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6 Mistakes Pet Parents Make When Trying to Put Their Pet on a Diet

Christie Long is a small animal veterinarian with 10 years experience in medicine, surgery, and acupuncture. As PetCoach's Chief Veterinarian, she directs a global team of veterinarians fielding inquiries regarding all aspects of pet car...

Don't risk your pup's health by making one of these common diet mistakes

Whether your vet has advised you that your pet is overweight or you've noticed that your furry friend has gained a bit too much weight recently, chances are you've considered or even tried placing your pet on a diet. Many pet parents don't realize that pet diets don't work the same way they do for us humans. So to help you out in case you do need to help your pet lose a few pounds, here are some common diet mistakes lots of pet owners unknowingly make.

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Stopping all treats

We all likely realize that treats can represent a substantial source of calories if they’re given out too generously. Things get even more complicated when you realize that there is no requirement that the manufacturers of treats put the calorie count on the packaging, so you’re left in the dark when figuring out how many treats is too many treats.

But if your dog has been used to getting food rewards for performing good deeds and you stop or seriously curtail his daily treat intake, you’re likely going to have a frustrated pup, especially since you’re likely already cutting back on the amount of food you’re feeding. Consider replacing most treats with healthy foods, such as frozen broccoli florets or baby carrots. Rawhides can have a startling amount of calories, so you’ll want to cut back on or stop those altogether, but consider replacing them with something like a Kong that’s been loaded with some of his daily allotment of kibble (soak for a few minutes in a small amount of low-sodium chicken broth or water to increase volume) and then frozen. These treats are tasty and provide a welcome diversion for a substantial period of time.

Not working with their veterinarian

You may think that getting your pet to lose weight is just a matter of decreasing how much you feed them until they don’t look fat anymore. But there are some really important questions to address before you embark on a weight-loss journey, and without having some solid answers and a good plan, you might become frustrated, which may predispose you and your pet to failure before you even get started.

Get your vet to help you figure out exactly how much weight your dog needs to lose, then have a look together at the food you’re going to feed or have them recommend one. That way, you can understand the amount of calories each cup or can of food contains. Your vet can even compute your pet’s daily calorie needs based on current weight and activity levels and then adjust downward for weight loss.

It’s also good to have your veterinarian on board at the start to ensure that you’re not mistaking routine chubbiness for an actual medical problem. Also, your veterinarian can guide you regarding what is a safe rate of weight loss for a cat — most experts agree that about 1 pound per month is safe — since rapid weight loss can increase the chance of fatty liver syndrome, a dangerous and potentially fatal condition.

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Forcing too much exercise

In older dogs especially, osteoarthritis is common. A decrease in activity caused by the joint pain of arthritis may be what led to the weight gain in the first place or perhaps at least contributed to the problem.

Your first inclination may be to put your dog into some sort of homegrown boot camp program, but it’s best to take it easy at first. Forcing exercise for extended periods or exercise that it too strenuous in nature may predispose your overweight dog to injuries that will sideline him for several days or even weeks, slowing down weight loss even more. Start with three to four brisk 20- to 30-minute walks per day, and once the weight starts coming off, you can consider beginning some jogging and games of fetch or chuck-it in a secure setting.

Giving in to those big brown eyes

If you’ve ever had to put yourself on a diet, you know how difficult it can be to sustain the willpower it takes to stick to the foods that you need to eat to get to a healthy weight. But the difficulty factor goes up by several points when you’re asked to limit what your dog or cat gets every day.

But be firm. It’s especially important to resist the urge to feed a bite or two of calorically dense “human” food from the table, as pets quickly learn how easy it is to play us and get what they want. Stick to the program, and you’ll see the rewards soon enough.

Eyeballing food measurements

In the veterinary clinic, when we ask owners how much food they fed, they’ll say, “a cup,” or “about a cup,” but when pressed to identify said cup, they’ll often admit that it’s actually a coffee cup or a Big Gulp cup, or a vessel that holds waaaaaaaay more food than a standard measuring cup.

As I mentioned above, getting your veterinarian on your pet’s weight loss team is a key success factor, not only because he can help you to determine what your pet’s ideal weight is, but also because he can calculate a food volume that will help you to understand exactly how much food you can feed to get the desired results.

Feeding only dry food to your overweight cat

Dry kibble is similar to the bag of chips or can of nuts that you may or may not have been known to reach the bottom of while hanging out on the couch on a given Saturday afternoon. Canned food is around 70 percent moisture, so not only do cats get a beneficial dose of hydration when they eat it, they are also likely to feel full sooner than they would eating a comparable volume of dry food.

Canned food can be a bit inconvenient, for sure, so if you can’t feed it at every meal out of concern for keeping the food fresh, consider feeding one meal of canned food at dinner when you’re more likely to be around and can take the portion up that doesn’t get finished after an hour or so.

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