Obesity Management

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Pet Obesity & Weight Management

As we all review our body shape coming up to the summer holidays, it is a good time to look at our pets in a critical light. Have we let them down by feeding them too much and not walking them enough?

Sadly obesity in pets is as common as it is in the human population: The Australian Veterinary Association reports that 41% of dogs are overweight. While obesity in dogs is more common, rates of obesity in cats is also a problem. 

As with us, the most common reasons are too much food and too little exercise. It is just so easy to "love" our pets by giving them treats or more food, but in so many cases this is not the right thing to do. Obesity is associated with medical problems such as osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance/diabetes, liver disease and increased surgical risk.

It is safe to say that most dogs love their food, but just because they love it, is not a good reason to keep feeding them. Certain breeds are also more keen on their food than others, but we have to be their self-control, because they will just keep eating.

So how do you judge if your pet is overweight?

The important thing is to determine what is the correct weight for your individual dog. There are lots of breed charts around that can give you an idea of what a dog of a particular breed and sex should weigh, but it is a bit like saying how much should a person weigh, without looking at their height or build. 

The starting point is to have a good feel over their rib cage

Can you feel their ribs? If you can't, or have to push the skin to feel them, then your dog is overweight. There is nothing over the rib cage of a dog other than skin and perhaps fat, there are no muscles overlying the ribs, so this is the best place to estimate the layer of fat. 

So now we know that if the ribs are not easily felt, your pet is carrying excess fat. Most dogs should have a "waist" as well - their bodies should taper in behind the rib cage. Some clients ask if their dog has a growth - and yet it is a solid pad of fat on each side.

With cats, it can be a little harder but the same principles apply and don't forget that  we will always be keen to help you judge whether your pet is overweight.

Now if you have worked out that your dog or cat is too fat, a good idea is to get a weight on your pet so you know where you are starting from and can gauge your success.

You can pop in anytime for a free weigh in and we will record the weight for you. Alternatively, you can probably weigh yourself on bathroom scales at home, then pick up the dog and subtract your weight from the total, to get your dog's weight.

So, why do we need to worry about the weight of our pet? The reasons are virtually identical to the hazards of obesity in humans.

The Principal Risks of Obesity

#1. Reduced quality of life and reduced lifespan. We all want our dogs and cats to live as well and as long as possible, so why are we so intent on feeding them too much? It is conclusively shown that obesity sets us and our pets up for higher rates of cancer, and also damages many internal organs like the liver. It also increases anaesthetic risk, should your pet need surgery, 

#2. Increased risks of Arthritis. Many patients, especially elderly animals, have arthritis and their owners ask what wonder drugs do they need. Certainly we have some amazing medicines that can help relieve the signs of arthritis, but without exception, reducing the weight of a pet will make an enormous difference.

#3. Increased risk of acute joint damage. Nature designed dogs to have ligaments and tendons strong enough for their bodies. If the body is too heavy, then the risk of ligament damage is vastly increased. Cruciate ligament injuries are expensive to fix, and are much less likely to rupture in slim dogs.

#4. Diabetes. As in the human population, diabetes is a common and significant result of obesity. When a dog has diabetes its cells cannot absorb sugar from the blood. The cells lose their ability to absorb the blood sugar when they become insulin resistant, as a result of over feeding. The cells need energy to make them work. When the energy giving glucose cannot get into the cells, the dog will tire easily, but it will also be crying out for food, as the cells think they are starving, so the dog will eat more. Too much blood sugar overwhelms the kidneys and it flows into the urine drawing water with it. A diabetic dog urinates away a lot of water, so it is both hungry and thirsty, yet loses weight.

#5. Reduced exercise capacity. Surely one of the greatest joys of having a dog is watching it run fast and free. Overweight dogs are not just carrying more fat on the outside, they have more on the inside, too. Fat will compete with the lungs and heart for space inside the rib cage, and this restricts the lungs ability to fill with air, so it has less capacity to absorb oxygen, slowing it down even more. As well as compressing the lungs, extra fat will compress windpipe and airways and make dogs that have airway challenges struggle to breathe even more. Any heart or lung problems that your dog or cat has, will be made worse by this extra fat.

What can you do if your dog is overweight?

The most important thing is to get the whole family on board. If one family member is surreptitiously feeding your dog, then all your good work will be undone.

How much should you feed your dog? 

There are two simple answers - less than you are feeding at present, and almost certainly, less than the dog food manufacturer recommends. Most of the feeding guides are based on exclusive feeding of that particular diet to an active dog. Most of us give other foods to our dogs and sadly, with all the pressures on our lives, few of us walk our dogs as much as we should.

It is essential to measure your pet's food and then feed it less! We can help you with figuring out the right amount.


Many human foods are completely unsuited to dogs and can cause obesity and other problems like pancreatitis. If you like to prepare home cooked meals, that is fine. Just remember that the things that make us fat are likely to make our pets fat as well. 


The most important thing is to measure the amount you are feeding and stick to the measure. If you like to feed dry food, get a plastic cup and draw a line with a permanent marker on the container, and stick to that measure so you can gauge results. 


Regardless of what you feed, work out how much you are feeding and then give about 75% of this as a starting point. If your pet is not losing weight after a month then reduce the amount by another 10%.


1. Don't leave food down for your dog. Dogs are not grazing animals. In the wild they would have run down their prey and then gorged on it, laying down fat from a large feed as insurance (emergency food supply) against the "rainy day" when there was nothing to eat. None of our pets has a "rainy day" to worry about so they do not need this energy reserve.

2. Increase your pet's exercise - this is the part you should both love! Show how much you love them by going for regular long walks together. The bonding will be amazing and the weight will fall away more quickly. This can be trickier with cats, but even playing in the evenings, will get your cat moving a little bit more. Be careful in the early stages if your dog is unfit or very overweight.


Go in the cooler parts of the day or consider swimming, which is great if there is any sense of Arthritis. There is a growing number of hydrotherapy facilities in Australia, but swimming at the beach or river, or in your pool will give a fabulous work out without stressing the joints of an overweight or unfit dog


3. Consider one of the many different brands of "prescription diet"  The proven technology behind these is fantastic. They really do work. For example, we have had success with Hill’s Metabolic and Royal Canin Satiety.


The food manufacturers have incorporated lots of the "I'm full" ingredients into the best weight loss diets. They may cost a bit more than normal foods, but if they save you the cost of medicating a sick or arthritic pet you will be ahead.

4. Try out or new weight clinics which are Free of Charge and include:

  • Half hour consultation of your pets current diet and exercise regime (This is a one on one consult with one of our nurses)
  • Weighing and measurements of your pets body (neck, chest and waist)
  • Advice on improving diet and body condition
  • Tailored diet plan
  • Information to take home
  • Ongoing regular weigh ins.

When: Tuesdays and Fridays

Time: 11am -12pm, 3pm – 4pm

Cost: FREE

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