs will soon learn to start the walk as you say the command and getting treats will become additional exercise.
    • You can also start rewarding your pet with play or a training session instead of a treat.
    • If you have a cat, limit the amount of treats you feed her as well. Alternate treats that are healthier can be lean chicken or tuna.[10]

Method 3
Helping Your Underweight Pet

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    Increase food intake. If your pet is underweight, increase her food calories to help her gain weight. One simple way to do so is to add an extra feeding. You want to be cautious in feeding only one very large meal a day, especially in large breed dogs.
    • Some pets are prone to bloat after eating a large meal, which can cause an emergency condition. Watch your pet for this condition and call an emergency vet right away if your dog seems in distress.[11]
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    Change the food. Feeding the same food to your pet might not help your pet gain weight. You may find that you might need to switch to a better, more premium brand of food. It also might be beneficial to change to a different type of food ingredient in the food, such as from a chicken based food to a lamb based food. It might also be helpful to switch from strict dry food to a wet food or mixture of both to help increase her food intake as well.
    • When you are looking for new food, look for a higher fat and protein food. Typically, these will be 18% for fat and 28 to 30% for protein.
    • Your underweight pet may gain weight healthier and faster if you feed her a higher fat food. This is because fat has more calories per gram than protein or carbohydrates does.[12]
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    Add additional fat to food. Another way to help your pet gain weight is to supplement your pet’s diet with tasty and easily handled food. This can include a scrambled egg cooked in butter, a teaspoon or two of peanut butter, or a teaspoon of cooking oil to her food. These foods can be added to the food once a day at first. If you have a larger dog, you can add these to the food two or three times a day.
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    Keep the diet balanced. Dogs and cats need a well-balanced supply of vitamins and minerals with their food. Most good quality commercial dog and cat foods are balanced to meet all nutritional needs of your pet. Check the ingredient’s label on the pet food containers for multiple brands. Good foods will have meat as the top ingredients. Meat by-products, if listed, should be near the bottom of the ingredient list. Grains and vegetables are all generally used in dog foods and some cats foods.
    • If your dog or cat has a medical condition, it is best to seek the advice of your veterinarian to make sure your pet has the best food for its health.
    • If you feed your pet a homemade diet, carefully balance the ingredients to make a balanced diet. Consult a veterinary nutritionist to create a balanced menu for your pet. It is extremely hard to make a balanced homemade diet for a cat, so only do so with professional help.
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    Talk to your vet. Although young dogs and cats can be overweight or underweight, any dietary changes should be discussed with your veterinarian. Large to giant breed puppies need carefully planned diets so their bones grow properly. Also, elderly pets need to be under a veterinarian’s care if any dietary or weight changes are needed.


  • Playing with your pet is a great way to get exercise and bond with your pet.
  • If you have more than one animal, consider feeding them at different times or in different rooms. This will prevent hoarding, fighting over food, and over or under eating.
  • Some animals can be free fed with dry food available all the time, while others will need regulation on food intake. If your pet begins to gain weight with food available all of time, then do not free feed.
  • Make sure your pet has a fresh, clean bowl of water available to drink at all times. Use stainless steel, not plastic, as some animals can have an allergic reaction to plastic and stainless steel is easier to get clean.

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Categories: Cats | Dogs