We all drink from some sort of cup everyday, but just because we call it cup, does not make it a true measurement of volume. Why is this important? Because when it comes to your pet’s weight and their overall health, the myriad of empty containers people frequently use to scoop their pet's kibble aren't the “cups” we veterinarians (and the back of the pet food bags) are talking about.
Why is this important? Because the pet obesity rate in the U.S. (and in many other countries, too) has truly ballooned to epidemic proportions. And while overfeeding a pet their regular food isn’t the only contributing factor, it certainly is a big one — and it’s one that’s typically easy to change.
You can help your pet (and yourself) by getting a set of dry measuring cups specifically for your pet’s food, they’re inexpensive and easy to find. Or you can make feeding even more precise, without spending much more money, by getting a small kitchen scale to weigh the amount of food you’re feeding your pets (recommendations based on grams are also frequently given on the back of pet food bags).pet food scoops which indicate where the 1-cup and 2-cup volumes are. If your scoop doesn't have these lines, stop using it and start using proper measuring cups. If your scoop has the measurement indicators, make sure you measure accurately up to that line and not over it. If you scoop too liberally, that "slight bit" of food over the line, especially in a cat or small dog, can quickly and subtly pack on the pounds. If your pet is small (under 25 lbs) it's best to use proper measuring cups or a kitchen scale.
Other simple steps to help your pets achieve and maintain their ideal weight and body condition
- Each year (or every 6 months), at your pet's wellness visit, ask your veterinarian to evaluate and let you know if your pet is at a good weight/body condition, or if they're too high or even too low. Once you know where your pet falls on the body condition scale (and the regular scale), you and your vet can come up with a plan to either keep your pet at their ideal body condition and weight, or to help get them there. PRO TIP: Before going to your pet's wellness visits, write down the brand and formulation of the food(s) you're feeding your pet, as well as the amounts. That way, when you're vet asks, your prepared and can get the most out of your pet's visit. You can also take a picture of the front and back of your pet's bag of kibble (or can of food) to save a piece of paper, and also do the same for any treats you regularly give your pet.
- Do you give your cats or dogs any treats? Consider breaking those treats in half (or quarters). Or switch to low calorie or "training" treats (check out our two favorites below). Pets care most about getting the treat and positive feedback from you, they don’t necessarily care how big the treat is. See this article to learn more about dog treats and figure out how many treats you can give your dog.
- Replace some (or all) of their higher calorie treats with pieces of carrot, green beans, or apple (no apple seeds, though). Or make your own dehydrated chicken, beef, or liver treats.
- Take your dog for more frequent or longer walks, or get them into a new sport like agility, dock diving, nose work, or another. Get your cat moving by playing with a laser pointer or another interactive toy (just exercise caution when using strings or any other string-like objects).
- Slow down the rate of your pet's eating to help them feel full faster by skipping the regular bowl, and feed them with a puzzle or interactive toy. You can see some of our favorites linked below and also learn more about puzzle feeders and interactive toys for cats and dogs.
- Talk to your veterinarian to see if there might be an underlying medical problem that could be contributing to your pet’s excessive weight (such as a low-functioning thyroid, overactive adrenal gland, a buildup of fluid, or one of any other number of possible underlying conditions). If not, talk to them about a safe and effective weight reduction plan (see note below about safe rate of weight loss).
- If your pet is a "grazer" (they don't eat all their food at once and eat slowly throughout the day) you still need to properly measure out their food to ensure proper nutrition and the correct amount of calories each day. Don't just keep arbitrarily filling their bowl. (Note that "free feeding" isn't just a big contributor to the pet overweight and obesity epidemic, it also prevents you from picking up on early signs of pain and other problems, deprives your pets of an opportunity for mental stimulation and enrichment, and has a host of other drawbacks. Read our Think Twice Before Letting Your Dog or Cat Free Feed article for more on this topic.)
And should you have to get weight off your cat or dog, please note that weight loss in pets should be slow and steady to be safe and effective. Typically cats and dogs should lose no more than 1-2% of their body weight each week.
For more information and tips on pet obesity and weight management, see these cat and dog articles.