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Introduction

Up to 59% of dogs and cats are overweight, making this the most common nutritional disorder identified in veterinary practice.1–3,4 Excess weight can reduce longevity and adversely affect quality of life.5–7 The hormones and inflammatory cytokines released by excess adipose tissue lead to a state of chronic inflammation, the impact of which is not completely understood at this time.8,9 Excess weight is associated with skin and respiratory disorders, renal dysfunction, and it increases the risk of metabolic and endocrine disorders (e.g., diabetes), orthopedic disease, and some types of cancer.7,10–19

Weight management, including obesity prevention and treatment, remains a challenge for veterinarians and clients alike. Among clients with dogs defined as “overweight” by the veterinarian, one study showed that 39% of the clients thought that their dogs were at an acceptable weight.20 Those clients are unlikely to be aware of the negative impact excess weight has on their pets’ health. Additionally, some veterinarians struggle to find a tactful and effective way to discuss the impact of obesity and importance of weight loss.

The goals of these guidelines for dogs and cats are to raise awareness of the negative health consequences of excess weight, promote the prevention of excess weight, and offer guidelines and tools for the management of weight loss and long-term maintenance of healthy weight. Although “weight management” may also include dogs and cats that are underweight due to lifestyle or medical causes, management of such cases can be complex and is beyond the scope of this document.

An effective individualized weight loss program provides a consistent and healthy rate of weight loss to reduce risk of disease, prevent malnutrition, and improve quality of life. Weight loss is achieved with appropriate caloric restriction, diet selection, exercise, and strategies to help modify the behavior of both the pet and client. The success of any program depends on partnering with clients to set expectations, promote client compliance and treatment adherence (compliance and adherence describe the degree to which the client correctly implements medical advice and continues an agreed-on mode of treatment), and overcome challenges presented by each pet.

From the Countryside Veterinary Hospital, Chelmsford, MA (D.B.); College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN (J.C.); Tender Touch Animal Hospital, Denver, CO (K.F.); Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, North Grafton, MA (D.L.); School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA (K.M.); Hearthstone Homemade Program for Dogs, Claremont, CA (K.T.); Seaside Animal Care, Calabash, NC (E.W.); and Veterinary Medical Center, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN (A.W.).

Correspondence: Deborah.Linder@tufts.edu (D.L.)

AAFCO American Association of Feed Control Officials; BCS body condition score; BF body fat; BW body weight; MCS muscle condition score; RER resting energy requirement; OTC over-the-counter *The authors specifically requested that they not be told the identity of the sponsors until the document was completed.

†These guidelines were developed by a panel of experts to help the practicing veterinarian raise awareness of the negative health consequences of excess weight, promote the prevention of excess weight, and offer suggestions and tools for the management of weight loss and long-term maintenance of healthy weight. This document is intended as a guideline only. Evidence-based support for specific recommendations is cited whenever possible and appropriate. These guidelines were sponsored by a generous educational grant from Hill’s Pet Nutrition and Zoetis.

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