Research in humans has shown that combining caloric reduction with exercise offers the best chance of successful and sustainable weight loss.57,58 Physical activity provides several potential benefits including preservation of lean muscle mass, increased caloric expenditure, and promotion of behaviors that aid in sustainable weight loss.59 Although evidence that exercise will enhance weight loss outcomes in pets is preliminary, data from humans suggests that increased activity could have a positive impact on weight loss in pets.40,60
Physical activity differs between dogs and cats. Assess and discuss with the client any pet and/or client physical limitations, client schedule, expectations and goals, possibilities, and limitations (e.g., pet sitter/daycare availability, activity options, adverse weather conditions).
Assess any comorbidities that may affect tolerance and timing of implementation of a physical activity program. Once a patient is deemed healthy enough to undergo an exercise program, design a plan based on endurance, intensity, and type of exercise. For pets with limited mobility, consider either low-impact exercise alternatives (such as swimming) or consultation with a rehabilitation therapist.
Factors to consider when formulating a plan include who will be involved (e.g., client, veterinarian, rehabilitation therapist, referral) and documenting activity (i.e., time, intensity, caloric expenditure, etc.). Use that information along with weight change to adjust the feeding and/or exercise plan as needed.
Evidence is lacking to describe an ideal exercise program for dogs. With the exception of walking, caloric expenditures for various forms of exercise in pets is largely undocumented. One approach for an obese dog with no orthopedic restrictions is to start with a 5 min walk three times/day, if possible. Increase gradually until either the client’s or pet’s limit is reached or once a total of 30–45 min of walking/day has been achieved.57
In general, most dogs expend about 1.1 kcal/kg/km at a brisk walking pace of 10–10.5 min/km.61,62 A 45 kg dog will burn about 240 calories after 4.82 km at that pace. Walking at a slower pace also has health benefits, although the benefits are difficult to quantify because of lack of current research. Use the above-described estimates to calculate suggested exercise by either duration or distance and incorporate that into the weight-loss plan. Without similar guidelines for other types of exercise, documentation of activity combined with more frequent weight monitoring may aid evaluation of other exercise protocols.
Introducing physical activity in cats can be challenging. Recommendations focus on environmental enrichment to encourage activity and modify behavior as summarized in Table 3. Hunting and stalking simulations may help motivate physical activity in cats. Sources of further enrichment ideas and activities are available and have been summarized in Table 4.63
Issues impeding/preventing weight loss and possible solutions
|Misbehavior (trash raiding)||
|Multipet household with food sharing/ stealing||
|Pet doesn’t accept new diet||
|Weight loss plateau||
|Client frustration and fatigue||
|Client resists new diet choice||
|Nonadherent/ noncompliant household members||
BW, body weight.
Websites for additional information
|Website||Information on website|
|American Animal Hospital Association||Nutritional assessment guidelines; canine and feline life stage guidelines; nutritional assessment tools.|
|American Association of Feline Practitioners||Feline life stage guidelines; feline behavior guidelines; feline environmental needs guidelines; environmental enrichment tips.|
|American Veterinary Medical Association||Client brochures, other resources|
|Association for Pet Obesity Prevention||Weight loss tools, pet food information.|
|Association of American Feed Control||General information about pet food label regulations and review checklist including specific term definitions for weight management and calorie claims|
|Catalyst Council||List of links and resources, including environmental enrichment and exercise ideas for vets and cat owners.|
|Indoor Pet Initiative||Indoor pet initiative to increase environmental enrichment.|
|Partnership for Healthy Pets||PHP provides tools and resources that help communicate the value and benefit of preventive care, enhance the veterinary client relationship, and improve the overall quality of preventive healthcare provided for patients.|
|Pet Nutrition Alliance||Comprehensive nonbranded site providing tools and nutrition resources for health care professionals and clients|
|World Small Animal Veterinary Association||Nutrition toolkit; simple and extended diet history form template; pet food selection handout, including how to select a pet food.|