Author: Dr Michelle Gray
You probably know that keeping your pet at a healthy weight is important for their well-being. But given the variety of sizes and shapes that cats and dogs come in, how can you know what weight is healthy for your furry friend? And what can you do if your pet’s weight isn’t ideal?
First of all- Why exactly should you care?
Being over-weight increases the risk of your pet developing certain medical conditions. What is more, being over-weight can make the symptoms of disease more severe and can slow recovery from injury and illness. Examples of conditions that have been associated with obesity in cats and dogs include arthritis, back pain, diabetes, pancreatitis, liver disease, respiratory disease, and cancer.
Being under-weight is also a concern. If it is caused by under-nutrition, it will suppress the immune system, increase the risk of infections, and reduce an animal’s ability to cope with injury and disease. On the other hand, if your pet is under-weight despite adequate nutrition, it may indicate they have an underlying medical condition that requires treatment.
Next- How can you tell if your pet is under or over-weight?
Method 1. By comparing with breed averages. The average weight of adult dogs and cats of various breeds can be found on-line. Comparing your pet’s weight with published averages is an easy way to get an indication if they are under or over-weight. However, because there is individual variation within breeds, and because the averages do not apply to young animals and mixed breeds, this is not a super accurate or reliable method.
Method 2. By assessing body condition score. This scoring system looks at an animal’s overall body shape as well as assessing the fat covering their ribs, backbone, and pelvis. Body condition can be scored on a scale of 1-5 or 1-9, with a score of 3/5 or 4-5/9 reflecting a healthy weight. Because it accounts for differences in size and build, it is a more accurate and reliable method. If you want to try assessing body condition score at home, search for the scoring charts on-line or follow this link:
Method 3. Ask an expert. Simply check with your vet or vet nurse at your next consultation. They can weigh your pet, assess their body condition score, and tell you if there is a problem or not. Too easy!
Finally- What should you do if your pet is too fat or too skinny?
The answer to this question could fill a whole article (or book). The key thing is to aim for gradual change- as a general rule, it is good to aim for 1% loss or gain per week (i.e. 50g/week for a 5kg cat, or 400g/ week for a 40kg dog). Weight-loss generally requires a reduction in energy intake- so cutting out any treats, reducing the quantity fed, and/or switching to a low-calorie food. Increasing exercise through walks and/or play can also help. Most importantly, remember that your vet is there to help. If you have questions, if you have concerns (e.g. about underlying medical conditions), if you want a tailored plan, moral support, or just a set of scales you can use on a regular basis … then have a chat to your vet. They will be happy to help your pet achieve their optimal weight.
Disclaimer: The information and advice in this post is general in nature. It is not intended as a substitute for tailored health care advice from your regular veterinarian.