Body condition scoring should determine whether your dog or cat is at a healthy weight. But once you’ve decided that weight loss is necessary, how do you track your pet’s progress? And how much weight loss is a reasonable goal for your dog or cat?
To find out the answers to these questions, we talked to District Manager Rebecca Zander. Nearly twelve years ago, Becca took a part-time job with Mud Bay while she attended school. Over the course of several years, she worked her way from store staff member to store manager. And when Mud Bay decided to expand to Oregon, Becca became our first Oregon store manager. In addition to her experience at Mud Bay, she’s also coached her cat and dogs towards their own healthy weights.
MB: At Mud Bay, we normally talk about setting monthly goals for weight loss. How should someone begin to set those and what do you think are reasonable goals?
RZ: It’s important to take your time when helping a dog or cat lose weight. Cats can develop fatty liver disease if they lose weight too quickly, so it’s essential that cats lose weight at only 3 to 4 percent of their total weight per month. Dogs can lose weight a little quicker, but a goal of 4 to 5 percent per month is ideal.
It can be really helpful to do the math, so you know exactly how much your dog or cat should lose. Then, you’ll want to decide how often you want to weigh your animal. I like to weigh once a week. I keep in mind that some weeks there may not be any weight loss, but as long as there’s a 1 percent loss most weeks, I feel that I’m making progress.
But before I set any weight loss goals for a dog or cat, I want to make sure I’m ready to make that commitment to weight loss. I like to gather all the information I have about what my dogs currently eat and how much exercise they get every day. I try to be super objective and look at food packages to gather information.
Then I look at what I can do to aid weight loss. I ask myself: Is there room for improvement in the amount of exercise my dogs get every day? Are they eating too much food? Is the food I’m feeding helping them stay at a healthy weight?
One tool I can use to help me make these decisions is the new feeding calculator at Mud Bay. It asks for all of the information that might affect my pets’ weight. Then I can look at the recommended caloric intake and compare it to how much I actually feed my cat and dogs. I can also update each pet’s weight regularly, and it will automatically calculate the new amount I should feed.
As you approach your goal, you’ll also need to use body condition scoring to reassess your dog or cat’s weight. You can do it yourself—we have body condition scorecards at Mud Bay to help—but sometimes it’s easier to get an objective person to assess it for you. So, anyone at Mud Bay can help you assess the body condition of your pet, or your veterinarian can help.
MB: Once someone decides to help their pet lose weight, how do you recommend that they track their progress?
RZ: While you should use body condition scoring to decide whether or not your pet needs to lose weight, it’s important to use the scale to evaluate your progress. Dogs and cats should lose weight slowly, and it’s impossible to be able to visually assess exactly what a 1 percent weight loss looks like.
So, if you try to help your dog or cat lose weight, you’ll need easy access to a scale. We added scales to all Mud Bays, so you can definitely visit your local store to track the weight of your pet. If you have an accurate bathroom scale at home, it’s easy to weigh most cats and dogs. I like to step on the scale and weigh myself first. Then I hold my cat while stepping on the scale and subtract my weight from the amount. If that isn’t practical, your veterinarian may be able to help.
I like to keep a chart on the fridge, so I’m constantly reminded of when I should weigh everyone. One of our dogs, Blitzen, fluctuates in weight very quickly. She’s high energy, and it’s easy for her to lose weight quickly. But she loves to eat, so she’ll also gain weight quickly. Even when we’re not working towards weight loss, it makes sense to weigh all our pets regularly. When Blitzen maintains her weight for a few months, we think “we’re doing something right!”
MB: What do you suggest for dog or cat owners when weight loss plateaus?
RZ: During a weight loss journey, I think it’s a good idea to be open to experimentation. You might have to try a few different things to get the results you want.
If you’ve already cut calories for your dog or cat, but they’re not losing weight, you might want to consider the type of food you’re feeding. You might want to try replacing some kibble with a wet or raw food. You could also try completely transitioning to a raw or wet food if that makes sense for your household.
Our cat, Benji, went on a weight loss plan to help him shrink from around 30 pounds to 18 pounds. And my husband and I started with feeding him different types of kibble. Then, over time, we switched to canned food, and eventually, he transitioned to raw food to lose all the weight. So, changing foods can definitely help weight loss.
If you haven’t already added more exercise to your routine, you can also help your dog or cat burn more calories through exercise. It’s important to remember every little bit helps. You can try more active, interactive play with your cat on weekends. Or you can get your dog out of the house for long walks or a visit to the dog park during good weather.
Any type of weight loss really requires dedication. To help our dogs and cat lose weight, my husband and I had to train ourselves. We had to check in with each other to find out how many treats everyone got each day. My husband works from home, and it became a habit to give the dogs chews to keep them occupied. Now we try to limit treats and chews to less than 10 percent of their daily calories.
I also recommend checking in with people who have experience with helping dogs or cats lose weight. Your veterinarian is always a good choice, but people at Mud Bay can also help you figure out how to create a custom weight loss plan. You can ask for weight loss tips and tricks from other pet owners or Muddies. Lots of Muddies have experience helping dogs and cats lose weight, and they can be a source of tips that will help keep your pet’s weight loss on track.
Rebecca Zander is one of Mud Bay’s district managers. When she’s not visiting Oregon Mud Bays or the Olympia Home Office, she’s at home with her husband, Griffin, and their two dogs and cat.