Because of the high prevalence of overweight pets and the health risks associated with excess body fat (BF), prevention efforts used by the entire veterinary team may positively impact pet health. The most appropriate time for weight management and intervention is prior to weight gain and the subsequent development of clinical disease. Maintenance of a healthy weight should begin with the first veterinary visit including recommendations for the following:
- Puppy and kitten feeding
- Evaluating body condition score (BCS) and how to adjust feeding when BCS changes are noted at home, particularly after either spaying or neutering21
- Maintaining an ideal adult weight
- Maintaining exercise and activity
- Behavior training using interactive rewards as alternatives to food
- Educating clients about the limitations of pet food labels and label feeding recommendations
Monitor weight trends and proactively address weight gain early at any BCS above the ideal. Adverse subclinical consequences such as low-grade chronic inflammation are the most difficult to perceive as a health issue, yet before clinical signs are evident is the most appropriate time for medical intervention
Puppies and kittens must consume food that meets their requirements for growth to ensure adequate intake of critical nutrients, such as protein, calcium, and phosphorus, until they have completed skeletal growth.22 Instruct clients to monitor puppies’ and kittens’ BCS q 2 wk. At the time of either spaying or neutering, there may be an increase in the pet’s appetite but a decrease in its caloric needs.23–25There should be nutritional assessment at regular intervals postgonadectomy. If the growing pet has a BCS higher than ideal, switch to a lower calorie puppy or kitten food, eliminate other sources of calories, and emphasize exercise and environmental enrichment. Either changing to an adult food or weight-loss food before skeletal maturity is complete is not recommended as that may not meet nutritional requirements for growth.
Seasonal changes may affect both activity and appetite.26 Temperature extremes often limit outdoor activities and decrease daily caloric expenditure. Educate clients about diet and feeding management adjustments that are necessary when energy expenditure changes to avoid repeated cycles of weight gain and weight loss.
Weight monitoring and prevention of weight gain is particularly important for dogs prone to obesity (e.g., Newfoundlands, dachshunds, cocker spaniels, or any dog with low energy expenditure) and cats housed mostly indoors with minimal activity.4,27–29
Aging also affects metabolic rate and activity level.30–32 Nutritional reassessment at yearly exams will help to identify and address weight gain as pets age. The greatest prevalence of obesity has been identified in dogs and cats between the ages of 5 yr and 12 yr, so that age group may benefit from increased vigilance and perhaps a diet change to a less calorie-dense food.