Content reviewed by Preston Turano, D.V.M.
We all adore showering our dogs and cats with treats, belly rubs, and (let's be honest) the occasional table scraps. But just like us, our pets can face some serious health issues if we overdo it.
As the chilly months set in and we're all getting into cozy mode, it can be super tempting to cuddle up and go into full-on hermit mode. But winter isn't just coming for us – it’s coming for our pets’ waistlines too.
The very real risks of pet obesity
Obesity in pets? Yep, it's a thing. And it's more than just a few extra pounds. Overfeeding and under-exercising can lead to:
And, overall, a reduced lifespan
The cold truth
Winter can be all about Netflix and chill (quite literally). The days are shorter, it’s freezing outside, and honestly, who wants to go out for a walk when it's sleeting? But our pets still need their exercise. While we're piling on the winter layers, they can easily pile on the pounds.
Partnering up: creating a plan with your vet
DIY is great for crafting and home makeovers, but when it comes to your pet's health? It’s best to team up with a pro - your vet.
So, how do you go about crafting a pet health plan with them?
1. Schedule a chat: Make an appointment purely to discuss Fido or Whisker's weight and activity. This isn't just a side topic during a regular check-up; it deserves its own spotlight.
2. Be transparent: Open up about your pet's current diet and habits. Those three extra treats or the skipped walks? Yeah, spill the beans. It helps your vet get a full picture. Be sure to note the brand, type, and amounts of everything you are feeding, treats included!
3. Set clear goals: Whether it's shedding a few pounds or increasing muscle tone, know what you're aiming for. This isn't about pet beauty standards; it's about health goals.
4. Discuss diet options: From portion-controlled meals to special pet foods, explore the universe of nutritious options with your vet. Remember, it's not just about quantity, but quality.
5. Craft an exercise regimen: Based on your pet's age, health, and breed, the vet can suggest the best activities. It might be more frequent short walks, interactive toys, or even agility training.
Sample diet and exercise plan
Let’s visualize what this can look like for, say, a middle-aged dog named Luna who's a bit on the heavier side, and a young, energetic cat named Orion.
We asked Dr. Preston Turano how he would formulate a plan for Luna and Orion. These are examples and you should consult with your own veterinarian about your dog or cat’s diet and health.
Important: The formula used to calculate calories in these examples is meant to give a starting point for determining your pet’s daily caloric needs. The actual amount needed will depend on your pet’s lifestyle and metabolic rate.
Note: Luna is a 5-year-old Golden Retriever who weighs 85 lbs, when her ideal weight is closer to 70 lbs.
When we determine a pet’s ideal weight, we look at it in the context of a percentage of body weight. If Luna’s ideal weight is 70 lbs, and she currently weighs 85 lbs, she is slightly more than 20% overweight. Pets that are 20% or more overweight are considered obese. This is an important distinction as it puts pets in higher risk category for developing other serious diseases.
When developing Luna’s weight loss plan we need to:
Get the entire family on board - it won’t work if others in the house are unknowingly giving extra food or treats.
Identify every food item Luna is receiving during the day. If packaged it is important to not only note the brand name, but type of diet. Dog foods are not all equal when it comes to calories per cup so it is important to specify the product.
Note any treats or supplements. These can add up!
All this information will help your veterinarian determine where the extra calories are coming from and how it is leading to obesity. The final steps are the diet and exercise plan to get Luna to her ideal weight. Keep in mind this is going to be a long process with many small milestones to reach the final goal!
First goal: 80lbs
Plan: Calculate calories for an ideal weight of 80lbs. First, we convert to kilograms (80lbs divided by 2.2= 36.36 kg ). We then calculate calories per day allowed: ((kg x 30) + 70= total calories per day).
For Luna (36.36kg x 30) + 70 = 1,160 total calories per day
We have to look at weight in calories needed per day, just like in people. We cannot just look at cups per day because not all dog foods are equal when it comes to calories per cup. In fact, depending on the dog food brand it can contain anywhere between 250cal per cup, up to 500cal per cup, or more!
Where can you find the nutritional information for dog food? The calories for 1 cup of food (an 8oz measuring cup) can be found on the label of the bag or can.
