Why It Matters If Your Pet Is Overweight—And How to Help Them Get Fit
As the host of Animal Planet’s My Big Fat Pet Makeover, celebrity dog trainer Travis Brorsen has helped the owners of all kinds of husky animals, from a morbidly obese Chihuahua to an overweight potbellied pig. We asked Brorsen for his best tips to keep pets at a healthy weight.
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, more than half of American dogs and cats are overweight or obese. Is this true? What’s happening?
One of the biggest problems is owners is trying to show love through food. Guilt is another factor. You work all day, you come home, you’re too tired to exercise. Oh, but my dog wants food and it makes me feel good to give them food and it looks likes they’re happy.
What kind of health issues do I need to worry about?
Osteoarthritis and joint issues for sure, because pets’ bodies aren’t built to carry that extra weight. It’s also definitely a cause of liver disease and diabetes. One of the biggest issues is an increased risk of developing cancerous tumors.
It could potentially be life or death. A healthy-weight pet will live up to two years longer than an overweight or obese pet.
How can I find out whether my pet is just a little big, or actually overweight?
Ask your vet what your pet should weigh. If your pet is borderline overweight, the vet may not say anything unless you ask. And use the Body Condition Score (link to a .pdf here). It’s typically set on a scale of 1 to 10, and 5 is ideal. If you place your hands on the sides of your pet without pressing in, you should be able to feel that ribs exist. But when you step away, you shouldn’t be able to see ribs.
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What should I do if my pet is overweight?
Your vet needs to rule out any underlying medical conditions. Once you can rule those out, then you really get down to the nuts and bolts.
Get eating guidelines from your veterinarian that match your pet’s ideal weight. And that includes total food — treats, food, and snacks. A lot of my clients use a little Tupperware container. At the beginning of every day, one person fills that container with the food and/or treats that their dog can have that day. Say you have two or three kids, a spouse, a nanny, a housekeeper — if they want to give the dog something, it comes out of that container and when that container is empty, it’s over for the day.
What about exercise?
Taking your dog for a 30-minute walk doesn’t burn as many calories as you think it would. Everybody will say, well you have to increase exercise. But what does that mean? Three 30- to 40-minute walks a day is a great goal. But spending that time with your dog, whether it’s a walk or playing fetch, is quality time. You’re enriching a dog’s life when you spend time with them.
We’ve talked a lot of about dogs. What about cats?
I see more medical issues in overweight cats than I do dogs. A lot of cats that are overweight tend to have a thyroid problem. So that goes back to making sure you get them checked out and treated.
But we do need to get cats moving. On my show we had one cat that loved his food. The mother was there every time he did anything — meowed, rolled over on his back, scratched the door — her answer was food.
So we built them a cat tree. We put the food at the top of the cat tree so the cat at least had to climb up and down the tree to get to his food. We also added a food toy so he had to work for his food. Cats have a huge prey drive, so if you can help them live in that space, they love that. We have to re-create environments that are going to get cats moving.