New 'AAHA Weight Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats' seek to combat pet obesity

Up to 59 percent of dogs and cats are overweight, making it the most common nutritional disorder identified in veterinary practice. 

Now, the American Animal Hospital Association’s (AAHA) 2014 Weight Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats is offering small animal practitioners guidance in tackling weight problems with their patients.

The guidelines, which were sponsored by an educational grant from Hill’s Pet Nutrition and Zoetis, will be released in the January/February issue of the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association (JAAHA). They will highlight the importance of weight management and are meant to aid in the implementation of successful weight management programs. 

Client communication

The guidelines offer guidance and tools for veterinary professionals to use in addressing weight issues in dogs and cats, including suggestions for communicating with clients about the importance of weight management for their pets.

The guidelines identify the fact that weight management, including obesity prevention and treatment, remains a challenge for both veterinarians and clients. According to a 2011 study about canine obesity published in the Journal of Small Animal Practice, 39 percent of clients with overweight dogs thought that their dogs were at an acceptable weight.

“Weight management can be very challenging for both veterinarians and clients because it is such a complex condition requiring individualized and lifelong treatment,” said Deborah Linder, DVM, DACVN, contributing author and chair of the Weight Management Guidelines Task Force. “There is no one simple cause or one simple treatment, so it is a case where veterinarians and clients have to work together to manage.”

The guidelines note that weight loss programs are impacted by both pet- and client-related factors.

Weight monitoring and prevention of weight gain is particularly important for dogs prone to obesity such as Newfoundlands, dachshunds, cocker spaniels, and indoor cats with minimal activity. The guidelines include steps for prevention of weight gain, and also offer suggestions for designing a weight loss program.

“Maintaining an optimal weight contributes to a healthier life. This may mean our pets have more energy, live longer and participate more fully in the activities they enjoy with their owners,” Linder said. “The guidelines are an actionable resource for veterinarians to raise awareness, educate pet owners and make addressing weight loss with patients at their practice much easier.”

Call to action

While the guidelines offer practitioners tools to aid in managing weight loss, they also call upon the pet food industry to take action.

“The authors feel strongly that the pet food industry must provide standardized and consumer-friendly nutrient profile information with clearer feeding guides on pet food labels to enable veterinary teams and consumers to make informed diet and feeding management choices for pets,” the guidelines conclude.

Though the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) just announced it will require pet food companies to show caloric content on pet food labels, the new requirement is not scheduled to be fully implemented until 2015.

Currently, AAFCO only requires pet food labels to list the brand and product name, the name of the species for which the food is intended, a quantity statement, guaranteed analysis, ingredient statement, nutritional adequacy statement, feeding directions, and the name and manufacturer/distributor.

Additionally, the guidelines identify a lack of information available on calories expended during dog and cat exercise, and note a need for further research to help practitioners develop strategic exercise and weight loss plans for dogs and cats.

Read more

The 2014 Weight Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats from AAHA will be available online starting Jan. 1, 2014. The 2010 Nutritional Assessment Guidelines for Dogs and Cats are also available online.