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AAHA Weight Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats

Though a few extra pounds seem like they can't hurt, obesity can be a life-threatening condition for your pet. Excess weight in pets can lead to osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, heart and respiratory disease, kidney disease, cranial cruciate ligament injury, and many forms of cancer. With obesity is on the rise for both humans and their pets, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has published guidelines for veterinary practitioners to use in managing your pet's weight. 

Why did AAHA develop the Weight Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats?

AAHA developed the weight management guidelines to better combat the rise in pet obesity. Just like with people, maintaining an optimal weight for our pets contributes to a healthier life. This means our pets have more energy, live longer, and participate more fully in the activities they enjoy with you. The guidelines are a resource for veterinarians to raise awareness, educate pet owners, and make it easier to address weight management with patients.

Does my veterinarian follow the weight management guidelines?

Ask her! Most AAHA-accredited veterinary hospitals use AAHA’s guidelines when treating pets. AAHA guidelines are designed by experts for use by veterinary professionals—they are recognized as the cutting edge of veterinary medicine, keeping veterinary professionals up to date with the latest practices.

How do the weight management guidelines impact me and my pet?

Your veterinarian may follow the weight management guidelines when treating your pet. This means your veterinarian will likely rely on you to take an active role in helping to keep your pet at a healthy weight. Weight management can be very challenging for both veterinarians and clients because it is such a complex condition, which requires individualized and lifelong treatment. There is no simple cause or straight-forward treatment, so it is a situation where veterinarians and pet owners have to work together.

My pet isn’t fat—do I need to worry about his weight?

Actually, up to 59 percent of dogs and cats are overweight, making it the most common nutritional disorder identified in veterinary practice. Your pet may be overweight, but you may not realize it. In one study of pet owners with dogs clinically defined as “overweight,” 30 percent of pet owners thought that their dogs were at an acceptable weight. Carrying a few extra pounds may not sound like a big deal, but it has been shown to be associated with skin and respiratory disorders, as well as renal dysfunction. It also increases the risk of orthopedic disease, some types of cancer, and metabolic and endocrine disorders, such as diabetes.

What can I do to help control my pet’s weight?

Weight management starts with you! The guidelines offer suggestions to help both pet owners and veterinarians manage pets’ weight:

  • Ask your veterinarian for a nutritional recommendation on what type of food is best for your pet given his lifestage and lifestyle considerations.
  • Use interactive rewards (such as chasing a ball, tugging with a toy, etc.) rather than food rewards when training your pet.
  • Your veterinarian should evaluate your pet’s body condition score (BCS) and recommend feeding adjustments as appropriate to your pet’s BCS.
  • Maintain exercise and activity for your pet.
  • Understand the limitations of pet food labels and feeding recommendations.

Weight management is a key part of your pet’s health. Ask your accredited veterinarian how you can work together to keep your pet healthy.

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