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Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Cat Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of cat nutrition.

Need a Guide for Managing Your Pet's Weight? It's Here

February 21, 2014 / (2) comments

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has recently released new weight management guidelines for dogs and cats. It is written with an audience of veterinarians in mind, but is also valuable reading for owners, particularly if you are finding it difficult to help your dog or cat get down to a healthy weight or can’t understand why your veterinarian keeps harping on the topic.


The document starts by discussing the severity of the problem…


Up to 59% of dogs and cats are overweight, making this the most common nutritional disorder identified in veterinary practice. Excess weight can reduce longevity and adversely affect quality of life. The hormones and inflammatory cytokines released by excess adipose tissue lead to a state of chronic inflammation, the impact of which is not completely understood at this time. Excess weight is associated with skin and respiratory disorders, renal [kidney] dysfunction, and it increases the risk of metabolic and endocrine disorders (e.g., diabetes), orthopedic disease, and some types of cancer.


… and then goes on to discuss the best way to help pets lose weight.


An effective individualized weight loss program provides a consistent and healthy rate of weight loss to reduce risk of disease, prevent malnutrition, and improve quality of life. Weight loss is achieved with appropriate caloric restriction, diet selection, exercise, and strategies to help modify the behavior of both the pet and client. The success of any program depends on partnering with clients to set expectations, promote client compliance and treatment adherence (compliance and adherence describe the degree to which the client correctly implements medical advice and continues an agreed-on mode of treatment), and overcome challenges presented by each pet.


I won’t go over all the details here since they are laid out so well in the guidelines themselves, but I do want to bring an especially valuable resource contained within to your attention. Table three goes over common problems that complicate weight loss in pets and outlines possible solutions. For example, it is important to remember that begging is a behavior that is not related to nutritional needs or even necessarily to hunger. The guidelines recommend the following solutions to begging:


  • Offer social or activity substitute (e.g., play, groom, walk, offer affection).
  • Distribute a portion of the diet as treats instead of meals.
  • Divide food into more frequent, smaller meals.
  • Use food as salary the pet must earn.
  • Provide environmental enrichment.
  • Use food balls and food puzzles.
  • Place food to encourage exercise (e.g., cat tree/fetch).
  • Choose low-calorie treats (e.g., low-starch vegetables).
  • Remove pet from human feeding areas.


Another common problem involves dogs and cats who don’t want to eat a weight loss diet. The guidelines make the following recommendations:


  • Provide food alternatives with different textures and moisture content.
  • Use treat allowance of up to 10% of the overall calories of the diet as a palatability enhancer.
  • Gradually introduce a new food over ≥ 1wk.
  • For cats, offer the new food side-by-side with the current diet, with gradual removal of the usual food.
  • Avoid offering alternatives if the pet skips a meal; however, do not allow cats to go longer than 24 hr without consuming any meals.


The AAHA Weight Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats may not be the most riveting document you’ll ever read, but if it helps you get your pet down to a healthy weight, it is well worth your time.


Dr. Jennifer Coates


Image: Thinkstock