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How to keep your pets at a healthy weight

Just like us, our pets must maintain a healthy weight to help them enjoy a good quality of life – unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

In fact, recent Royal Canin research suggests that the average dog is being over-fed by 54,000 calories a year – when looking at a small dog this is the equivalent of a human eating 402 burgers! As such, raising awareness and understanding of pet obesity in the UK is becoming increasingly important.Of course, it can be difficult as a pet owner to know not only what a healthy weight would be for your pet, but also how to keep it that way. Royal Canin looks at both these questions, providing expert insight into how best to maintain and promote healthy weight in your dog or cat…

What is an ideal dog weight?

New research from the University of Liverpool and Mars Petcare's WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition revealed that overweight dogs are more likely to have shorter lives than those at ideal body weights. In fact, results from the study showed the lifespan of dogs with obesity was up to two and a half years shorter when compared to dogs with a healthy body weight.

So, what exactly is an ideal dog weight? Well, this is tricky, because dogs come in many different shapes and sizes, meaning there isn’t a gold standard to judge against. However, it’s worth noting a few factors that could help you monitor your dog’s weight and body condition more successfully. Based on the average extra calories per day, Royal Canin insights have uncovered that small dogs are overfed by 28% per day, medium dogs are overfed by 14% per day and large are overfed by 10% per day – just in treats alone!

Things to consider when assessing ideal dog weight include:

  • Breed – 'ideal’ weight varies among dog breeds, but your vet can provide the best advice for your individual pet
  • Unable to see their ribs and waist – this could indicate that your dog is overweight

If you’re concerned about your dog’s weight in relation to any of the above, contact your veterinary practice for their expert opinion and guidance.

What is the healthy weight for a cat?

Whereas dog breeds tend to vary greatly in size and shape, most cat breeds are usually about the same size, which makes determining a healthy weight for them much easier. However, there is some variety in size between certain breeds of cat; for example, the Maine Coon, which are much larger. 

A healthy weight for a cat  varies depending on breed, but if your cat has a good body condition score, they are a healthy weight. There are a few things you can do at home to check whether your cat’s weight is healthy, which include:

  • Feel their ribs – you should be able to feel your cat’s ribs using a gentle touch. If you can’t, it’s likely your cat is overweight. If you can feel your cat’s ribs very easily, it’s likely that they are underweight.
  • Keep an eye out for lethargy or reluctance to play and explore – it may be too tiring or uncomfortable for your cat to move around
  • Check for excess body fat – principally around the stomach and neck areas

If you are concerned about your cat’s weight, you should contact your veterinary practice for advice.

Body condition scoring

Vets and veterinary nurses can help you assess if your dog or cat is the correct weight. Body Condition scoring is a system that uses a scale of 1 to 9, with 1 being dangerously thin and 9 being severely overweight, based on specific criteria. Body Condition scoring can also be a useful tool for owners to pick up and use to help them monitor their pets shape at home.

Body Condition Scoring can be broadly categorised as follows:

  • Too thin – a score of 1, 2 or 3: common characteristics include prominent bones, such as the ribs, shoulders and pelvis; very little fat; poor muscle cover; and abdominal tuck
  • Ideal – either 4 or 5: the cat or dog will likely have an obvious waist; slight abdominal tuck; ribs that can be easily felt with a gentle touch; and a small amount of abdominal fat
  • Too heavy – scoring 6-7 (Above Ideal or Overweight) or 8-9 (Obese): be on the lookout for an absent or improperly defined waist; obvious abdominal distension; impalpable ribs; and excessive body fat deposits

Calculating a dog Body Condition Score is the first step to achieving a healthy weight for your pet’s breed. 5 is likely to be the optimal number but remember – it does depend on the individual animal. However, for cats, 5 is generally seen as the ideal irrespective of breed or type. Checking a cat Body Condition Score should confirm this and give your pet a clear weight goal to work towards.

See below for a visual representation of Body Condition Scoring for dogs and cats:

Body Condition Scoring for Dogs

Body Condition Scoring for Cats

If you have any questions about Body Condition Scoring for your dog or cat, please talk to your veterinary practice for clarification.

Ways to keep your pet's weight healthy

It’s clear that attitudes towards pet weight are potentially problematic. For instance, the findings from the Royal Canin 2019 Pet Weight Survey show a quarter of dog owners think that all food that is safe for human consumption is also totally safe for their dog.

Likewise, the Pet Weight Survey demonstrated that a third of pet owners believe that no harm can come to their dog if they feed them leftovers. The topmost calorific foods dog owners admitted to feeding their pet over a six-month period included:

  • Crisps (35%)
  • Sausage Rolls (34%)
  • Hot Dogs (32%)
  • Cake (30%)
  • Ice Cream (30%)
  • Shepherd’s Pie (28%)
  • McDonalds (24%)
  • Chinese takeaway (21%)

Studies have shown that you could be overfeeding your pet by up to 20% by relying on a feeding cup rather than scales. By simply weighing out food every day, you can pay much more attention to the amount of food your dog or cat receives.

Every pet is different, and whether you own a dog or cat, finding ways to keep their weight healthy can be quite a challenge. Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do to help, including:

  • Be observant – always keep an eye on what your pet is eating
  • Set goals and monitor progress – this will likely involve an individual weight loss programme from your veterinary practice, as well as weigh-ins every two to four weeks, and observations of body shape and activity levels
  • Implement a regular exercise routine – consistent physical activity is a key element to your pet dropping weight and may also help boost their energy levels. Bear in mind that exercise has to be done very carefully if a dog is overweight, due to the excess strain on their body. A third of dog owners have admitted to avoiding walking their dog because it was raining, and a quarter have failed to take their dog for a walk because they were too tired, which isn’t good for pet weight management
  • Practice portion control – this means feeding your pet their required nutrition only and certainly no people food or table scraps
  • Visit your veterinary practice for guidance – an expert opinion throughout the weight-loss journey will help you stay on track

Ultimately, though, there’s no substitute for a healthy diet and exercise when it comes to keeping weight levels consistent in dogs and cats, as outlined by Royal Canin customers:

“We have two chocolate Labradors aged 9 and nearly 5. The 9yr old has been on Royal Canin since being weaned, the younger one was weaned on to another brand (by the breeder) and constantly had an upset tummy, we switched her to Royal Canin, and she improved immediately. They are fed on Maxi Lightweight Care and everyone comments on our beautiful girls, slim and fit, with dark shiny coats.”

“We have been using Royal Canin dry food since getting our beagle Henry as a puppy. From puppy food we moved to medium adult to breed specific. Currently he is on the light version of the medium adult product to help control his weight. Henry is now 4 and his food and feeding regime is something we never worry about. It suits him perfectly.”

“It's the only make that does what it says. My dog has lost weight since being on mini light.”

Any pet food transition must be gradual, with you slowly replacing more and more of the old food with the new product until the switch is complete. Your veterinary practice will be able to help with ensuring this change is smooth, as well as providing a diet plan that helps get your pet’s weight back on track.

Remember to stick to your pet’s new feeding schedule too, even if it’s hard for a while – consistency is key to ensuring that their weight remains healthy.

It's your responsibility as a dog or cat owner to make sure that your pet maintains a healthy weight throughout their life. If you need advice or support on pet weight or diet, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your veterinary practice, who will be able to point you in the right direction.

puppy and kitten

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