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9 things you should know about AAHA’s Weight Management Guidelines

When it comes to our pets, we tend to think “food is love.” Unfortunately, there can definitely be too much of a good thing. In fact, pet obesity is now an epidemic in America—up to 59% of dogs and cats are overweight. This is a dangerous trend because weight problems can lead to a host of health issues, including high blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes, heart and respiratory disease, kidney dysfunction, joint injury, and some types of cancer. Basically, the skinny on pets is this: If they’re a healthy weight, they’ll be much healthier, have more energy, and live longer.

Because weight management is such an essential part of every pet’s healthcare, AAHA worked with veterinary experts to create the Weight Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats.

Here's what you need to know:

  1. Looks can be deceiving. There are so many overweight and obese dogs and cats in America that many people no longer know what a normal weight looks like, so they may not realize they actually have a pudgy pooch or fat cat. One study showed that among clients with dogs defined as “overweight” by a veterinarian, 39% thought their pet was at an acceptable weight.
     
  2. Trust your veterinarian’s opinion. Your veterinarian is trained to know when a dog or cat is overweight, and can evaluate your pet’s body condition score (BCS) and muscle condition score (MCS) to determine what constitutes a healthy weight.
     
  3. Weight loss is about more than dieting. If your pet needs to lose a few pounds, your veterinary team will develop an overall approach that may include caloric restriction as well as exercise and behavior modification.
     
  4. Nutrition is key. Your pet’s body craves proper nutrition to thrive, so your veterinarian will use the AAHA Nutritional Assessment Guidelines to make sure your dog or cat gets all the nutrients she needs.
     
  5. Weight management is a lifelong process. At each visit, your veterinary team will assess and record your pet’s weight to help her stay on track at every age. They’ll also note changes in season since temperature extremes can limit outdoor activities and decrease how many calories get burned.
     
  6. It’s personal. Your veterinarian will consider your pet’s lifestyle, metabolism, species/breed, feeding schedule, and environment to create a weight management plan for her specific needs. If your pet needs to lose weight, your veterinarian will develop an effective program to provide a consistent and healthy rate of weight loss. (Note: It can be dangerous for a pet to lose too much weight too quickly.)
     
  7. Treats should compose no more than 10% of your pet’s total daily calories. This includes table scraps of “human food.” Otherwise, your pet is at risk for nutritional imbalance. Begging is attention-seeking behavior—not nutritional or hunger-related—when following a diet regimen recommended by your veterinarian.
     
  8. Reward good behavior with interaction. Treats are a traditional favorite for training food-motivated pets, but play and praise are also terrific rewards. Indoor cats should enjoy hunting and stalking simulations, which help promote physical activity and mental stimulation.
     
  9. Home management is vital for weight control. Your dog or cat can’t open the refrigerator to cheat on their diet, or decide when or how often to exercise. Your veterinarian can help you develop a plan to keep your pet healthy and fit, but when it comes to following through, it’s all up to you. The effort will be worth it and ultimately strengthen your bond with your pet.

What to ask your veterinarian about weight management:

  • Is my pet a healthy weight?
  • What is my pet’s ideal weight?
  • What is my pet’s body condition score (BCS)?
  • Other people in my family feed my pet, not just me. How can I take that into account when it’s my turn to feed her?
  • Are sugar-free foods safe to feed my pet?
  • Should I just feed my pet whatever the label on the bag or can suggests?
  • My pet isn’t fat—do I need to worry about her weight?
  • What can I do to help control my pet’s weight?
  • Is it OK to feed my dog table scraps when he gives me the “puppy dog eyes”?
  • How can I help my pet lose weight?
  • I swear, I barely feed her anything and yet she’s still gaining weight. What’s up?
  • I lost a lot of weight on a low-carb, high-protein diet. Is that an option for my pet?
  • How can I reward my pet for good behavior without giving too many treats?
  • Are there low-calorie snacks you can recommend?
  • How can I help my cat get more exercise?
  • Are there fun ways that my pet and I can stay fit together?

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These guidelines were supported by an educational grant from Hill’s Pet Nutrition and Zoetis.

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