Northeast Wisconsin
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • January 2014
Written by  Karen M. Strickfaden, DVM

Does your pet need to lose weight?

Proper body weight is essential for your pet’s health. In pets, as with people, increased weight can lead to diabetes, heart disease, disc disease and joint problems. Pets are not responsible for their nutritional choices — we are!

Though factors can vary based on breed and body type, there are a few general guidelines to see if your pet is at the correct weight:

  • Your pet should have a “waistline.”
  • You should be able to feel but not see the ribs.
  • There should not be any “fat pads” on the hips or at the base of the tail.

If weight is a problem, have your pet examined by your veterinarian to rule out any medical conditions that may have caused the weight gain. Some medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism, can affect a pet’s metabolism. If there is no medical reason for the weight gain, it is time to begin a weight loss program.

Natural food

The most important part of your pet’s weight loss program is the choice of food. Pets that eat a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet have better success at losing weight. High-protein diets mimic the diet pets would have in the wild.

Plan to feed your pet two to three meals every day. This schedule will help your pet feel less hungry throughout the day. Your veterinarian can help you determine how much you should feed your pet during the weight-loss period. Also, make sure your pet has access to fresh water at all times.

Exercise program

Once you have established an appropriate diet for your pet, develop a healthy exercise routine. Exercise is important not only to burn calories but also to keep muscle tone and body condition. Exercise programs don’t have to be strenuous or time-consuming. You can choose activities that suit your lifestyle.

Dog owners can walk or jog with their pets. Play dates with other dogs can be a great source of exercise. Obedience or agility training can exercise a dog’s mind and body! Cat owners can encourage their cats to play with wand toys or laser lights. Climbing structures provide vertical play space. Treat dispensers make your cat work to get food. Your veterinarian may have more suggestions for you.

Determine how much exercise your pet gets each day. Increase the amount of exercise by one minute each day until you reach a minimum of 20 minutes of structured, supervised play every day. Free time in the yard is great, but your pet is usually not active enough during that time for weight loss to occur.

Behavior changes

The final ingredient to your pet’s successful weight loss program involves changing behaviors. Determine the factors that have led to your pet’s weight problem. Is your pet begging at the table? Do you show your pet love by giving him treats? Does each family member give your pet treats at different times? Making some changes to both your family’s and your pet’s behavior can drastically increase the success rate for your pet’s weight loss program.

Pets don’t care about the size of the treats that they are getting; they are happy to get treats at all! Consider breaking your current treats into smaller pieces. Replace high-calorie treats with healthy alternatives like baby carrots, banana slices or natural pet treats. These treats will help your pet feel full without loading him up with calories.

It is easy to confuse food with love. We often give our pets treats to show them affection. Instead, give your pets attention with praise and play time. Be sure to give your pets more “emotional” treats than food.

Start now

You are responsible for your pet’s diet and nutrition. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss your pet’s weight issues. Determine exercise activities for your pet that will fit with your family’s schedule. Discuss with family members the type and amount of treats your pet can have each day.

Pets that have a normal body weight can live up to two years longer than pets that are overweight. Making a few changes today can ensure you have more quality time with your furry family members in the future! 

Dr. Karen Strickfaden is co-owner of Countrycare Animal Complex in Green Bay. She earned her doctorate in veterinary medicine in 1993 and has been utilizing holistic modalities for over 18 years. Dr. Strickfaden is certified in veterinary acupuncture and veterinary spinal manipulation (animal chiropractic). She also has extensive training in bioresonance therapy, craniosacral therapy, herbology and flower essences. For more information, call 920-863-3220 or visit

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