Does Your Pet Need to Lose Weight? How to Tell Fit from Fat

Chances are, your dog or cat is at least a little overweight. As Americans have gained weight over the years, so have our pets. The habits people get into that cause weight gain and obesity have been passed on to our pets. We pamper ourselves, we pamper our pets. We sit on the couch watching TV, our pets lounge on our laps. Not that there's anything wrong with pampering and leisure, but too much of a good thing can lead to too much of a bad thing – like fat and lethargy.

Most people who are overweight have pets that are overweight. And although we are very conscious of a few extra pounds on our own bodies, we tend not to be aware of it on our pets. But even an extra pound or two on a dog or cat can put them at risk for certain health conditions and may even contribute to a shortened life span. So call your pet over and check her body condition. Here's how to tell if your pet is fit or fat:

Ideal Dog Body condition

Have your dog stand up and look over him, viewing his back. You should be able to see a nicely defined waist behind the ribs. Look at him from the side. There should be a definite tuck of his tummy. If he's a short-haired dog, you should see an outline of his ribs. (If his ribs are highly visible, he's too thin.) However, if he's sausage shaped, no waistline, he's overweight. See Ideal Dog Body condition diagram.

Ideal Cat Body condition

Have your cat stand up and look over her, viewing her back. She should be sleek, with a slight indication of a waist behind her ribs. You should be able to feel her ribs, which should have a slight fat covering. From the side, her tummy should appear smaller than her chest. If your cat's shape is bowed out at all when viewed from above, or there's no differentiation between her chest and tummy when viewed from the side, she's overweight. See Ideal Cat Body condition diagram.

How to Help Your Pet Lose Weight

So what do you do if your pet is overweight or even obese? It's very important to get your pet back into ideal body condition, to help him feel better and have more energy – and less chance of developing a weight-related health condition. Start with a few common-sense basics:

1. Make sure your pet's food is appropriate for your pet's life stage. If in doubt, ask your veterinarian.

2. Don't just fill your pet's bowl with food. Read the recommended serving amount on the package and measure the food to be sure you're feeding a proper amount. Remember: feed to maintain your pet's ideal body condition.

3. Avoid feeding table scraps, which are usually high in fat and calories.

4. If you give your dog or cat treats throughout the day, reduce the amount you feed at mealtime, to account for the additional calories of the treats.

5. Tie treats to activities – use as rewards and inspiration for play and exercise.

6. Make sure your pet gets enough exercise. Always check with your pet's veterinarian before starting a new and demanding activity with your dog or cat.

Is Your Dog Begging to Become Overweight?

Sometimes dogs gain weight because they ask for it! You may feed your dog more than he needs because he leads you to believe he's ravenously hungry so often. He wolfs down his food and then begs for your food. In fact, he'll never turn down food, and may go hunting for whatever is in the garbage after he's had his fill. That can lead to obesity.

Your dog is not a bottomless pit, and he’s not starving. He's just acting on instinct. In the wild, dogs eat anything they can find, and as much of it as they can eat, because they know it could be days before their next meal. So, you are not causing your dog to suffer hunger pangs when you don't let him have snacks between meals. Just realize, that if he were in the wild, he'd easily live off one meal a day and would be running around hunting all day to obtain it. Your dog's body is actually built for more exercise and less food than his house pet status provides!