With the holidays over many of us are feeling the effects of all the food we consumed, and our pets may also have gained weight during the holidays. Obesity is the most frequently encountered nutritional problem in veterinary medicine. An animal is considered obese when it is 10 to 15 percent above its ideal weight. Weight gain occurs when caloric intake (food consumption) exceeds caloric expenditure (exercise and activity).

There are several ways to determine whether your pet is overweight. One is by palpating the tissue overlying the ribs. You should be able to feel the ribs right under the skin with a very small amount of fat in between. You can also look down at your pet’s body from above. There should be a definite waistline just behind the ribs. Third, look at your pet from the side. The abdomen should be tucked rather than pendulous or sagging.

You should check your pet’s body condition periodically and ask yourself these three questions:

  1. how easy is it to feel the ribs?
  2. is there a visible waist?
  3. is the belly tucked or pendulous?

Your veterinarian evaluates these three parameters and then assigns a Body Condition Score (BCS) to each animal examined. The BCS is based on a scale of 1 to 9, with 1 being emaciated, 5 ideal and 9 obese. For large breed dogs prone to joint disease, a 4 out of 9 is preferred. If you are not sure how to rate your pet’s BCS, ask your veterinarian.

Just as in people, obesity in animals can lead to a number of serious medical conditions, such as arthritis and joint disease, diabetes, respiratory problems, intolerance to hot weather, increased anesthetic risk, general discomfort and a shorter lifespan. A comprehensive scientific study done a few years ago concluded that dogs who are on the leaner side (BCS 4 or 5/9) live 1 to 2 years longer than dogs who are overweight.

Should a reduction of your pet’s body weight be in order, consult with your veterinarian to establish a weight loss program. She will set a weight loss goal, a schedule for weight loss, and may recommend a specific diet. Mild to moderate exercise should be encouraged, and can be increased progressively to support the weight loss goals.

If you don’t already do so, you should carefully measure the amount of food being fed at each meal. It is best to feed two meals per day rather than free-feeding. If you have not had success by decreasing the volume of food your pet eats, you may want to consider switching to a prescription reducing diet. These diets are higher in fiber content and less concentrated in calories, allowing for larger portions to satisfy your pet’s hunger.

While on a weight loss program it is important to have your pet’s weight checked regularly as caloric adjustments may be needed along the way.

A successful weight loss program will be greatly rewarding for you and your pet. And, having your veterinarian involved will help ensure that it is done right!