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Q: I have a 4 year old female Labrador retriever who weighs 85 lbs.  My veterinarian told me she is overweight and needs to lose over 10 lbs.  What suggestions do you have to help her lose weight?

A: Your Labrador is not alone. More of our pets are becoming overweight or obese.  A recent veterinary survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found that 53% of adult dogs and 55% of cats were classified as overweight or obese by their veterinarian.  Unfortunately, pet owners may not be aware that their pet is overweight nor may they realize the potential health consequences. Pet obesity is associated with several serious and debilitating health conditions including osteoarthritis and diabetes mellitus. It has been shown that overweight dogs have a decreased life span when compared to dogs who maintain a lean body condition.  Reducing weight in overweight arthritic dogs improves mobility. It’s never too late to help your pet achieve a healthy weight.

You have a very good veterinarian who identified this important health condition.  For readers who are unsure if their pet is at an optimal weight, I would encourage you to ask your veterinarian. Your pet should have a waist that can either be seen or felt when viewed from above and you should be able feel her ribs with just a slight fat covering. Find out what your pet weighed last year to see if she has gained weight.  One tip that will help with your dog’s weight loss plan is to determine how many calories she is currently eating.  If you are not already doing so, measure the amount of pet food you are feeding.  You can contact the manufacturer to find out how many calories are in a cup or can of her food.  Treats, chews, and table foods are often a major source of extra calories. All foods have calories and need to be counted in a weight loss plan.  Pet food manufacturers can tell you how many calories are in the treats and rawhide chews that you might be feeding.  The amount of calories in table foods can either be found on the package or researched on-line. As a general guideline, treats, chews, and table foods should not comprise more than 10% of your pet’s total daily calorie intake.  Therefore feeding lower calorie treats such as green beans rather than higher calorie fatty meats or rawhides may help.  Also, give more “non-food” rewards such as a scratch on the head or a quick game of fetch so that the majority of your interactions are not food focused.  Ask your veterinarian to recommend a complete and balanced food that is formulated for weight loss. These diets are specially formulated to deliver all the nutrition your pet needs while consuming fewer calories. Many also have certain nutrients that can help you pet feel full while losing weight.  It’s very important that cats do not lose weight too quickly or they may develop a very serious condition called hepatic lipidosis, so ask your veterinarian for guidance regarding feeding amounts.  The key to successful weight loss is monitoring.  Weigh your pet every 2-4 weeks to make sure she is losing at an appropriate rate.  The amount of calories your individual pet needs to lose weight may be very different from another pet, so the feeding amount will vary from pet to pet.  Your veterinarian can help you develop an appropriate plan for your pet.

Low impact exercise such as walking or swimming can be a great way to burn calories, but ask your veterinarian if you pet has any conditions that might restrict the amount or type of exercise.  Cats may enjoy playing with you by chasing a laser pointer or using an interactive feeding toy so that they can “hunt” for their food.

Helping your pet achieve a healthy weight is one of the most important things you can do for her overall health.  As with diet plans in people, it takes some commitment and determination, but the rewards are well worth the effort. Work with your veterinarian to tailor a plan that will be successful for your pet.

[doctor name = “Laura Eirmann”]