Weight management and its importance
Updated: Jun 27
I’m sure we have all heard before about the importance of managing and maintaining your pets weight, and I’m sure we have all been guilty of giving your pet an extra treat for looking cute or giving you the puppy eyes, which is perfectly fine, but understanding why maintaining a healthy weight is so integral for your pets health.
This is even more essential currently due to exercise being limited and food enrichment being recommended, so this post will explain how to body condition score your pet, how improper weight affects your pet and how to manage and maintain your pets weight.
Body condition scoring
The first thing to establish is how to correctly identify your pets body condition as this can then determine whether they need to gain weight, lose weight or maintain their weight. Although the number on the scale is important, it is very difficult to use this as a guide for pets' weight as each animal is different including breed, age and workload. Therefore, most veterinary practices will use the body condition score chart as a generic guide for assessing your pets weight.
This body condition score system seen is commonly used, however there are various different charts that provide similar information. The main premise of body condition scoring is that, whether it be a cat or dog, your pet should have a score of 4 or 5 to be deemed an “ideal” weight. This can be described as:
“Ribs (easily) palpable with minimal fat covering. Waist clearly visible when viewed from above. Abdominal tuck evident - particularly when viewed from the side”
**Please note - if you feel your pet is not an ideal weight, please seek veterinary advice as they can provide individual guidance and information for your pet**
Why is it so important?
As well as having a clear understanding of how to correctly condition score your pet, it is also essential to understand the importance of your pet maintaining a healthy weight. From a veterinary physiotherapy perspective, the main concern is if your pet is overweight. Besides the health conditions associated, one of the biggest problems with being overweight is the impact that it has on their joints.
Whether your pet is young or older, being overweight leads to a massive increase in pressure placed on their joints. If they are younger, this means that their joints are more likely to experience extra wear and tear, leading to arthritis earlier. For older pets that potentially have arthritis already, this excess weight will cause extra pressure on the joints leading to movement being more painful, which could be avoided if their weight is within the ideal range.
Carrying excess weight can also cause the rehabilitation process to be slowed or pushed back as well as potentially exacerbating conditions. If your dog is overweight, they are potentially more susceptible to conditions such as a torn cruciate ligament. If your pet already suffers with an orthopaedic condition such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia or arthritis - the excess weight that they carry will not only exacerbate the condition but may set the rehabilitation process back due to the unnecessary strain on these joints.
Not only does weight cause excess pressure, it has the potential to take up to 2 years off the life of your pet. It can reduce their quality of life by carrying extra pounds as this takes its toll; leading them to become slower to get down and up, tired and breathless quicker and are less likely to play and interact.
How to manage weight
As previously mentioned, it is important to visit your veterinarian if you feel your pet is not an ideal weight as they will provide you with individual guidance and information for your pet. There are, however, some things that you can do to both manage and maintain your pets weight.
Altering your pets diet is the first step that is recommended, often called “putting your dog on a diet”. This is heavily dependent on a variety of factors including: what you currently feed your pet, their breed and their workload, so it is important that you consult a veterinary professional before altering their diet.
Nevertheless, treats are one area of your pets diet that you can change that can have a big impact on their weight. Obviously, any treat should be given in moderation and as a guide, dogs should have approximately no more than 10% of their daily calorie intake in treats. Fruits such as blueberries, apples and bananas and vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes can be used as a healthy alternative. Healthy homemade treat recipes such as these, can also be made in batches to not only provide a healthy treat alternative but may save you money and a trip to the pet store!
Regular, suitable exercise
After you have altered your pets diet accordingly, exercise is the next factor that is often advised to change or adapt depending on your pet. It is essential to remember that exercise should always stay within your dog's comfort levels. If your dog suffers from an orthopaedic condition, such as arthritis, it is likely that their exercise has already been altered and it is important to not change this or cause discomfort/pain for them in order for them to lose weight.
Attending a weekly hydrotherapy session may be an alternative to taking your dog for walks every day. Swimming in the hydrotherapy pool not only allows weightlessness exercise but also targets the cardiovascular system meaning in the long run, your pet will not only lose weight but be fitter for it - without over exerting themselves running off lead.
Whilst your pet is overweight, little and often is the best policy - particularly if they do suffer with a condition such as arthritis. Short bursts of exercise allow the joints to remain mobile and get their cardiovascular system working without overexerting them. Over time, the time spent walking may be able to increase depending on your pet. Other activities such as mental stimulation and enrichment also keeps your pet moving without the need for overly long walks.