Did you know that more than half the U.S pet population is overweight or obese? Cats are in worse shape, with 60% of the feline population classified as overweight but, unfortunately, dogs aren’t far behind, with 56% of canine companions considered overweight in the United States. How did so many of our pets become too heavy? While busy schedules, sedentary lifestyles, and replacing attention with treats are key factors in pet obesity, a major component is the lack of clear instructions on appropriate feeding amounts. All too often, pet owners fill food dishes, believing their pets will stop eating when they’re full, and maintain a healthy weight on their own. Or, they follow the feeding guidelines printed on the bag, rather than adjusting the amount to their own pet’s needs.

Although you may argue that your pet is “big-boned,” we understand that many cats and dogs in the U.S. are overweight, and our team is dedicated to helping them shed those extra pounds. Instead of being embarrassed about your pudgy pet’s weight gain, turn to your Mill Creek Animal Hospital veterinarian for help. Listen in on our conversation with one of our chubby feline patients and their family. (Note—this is a fictitious feline, although this is a common occurrence in veterinary hospitals around the country.)

Garfield’s growing problem

Named after the cartoon icon, Garfield was a typical chubby orange kitty with a love for loafing around. While he was never offered lasagna, he did enjoy endless dishes of the finest feline cuisine, along with a dessert bar of treats every evening—no tricks required. 

Garfield’s family loved their plump pet, and did not see any issue as he began to grow and truly live up to his namesake. At Garfield’s first annual wellness exam after his kitten vaccination series, we expressed our concern with his rapid weight gain, especially since he was still eating kitten food.

“Oh, but he loves kitten food much more than adult cat food! We couldn’t possibly force him to switch his food, when he likes this one so much better,” Garfield’s owner exclaimed. 

“While cats tend to migrate toward kitten food over adult cat food, this is likely because of the higher fat content in the diet, which is essential for the rapid growth kittens experience. However, Garfield is done growing—except for his expanding waistline—and no longer needs the extra calories or fat. In fact, these additional calories are packing on the pounds, making Garfield far too heavy for his body structure. Let me demonstrate what I mean,” Dr. Schumacher said. 

Dr. Schumacher showed Garfield’s family how to evaluate his body condition score, to demonstrate how heavy he is, and outlined the steps needed to reach his ideal weight. 

“Place your hands on Garfield’s ribs. You should be able to feel them with light pressure, hidden under a thin tissue layer. I can barely feel his ribs with firm pressure, meaning his fat layer is too thick. Next, check for a waistline. A pet with an ideal body condition should have an hourglass shape with a defined, curved waistline, but unfortunately, Garfield exhibits the opposite—his waistline is rounded and bulges outward. The final area to evaluate is the abdomenwe checked his waistline from above, but now we’ll look at it from the side. While Garfield is standing, place your hand on his belly, starting at the end of his ribcage. Run your hand along the line of his abdomen back to his hips. Ideally, there should be an upward curve, called an abdominal tuck, but in Garfield’s case, his belly runs straight back to his hips with a bit of a pooch. We would score Garfield as a 7/9 on the body condition scale,” Dr. Schumacher said, explaining that 1/9 means emaciated and 9/9 severely obese, with 5/9 considered ideal weight.

“We need to safely cut back on his calories to reduce his weight, so he reaches a healthy body condition. With cats, you must be careful when restricting food, or they can suffer from liver issues. I recommend starting with a prescription diet food, and then switching to a low-calorie, adult cat food—no more kitten kibble. If you can encourage Garfield to exercise and play, you can increase his daily food intake. We’ll work closely with you to help Garfield reach his ideal weight, and then you can calculate how many calories he needs each day to maintain his sleek new figure,” Dr. Schumacher promised.

“This calorie calculator from the Pet Nutrition Alliance makes meal planning a cinch for healthy weight, moderately active cats. Once you have calculated the number of calories Garfield needs each day, look at the number of calories in each eight-ounce cup of food, which should be listed on the food bag, or you may have to go to the manufacturer’s website for more information. Divide Garfield’s daily calorie allotment by the number of calories in each cup, and then separate that amount into small meals.”

Dr. Schumacher continued: “Cats typically eat several small meals throughout the day, which is why owners like to fill the food dish, but this can lead to overeating and obesity. Instead, use an actual measuring cup to divvy up Garfield’s portions, and feed him at least twice per day, leaving a 10% calorie allowance for treats. In a few months, Garfield will reach an ideal weight, provided you remain strong, and accurately measure his food. Let us know if you have any questions, and feel free to drop by for routine weigh-ins.”

Is your furry pal like Garfield, and more fat than fluff? We can help—call us to schedule a nutritional consultation, and a diet and exercise analysis.