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Why is my pet not losing weight?

Obesity results from an imbalance between the calorie intake and the calories burnt during the day. It has been estimated that over 40% of the dogs and 30% of the cats in Australia are considered overweight. Sadly, obesity is not only a cosmetic concern, it can also increase the risk of your pet suffering some other serious medical conditions that might shorten their lifespan, such as diabetes, arthritis, urinary tract disease, hypertension and heart disease. It is for this reason that we should actively try to keep our pets weight within normal limits

How can I tell if my pet is overweight?

During every visit to the vet, the veterinarian will check your pet’s body condition. During the examination the vet will conduct a visual body inspection by looking down on your pet’s body, where you should be able to see a nice waistline with their ribs ending in the middle of their trunk. While we don’t want to see prominent ribs or spine, we do want to be able to feel them when we touch them. If they can’t be felt, then it might be that your pet is on the heavy side.

What if my pet is not losing weight?

In theory, burning more calories than the calories that come in should equal weight loss. In reality, this is not always as simple as that! There are several situations that might be contributing to weight gain in pets to explain why your pet is not losing weight despite being on a weight management diet.

  • Excess of calories
    • Feeding the wrong food: there are special pet foods labelled for weight loss management in pets. You’ll be able to find some over the counter pet food targeted for weight loss (Hill’s Science Diet Adult Perfect Weight, Royal Canin Light Weight), they are usually diets with added fibre and slightly lower in calories compared with their regular diet. While an over the counter diet can be useful in pets that are slightly overweight, there are more severe cases when we need to consider prescription diets (Hill’s Prescription Diet Metabolic, Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Adult Satiety Support) in order to avoid nutritional imbalances by restricting the daily food intake. Prescription diets are formulated to contain more protein, vitamins, and minerals than over the counter foods,to ensure adequate nutrient intake during caloric restriction
    • Some pets might find some extra benefit from adding wet (canned) food to their diet, as wet food is higher in water content and lower in calories and carbohydrates.
    • It is well known that overfeeding is the main cause of overweight, so when we start our pets on a weight management diet, it is important to determine the exact amount of calories we need to feed them in order to reach weight loss. Your veterinarian will calculate the exact amount of food that you need to feed your pet daily. This amount of calories required will be calculated based on their weight goal, not their current weight and will consider all the food intake in 24 hrs (including treats!). It is important to feed them the exact amount recommended by your veterinarian, as more food won’t allow weight loss and feeding them less than recommended can lead to malnutrition and starvation.
    • Too many treats: treats shouldn’t represent more than 10% of the total daily calorie intake. Try to identify moments of the day where your pet might be getting extra treats, such as doggy daycare, training sessions, dog park, neighbours or even other family members.
    • Check that other family members or neighbours are not feeding them extra snacks/ meals.
    • Check your pet is not stealing food from the other pets in the house. You might need to consider microchip feeders for every pet or feeding them in separate rooms.
  • Not enough exercise → Taking your dog for walks regularly or organising playing times with your cat will increase the extra calorie burn.
    • It is important to consider that pets who suffer from joint pain due to osteoarthritis often don’t want to move as much. If your pets seem less active lately but are still eating the same amount of food as usual, then they will likely gain weight. Discuss this situation with your veterinarian, so we can address the pain in order to improve their overall quality of life.
  •  Genetic predisposition: certain breeds (e.g: Labrador Retriever, Beagles, Norwegian Forest cat, Persian) are genetically predisposed to weight gain. If your pet is at risk of obesity, consider feeding them breed specific diets.
  •  Hormonal disorders: Some hormonal conditions, such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease, can be the reason why your pet is gaining weight despite your weight loss efforts. Unless adequately managed, the underlying disease will continue to predispose obesity. In order to diagnose hormonal disorders, your veterinarian will recommend running some blood tests. Depending on the results obtained, proper treatment might be required.

The desired rate of weight loss in dogs is 1–2% of their body weight per week, while in cats it is 0.5–2% of their body weight per week. If possible, try to use the same scale every time you weigh your pet, as there might be slight variation among scales. Most pets can reach their goal within 3-6 months.

If you are worried that your pet’s weight loss journey is not working as expected, don’t hesitate to ask your veterinarian for advice on how to continue with the weight loss plan and feel more than welcome to visit us for free weight checks every 4-6 weeks!