Putting Your Pet on a Diet: A Vet's Top Tips

If your dog or cat seems to be putting on weight, he's certainly in good company. Many Americans and their pets are feeling the effects of eating larger portions and getting less exercise.

Pet Obesity

"In dogs and cats, obesity is becoming the fastest growing health issue," according to Richard S. Goldstein, DVM, Diplomate, American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, Canine and Feline Specialty, who runs the Mobile Vet Squad in Westchester County, NY. He points out that just like people, pets who are overweight can be at real risk for a host of serious effects including breathing problems, diabetes, liver dysfunction, increased risk of cancerous tumors, and many other health issues. This makes it essential to make important lifestyle modifications in your pet's diet to address obesity as soon as possible.

Dog Diet Tips

The easiest way to help a dog lose weight is to eliminate high-calorie table foods, Goldstein says. These scraps don't provide any benefits and in fact, can actually be doing harm to your pet. When shopping for dog food, the most expensive isn't always best. He says to look for food you can afford that your dog likes, and that has meat (such as beef, lamb, or chicken) listed as the first ingredient. For treats, he suggests preparing some fresh vegetables like peppers, carrots, celery, and string beans. (Avoid onion and kale, which can be dangerous for dogs and cats.)

Cat Diet Tips

Cats are carnivores and therefore do best with a high protein, high fat, low carb diet. Goldstein advises his clients with cats who need to lose weight to try cutting back on the dry food and add in a canned food that's meat based. He stresses the need to skip the gravy and cheese, since these extras are high in sugar and carbs and don't offer any nutritional benefits. Also forego the self-feeder so you can keep portion sizes reasonable. If your cat doesn't like canned food or can't tolerate it for health reasons, then Goldstein says to check with your vet for cat diet options that will provide adequate nutrition without adding unnecessary calories.

For Multiple Pets

When multiple animals reside in your home, it's always a good idea to encourage each one to eat from his or her own bowl.

"For multiple pets, adhering to portion control and good nutrition is also key," Goldstein says. "Consult with your vet to see if the same food is appropriate for all pets."

Activity for Pet Weight Loss

Adding more activity can also be an important step in pet weight loss. Goldstein suggests trying to work 20 minutes of exercise into your day for you and your pet on a regular basis. For dogs, this can be a long walk or a game of Frisbee, while cats can benefit from playing on vertical climbing toys in the house or chasing a ball down the stairs.

Other Strategies for Pet Weight Loss

When cutting portions and increasing the activity level isn't enough to help keep your animal's weight in check, your veterinarian may prescribe a stricter weight loss plan and also do some metabolic testing to make sure that there isn't an underlying health problem, such as thyroid or blood sugar issues.

Addressing Obesity in Exotic Animals

Weight issues can also be a concern in small exotic pets. Goldstein says to do some research before investing in a rabbit, ferret, guinea pig, or other animals so you'll understand their nutritional needs and recommended portion sizes.

He adds that he can't stress enough the fact that with all types of animals, proper nutrition is key to their overall health and well-being.

Richard Goldstein, DVM, reviewed this article.




Abrams, Lindsay. "What Are They Feeding You? 50% of U.S. Cats and Dogs Are Overweight." The Atlantic 9 Oct. 2012. Web. 22 Nov. 2012.

Goldstein, Richard, DMV, Diplomate, American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, Canine and Feline Specialty. Mobile Vet Squad. Phone interview. 13 Nov. 2012.