Your Best Friend’s Diet: Healthy Weight for a Healthy Pet
Healthy weight equals a healthy pet.
A devoted pet brings love, laughs and entertainment to your life. You give them your love, and look after their health as you would your own. Your dog, your cat…even your horse and your hedgehog need to watch their weight. As their loving owner, you need to watch it for them. Staying trim is good for both of you.
How do I know if my pet is at a healthy weight?
Doctors and even fitness experts evaluate body weight in humans based on a Body Mass Index (BMI). A healthy BMI is 18.5-24.9. Below 18.5 is underweight and over 25 is too much, with a BMI of 30 or more indicating obesity.
Instead of the BMI, The Global Pet Obesity Initiative recommends that veterinarians score animals on a scale of 1 through 9, with 5 being ideal, below 4 being below ideal weight and over 6 being over ideal weight, or even obese.
What’s the problem with being overweight or underweight?
Whether you or your pet weighs above or below their healthy weight, the downsides are similar. Pets and people that weigh more than they should are at risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, joint problems, and even some forms of cancer. People may develop heart disease; pets, especially those cute little short-faced dogs, can have trouble breathing.
Pets and people that are too thin have different health risks. Any animal that is chronically underweight can be lethargic and lacking in energy. Many will have stomach problems: your horse might colic, your dog might have diarrhea, constipation, or bad gas (yuck!). Over time, other body organs stop working well too.
How did we get here?
One day your pug is a little pudgy, the next day he’s wider than he is long. How did it happen? Pets gain weight for the same reasons people do: more calories coming in than they burn during the day. If you changed jobs and can’t go for long walks with the dog or rides on your horse, or you have a new roommate who spoils your cat with table treats, watch out for that ‘rounded look’. Small dogs and cats don’t need a lot of food, and in these little guys even one pound can make a big difference!
Help your best friend be fit
Tips for bringing your pet to a healthy weight are similar to the ones you use for yourself. Start by talking to a doctor – a physician for you, a veterinarian for your pet. Be honest about their food (is it really 1 cup of dry dog food a day? How big is the cup?) and their exercise. Your veterinarian might recommend a different food, or different ways to give treats, and some dedicated play time. Eating a Milk-Bone® or Greenie® three times a day can be like eating 3 bowls of ice cream a day for you! Try giving a piece of a treat at a time, instead. Replace a quick ‘business trip’ to the yard with an evening walk. Put your hedgehog in an exercise ball and give her the run of the house.
Too-thin pets also need special care to reach a healthy weight. First you need to find out why your pet is underweight: is she sick? A picky eater? Your veterinarian is the expert here; she can treat any underlying sickness and design a diet that your pet will eat. It’s not just a matter of giving more food; feeding a thin pet too much too soon can also make her sick.
Keep your pet’s health in mind and you can keep your pet’s weight right where it should be, so she can bring you all the love in her heart.