Weight Loss Tips for Overweight Pets

It’s the holidays and with the holidays come cookies, candies, extra treats and… weight gain. It happens to all of us but for our pets, it’s a much bigger problem. Is this the year your pet sheds those extra pounds?

With an estimated 41.9 million dogs and 50.5 million cats carrying around too much weight, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, a New Year’s resolution focused around better eating habits is definitely a good place to start.

We asked Dr. Mark Verdino, Senior Vice President and Chief of Veterinary Staff at North Shore Animal League America, for his tips for helping overweight pets lose weight safely.

Weight loss is never easy — for people or pets! — so it’s important to set realistic goals and work with your veterinary to come up with a plan. Read on for more solid advice.

1. Have your veterinarian evaluate your pet’s weight. If you suspect your BFF is carrying around too much weight, have a vet check things out. “Your pet’s doctor will assign your pet a Body Condition Score (BCS). This is a fairly objective measurement of your pet’s weight to size and a good starting point for any weight loss recommendation,” Verdino says. “Unfortunately, most owners do not think that their pets are overweight, even when they are. Nearly 50 percent of all dogs/cats in the US are significantly overweight.”

2. Exercise is key. You know the deal, if you eat too much and don’t exercise enough, your clothing just might feel a little more snug. “Just like in people, weight gain/obesity in pets is due to a combination of too much caloric intake and too little exercise,” Verdino explains. “While the easiest way to get your pet to lose weight is reducing the volume of food provided, getting overweight pets on an appropriate exercise regimen is just as important for their health.” Daily walks, fetch and a kick around with catnip for cats, are all fun ways to stay active.

3. Feed a high quality pet food appropriate for your pet’s life stage. Check labels and do your research—some pet foods are healthier than others. “Puppy/kitten, adult maintenance, and senior formulas have varying calorie densities based on the metabolism changes as pets age,” he says. “If a puppy is eating an adult food, weight gain may be less than ideal while an adult eating a puppy food too long will tend to become overweight.”

4. Watch the volume of food provided and do not always go by the feeding recommendation on the bag/can of food. Ask your vet how much food you should be giving your dog or cat. While recommendations on a bag or can of pet food are a good starting point, Verdino says, these recommendations tend to overfeed most pets, especially if their lifestyle is more sedentary. “Adjust the amount of food provided by whether or not your pet is gaining or losing too much weight or what your pet’s doctor recommends,” he adds.

5. Avoid feeding your pets table food and excessive treats. Stay strong at the dinner table, people! The foods we eat tend to be high calorie items, Verdino says, and if given in addition to their own food, they will dramatically increase the potential for your pet to gain weight. “If owners have a strong desire to give such treats, stick to low calorie options such as green vegetables, like green beans or broccoli,” he says. “Believe it or not, most dogs love them. (For cats, just choose a low calorie treat and limit the volume).”

For more pet weight loss tips, visit the Animal League’s website.

Become an Insider

Amy Jamieson

A former senior editor for People.com, Amy launched People Pets for People magazine in 2008. Now she writes about pets, lifestyle and more from her bucolic saltbox in Collinsville, Connecticut, usually with a cat in her lap and a dog at her feet.