If Luna's current food is 400 calories per cup, Luna should get 2.9 cups per day - or just under 1.5 cups of food twice per day.
If Luna is also given treats, we will need to reduce the amount of her regular diet.
For example: if Luna enjoys two delicious dog biscuits per day that contain 50 calories each, we would need to deduct 100 calories from her daily total. Meaning she would now get 1060 calories from her dog food and 100 from the treats.
Updated math with treats included: 1060 cal divided by 400cals per cup =2.65 cups per day or 1⅓ cups twice per day.
As with any dog, Luna should be given fresh water, available at all times.
An exercise plan will be determined based on your pet’s current activity level. For this case, we will assume Luna was already doing two 20-minute walks per day at a comfortable pace and playing fetch for a few minutes in the afternoon.
Morning: A brisk 30-minute walk followed by 10 minutes of fetch play.
Afternoon: Short 15-minute play session in the backyard.
Evening: Another 30-minute walk, this time at a leisurely pace.
We would see Luna back in the office in one month to evaluate her progress and make any necessary changes. If she returned at 80 lbs (go Luna!) we would then set the next goal for 77 lbs.
Remember: This is just an example and the formula is a general starting point. It may not be accurate calories for your dog, thus it is important to work with your veterinarian on a weight loss plan.
Note: Orion is a 2-year-old male who's indoor-only but has a lot of pent-up energy and is at a healthy 10lbs.
Calculate ideal calorie intake by converting weight to Kilograms (10 lbs divided by 2.2 = 4.55kg). Calculate calories per day allowed: ((Kg x 30) + 70= total calories per day)).
For Orion (4.55Kg x 30) + 70 = 206.5 total calories per day
Morning: 150 calories of high-protein cat kibble. Refer to Orion's bag of food and check the label for the calories per cup. For example, if Orion's food is 300 calories per cup, his parents would give him a ½ cup of food in the AM.
Evening: Approximately 60 calories of canned food. Check the label on Orion's canned food for calories. For example, if the chosen wet food is 120 calories per can, his parents can give him ½ can of food at night.
Two or three catnip-infused treats are perfect for playtime! You may need to adjust the amount of kibble to accommodate for treats depending on how many calories they contain.
As with all cats, fresh water needs to be available to Orion at all times. Consider a cat water fountain to encourage drinking.
Morning: 15 minutes with an interactive feather toy to simulate hunting.
Afternoon: Let him spend time on a window perch or with puzzle toys to keep him mentally stimulated.
Evening: Laser pointer session for 10 minutes (because, let's face it, cats love to chase that elusive red dot).
In Orion’s example, he is at a healthy weight and needs just over 200 calories per day to maintain this healthy weight. Cats do best on canned food, but based on schedules and household situations, dry kibble may be needed.
For cats, it is best to try and have canned food for at least 50% of their diet. This is due to its high moisture content, high palatability (to quell picky eaters), and low-carb profile compared to kibble, which is perfect for our obligate carnivores.
Reminder: Keep in mind, these daily calories are a starting point and your cat may need more or less depending on exercise and lifestyle.
Both Luna and Orion's plans are balanced with their dietary needs and physical capabilities in mind. Adjustments can and should be made based on their progress, health changes, or other unique needs. Most importantly:
Know thy calories: Be aware of the nutritional content in a cup of your dog or cat's food.
Keep it kosher: Use a standard measuring cup and don't overfill.
Treats matter: Daily calorie counts can sneak up on you, especially if you're heavy-handed with the treats.
Get the family onboard: Everyone needs to be aware of and make an effort to stick with your pet's diet. No sneaking treats or table food!
Call me, beep me: Always keep in touch with your vet and make the journey fun for both you and your curious copilots
And most importantly, don’t wait to take charge of your pet’s weight.
We all want the absolute best for our companions. And yeah, it's hard to resist those adorable begging eyes, but remember keeping them active and at a healthy weight is truly one of the most loving things we can do for them.
Let's make a pact to keep those tails wagging and those purrs coming, in the healthiest way possible.
Lizz Caputo is the Manager of Content Strategy at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.