Cat and Dog Weight Loss: The Right Nutrition What to Feed an Overweight Dog or Cat

Cat and Dog Weight Loss: The Right Nutrition
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vet verified Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

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Nutro Ultra Holistic Weight Management Dry Dog Food

Dry Food
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Dogs and Cats that are overweight and obese are faced with many health risks such as high blood pressure and orthopedic issues. It is important to provide your pet with proper nutrition. Getting your dog or cat on a diet and exercise plan is the first step in the right direction.

While overweight or obese cats and dogs face many health risks--including diabetes, arthritis, skin problems, high blood pressure, orthopedic issues, cancer, and other diseases--the good news is diet and nutrition can help get your pet’s shape and health back on track.

Are you worried your cat or dog is overweight or obese? Has your vet told you your pet needs to shed some pounds? Your pal is not alone: An estimated 93 million--or 54 percent of--cats and dogs in the United States are overweight or obese, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.

How to Tell If Your Cat or Dog Is Overweight

Are you able to feel your animal’s backbone and ribs without applying noticeable pressure? When you slide your fingers, pressing lightly, in the direction your pet’s coat grows in, can you feel your loved one’s ribs easily?

Observing your pet from overhead, do you notice a narrowing between the bottom of the rib cage and the hips, akin to a waist? Take a sideways look. Do you notice your dog’s middle rises up from the bottom of the ribs to inside the thighs? If you answered “no” to any of these, your pet may be overweight or obese.

Causes of Obesity in Cats and Dogs

The main cause of obesity in canines and felines is a combination of consuming more food than is necessary and exercising less than is necessary. Neutering, gender, genetics, lifestyle, and aging are also risk factors.

  • For dogs, obesity has been linked to the number of meals and snacks fed, the pet’s presence when humans are eating their food, receiving human food during mealtimes, and not surprisingly, the makeup of the dog food.
  • With cats, obesity has been associated with being able to graze on their food freely without any limitations, inconsistent feeding routines, and owners who overfeed them when they aren’t hungry.

Nutrition to Help Cats and Dogs Lose Weight

The best way to work off the weight? Consult your vet for a diet and exercise plan to get your pal get in shape.

Here are some handy guidelines for buying food for overweight pets--look for these percentages of protein, fat, and fiber in the food:

For Dogs




 Dry Food

 24% or more

 Less than 12%

 6% or more

 Wet Food

 6% or more

 Less than 3%

 2% or more

For Cats




 Dry Food

 30% or more

 Less than 14%

 6% or more

 Wet Food

 7% or more

 Less than 4%

 2% or more

  • Upping the fiber content as shown above may help, as it has been shown to help your pet feel full.
  • Supplementing your pet’s meals with L-carnitine (an amino acid that sustains lean mass and lowers body fat) may be recommended. You can give your pet 5-10 mg of L-carnitine per kg of their body weight daily.

Practices to Help Your Pet Lose Weight

While your vet can recommend specific pet food and offer feeding guidelines, these are some general rules you can follow to establish healthy routines for your cat or dog:

  • When selecting commercially prepared food, look for the labels “complete and balanced nutrition” and “meets the nutritional requirements established by the American Association of Feed Control Officials.”
  • Practice portion control by offering the right serving size, with the help of a vet or certified veterinary nutritionist or by using the instructions typically included on store-bought food as a guide. Leave only that amount out, without letting your pet eat as they please from a larger portion!
  • Don’t eat your meals in front of your animal.
  • Reduce or eliminate treats.
  • Offer praise and attention that don’t revolve around meals and treats.
  • Build ample opportunities for exercising into your loved one’s day. Since exercising burns calories, lowers appetite, and boosts metabolism, it helps pets shed pounds and prevents weight from creeping back on.
  • For cats, you may need to limit their ability to hunt outdoors—which may be contributing to their excess of food intake.

As with humans, the process of weight loss should be gradual. Once the desired weight is achieved, regularly weighing your pet is advised to maintain a healthy size.

6 Smart Tips to Help Your Pet Lose Weight

We know that change can often be a bitter pill to swallow, but the silver lining? All of these adjustments are fairly simple, and if you are able to successfully implement them, you might end up dropping some pant sizes as well.

Here are 6 simple pet weight loss tips to get started.

1. Talk to your vet about finding the right low-cal food

Many of your run of the mill dog foods contain tons of fillers, and a dearth of nutrients, meaning a change in diet can often be a big first step in losing weight. However, when it comes to diet, there is not one catch all answer to every problem. Pets come in such a wide array of shapes and sizes that finding the right food for them is a matter of understanding their specific needs. Contact your vet to find out what food suits your dog best.

RELATED STORY: Your Dog Food Questions Answered

2. Serve up the pet chow with a measuring cup

Arguably the simplest weight loss change you could ever make, rather than using a scoop or a plastic cup to dish out your pet's dinner, use a measuring cup to help monitor the exact amount you feed them per meal. Overfeeding is one of the leading causes of obesity in pets. Check the label on the side of the bag and make sure to dole out the recommended serving size and no more.

3. Veggies > treats

Next time you are tempted to give your pet a biscuit, why not give them a baby carrot instead? Or how about a little broccoli? Even an apple is a good substitute for those high carb, high calorie treats. Just make sure you know what veggies are safe for dogs and cats before giving them anything from the crisper drawer.

4. 20 extra minutes of daily play time

If your pet is overweight, chances are it is more than just a dietary problem. So however long you normally play with your pet, add an extra 20 minutes to that time every day. Play a little fetch or some tug of war -- anything to get your pet moving and burning up some of those extra calories.

5. Add a couple blocks to your walk

Another simple and effective way to help your dog burn off some of their extra weight is to make their daily walk a few feet longer. Depending on how big your dog is, adding as little as one extra block to their daily walk can end up making a big difference.

6. Weekly weigh-ins

If you really want to help your pet lose weight, it helps to be able to track your progress. With a weekly weight in, you are better able to understand what is working for them, where you need to step it up, and how far you have come.

What Do You Think?

Got any pet weight loss tips of your own? Share them with us in the comments section! We would love to hear from you.

More on Healthy Weight for Pets

Proper Dog Weight by Breed: A Reference Chart
Try the Tool: Enter Your Dog's Weight to See Results
Keeping Your Cat a Healthy Weight

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.

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