Puppy Fat and Feline Flab

I am writing this article soon after a Christmas day which involved eating my own bodyweight in turkey, chocolate, sprouts and other festive foods. Having had to loosen the belt a notch and cope with the odd stomach cramp, the thought of trying to undo my dietary indiscretions is fresh in my mind! I and many others will start January with the good intention of a dietary de-tox and possibly even cutting out the booze as well, if we’re being very diligent. However, by the time this goes to print, it will be February and most of us will have fallen off the wagon and returned somewhat to our ways of gluttony!

What better way to get back the pre Christmas waistline than with a dieting buddy in the form of a chubby dog or cat? They have the advantage of not judging you, and they won’t tell anyone if you do happen to sneak in an extra snack or two that isn’t on your points list. Additionally, when they ask for food which they are not supposed to have, you’ll feel stronger knowing that you are both going through the same pain!

Unlike us people, pets don’t tend to suffer from seasonal binging and subsequent fluctuations in weight. Instead, there is normally a slow progression towards obesity which starts with being a little overweight and proceeds from there. So, how do you tell if your pet is overweight and in need of a bit of calorie counting? (Certainly, I’m not advocating owners putting any pet on a diet just because they’re on one!)


Like people, there are certain areas where dogs and cats tend to store fat which makes them appear overweight - classic additions to the human frame are “beer guts” and “bingo wings”. In the doggy world, the “coffee table” is a common presentation! If you look at your canine companion from above and his or her back is flat and looks like it could quite easily take a tray of fine porcelain cups and saucers and a silver tea set then the chances are that they are significantly over weight! A “coffee table” dog will normally have no waistline, and you can’t easily feel their ribs or spine.

Cats on the other hand tend to develop a large “apron” in the belly region. This is great for dusting the floor, but a bit of hindrance when it comes to doing kitty things such as jumping, grooming or getting out of the cat flap. Overweight cats will often have a patch of dandruff and a greasy coat along their back because they simply can’t get to this area to clean it!

An example of apron related cat-flap hindrance well demonstrated by my own cat,  Feargal a few years ago. In his defence, the flap was a bit loose!


It’s pretty simple – fat pets run around less! It’s more obvious in dogs than cats because we take them on walks. If your dog is out of breath more quickly and can’t manage to go as far, then this could well be due to obesity. Cats hide their activity more, so it can be harder to notice a change but if they only time they move from the sofa is to visit the litter tray or eat, then alarm bells should be ringing!

Once you’ve established that you dog or cat is on the chunky side, then what can you do about it? Essentially there are two ways to lose weight – burn off more calories (exercise) or take in (eat) less. It is very hard to significantly increase a dog or cat's exercise to the level where they will lose weight. Unlike people, even a lazy dog still does a reasonable amount of exercise, so it is hard to make a big difference by increasing the number of, or length of a walk. As for cats, well, it's pretty difficult to make a cat do anything except on their own terms, so exercise is definitely out of the question!

This leaves us with eating less, and dietary modification is the backbone (pardon the pun!) of weight-loss in pets. Many people say that they feed their pet next to nothing, but they still gain weight. All I can say is that the scales don't lie! While there are a small minority of pets which have medical conditions causing weight gain, most are just eating too many calories!

Weight loss is achieved by adopting a strict regime with your pet which involves feeding the correct amount of food for your pet's target weight. This means cutting out all treats, especially any “human” food which is the equivalent of eating a burger for a dog or cat. “Treats” can still be given, but are taken out of the daily ration of food so that no extra is fed. It is possible to get a pet to lose weight on any diet just by feeding fewer calories than they require to maintain their weight. However, in practice this is especially difficult with many pets (especially cats) as you end up feeding next to nothing and have an extremely hungry dog or cat! Dieting is made much easier for owner and pet by feeding low calorie foods which enable a reasonable amount of food to be fed for the same calories. There are many “low fat” foods on the market, but it pays to go for a specific diet food to get the weight off – your pet can then be maintained on a normal diet.

If you would like more information regarding your pets weight, the best option is to contact us for a free appointment with one of our nurses – they will weigh your pet, take other measurements to assess how overweight he or she is and can then advise you on the best diet to feed, how much to feed and how long for. All weight appointments are free and we provide ongoing support and advice to help your pet shed those pounds! It is not only good for the health of your pet, but very rewarding as well!

That's it from me for this month – time for a dry ryvita and a glass of water to celebrate!