Nutrition and Weight Management

Grant & BindiObesity is one of the most common diseases in both dogs and cats. It is currently estimated that 40% of dogs and 30% of cats in Australia are overweight.

An animal is considered overweight when it exceeds its ideal body weight by >15%. Successful weight management needs to incorporate diet, exercise and the relationship between the pet and owner.



What are the benefits of weight loss?

Keeping your pet’s weight within a healthy range will:

* Increase life expectancy and improve overall health.

* Reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, liver disease and other weight related conditions. Overweight animals are predisposed to conditions including pancreatitis, respiratory, urinary and skin problems.

* Reduce the risk of orthopedic diseases including osteoarthritis, cranial cruciate ligament rupture and intervertebral disc disease.

* Help to manage arthritic pain, which is very important in older animals.

Risk Factors for Obesity:

(i) Breed: Dog breeds that have a higher risk for developing obesity include Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, Collies, Pugs and Beagles. Cat breeds include domestic shorthairs and cross-breeds.

(ii) Age: Middle aged cats and dogs have a higher risk of being overweight.

(iii) Neutering: In both dogs and cats, neutering increases the frequency of obesity. This increase may be due to a combination of factors, including a decrease in activity level and an increase of food intake due to changing hormone concentrations.

(iv) Gender: male cats and female dogs are more likely to become overweight.

(v) Feeding frequency: Pets fed only one meal per day are more likely to be overweight.

(vi) Environment: Indoor cats are more at risk of obesity.

What to include in a Weight Loss Program?
1. Determine the ideal body weight for your pet and calculate their daily caloric requirements

The ideal body weight will vary depending on the individual pet. Please speak to your vet to determine the ideal weight for your animal.

The diagram below demonstrates an easy method to determine if your dog or cat is overweight. The caloric intake suitable for your pet needs to consider their maintenance energy requirements.


Figure 1: Body condition score, obtained from Hill’s Science Diet.

2. Select an appropriate diet
There are several commercial diets available that can help your pet to lose weight. Some examples include Hill’s Science Diet Metabolic or Royal Canin Satiety, available for both dogs and cats. These diets are complete and balanced so your pet will be getting all the essential nutrients it requires.

The basis for most weight loss diets is high protein and high fibre to maintain muscle mass and facilitate weight loss. Make sure when you change your pet onto any new food, do this gradually over 5-7 days by mixing it with the original kibble. This will help to avoid any gastrointestinal upset.



3. Feeding frequency and treats
Feeding your pet multiple small meals throughout the day rather than one large meal will help with weight control and they won’t be as ravenous for their night time meal.

When feeding for weight loss, treats and snacks should be eliminated. Once your dog has achieved its ideal weight, treats and snacks should only make up around 10% of their daily caloric intake. If treats are to be given, then low-calorie snacks such as vegetables (broccoli, carrots, pumpkin, etc.), ice cubes and home-made low-fat biscuits can be given.

Avoid giving any scraps from the dinner table as these are often high in fat and will encourage begging behaviour.

4. Exercise and other activities
Combining exercise with correct nutrition is the best way to achieve sustainable weight loss. The type of exercise you choose for your pet needs to consider their level of mobility, weight and age.

Please come and talk with us and we can discuss the most appropriate types of activities to do with your dog. These can include walking, Frisbee or ball throwing, jogging or swimming. When walking your dog, make sure to change the route that you take to provide environmental enrichment. Swimming is a great activity for less mobile dogs as it is a lower impact form of exercise and causes less stress on the joints. Increasing your pet’s exercise levels will also help you to become fitter!

To increase your cat’s level of activity, introducing scratching posts, laser games, moving food bowls around the house to encourage ‘hunting’ and feeding toys are a great start.

Feeding toys are a great tool to incorporate into a weight loss program. In addition to assisting weight loss, they play a crucial role in reducing boredom related behaviours such as barking, destroying furniture and more importantly, begging behaviour. By increasing the time it takes for your pet to finish its meal, this will enable the brain to register that the animal feels full and to decrease their desire for more food. Products such as Kong ‘wobblers’, Maze bowls and Puzzle feeders are all great products. They can be purchased from most vet clinics and pet stores, and home-made versions can be just as successful.

dog slow downcat wobbler

5. Monitor weight loss
Weigh your pet weekly to ensure they are losing an appropriate amount of weight. It’s great to take a photo at the start of their weight loss journey so you can see how far they’ve come.

dog before and after cat before and after

If you are experiencing insufficient weight loss, double check that no one in the house is sneaking any treats to your pet. Consistency is the key and ensuring your pet only eats their allocated portion of kibble will be the best approach for successful weight loss.

Take care with cats as they can develop a condition called hepatic lipidosis if they lose weight too quickly. Ensure you provide them a sufficient amount of kibble daily and do not drastically reduce their portions. Cats should lose around 1-3% of body weight per week as a rough guide. Monitor their feed intake and watch for any signs of lethargy, vomiting or diarrhea.


By ensuring your dog or cat is maintained within a healthy weight range, this can improve their quality of life and reduce the risk of obesity related diseases. If you have any questions or would like us to design a weight loss program specifically for your pet please come in and see us. We would be happy to help!

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