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Published February 22, 2017
Pet Projects
Dr. Mona Miller lives in Lafayette with her son, two cats and yellow Labrador. She attended UC Berkeley as an undergraduate, and received her DVM from UC Davis. She has been happy to call Lafayette home since 2001. She can be reached via email at MonaSDVM@aol.com. She welcomes questions from readers that may get incorporated into a column.

Our rainy Bay Area winter has kept many of us inside, including our pets. Just as we gain a bit of "winter weight", so do the dogs and cats. This is the perfect time of year to assess your pet's body condition, and start to slenderize if needed.
Most veterinarians use a Body Condition Score evaluation to determine a pet's ideal body weight. The weight also provides an objective measurement and tool, but the BCS helps factor in differences in body frames. I use the original Purina BCS scale, ranging from 1 to 9. On this scale 1 is emaciated, 5 is ideal and 9 is obese. The ideal is to be able to feel ribs behind the front legs with the flat of your hand, without too much space between the rib bones, or without having to push your fingers into your dog to find a rib.
An overweight pet is at risk for various illnesses, such as worsening of arthritis and other neuromuscular problems, diabetes mellitus, liver or heart disease, breathing problems, and skin fold infections, just to name a few.
If your pet has been assessed as being overweight, here are my recommendations to achieve successful weight loss:
Involve your veterinarian! Your vet can discuss a specific plan suitable for your pet, taking into account an ideal goal and an individual exercise plan. Your vet can also provide advice if the diet is not successful, often screening for underlying medical conditions with an exam and bloodtests.
Dogs and cats are different. Most dogs can lose weight rapidly in a safe manner, with an appropriate diet plan and a reduction in total calories consumed. However, cats can be at increased risk for health problems, such as fatty liver syndrome, if weight loss is too rapid. Fat cats should lose weight SLOWLY.
"Catkins" Diet. Some cats do better with a canned food diet instead of kibble because canned food has a higher protein/lower carbohydrate content than dry kibble. This is necessary for true carnivores, such as cats, to achieve optimal body condition.
Know how much is being consumed. Measure amount left out and subtract amount left over in a 24-hour period. Calories include ALL sources of food ingested by the pet - kibble/canned food deliberately put into a bowl, treats given throughout the day, table scraps and alternative sources of food from neighbors and friends.
Reduce calories. Feed less amount and/or substitute with low-calorie food or treats. Examples of low-calorie foods include baby carrots, rice cakes, cauliflower, can pumpkin and manufactured low-calorie treats. A "lite" diet often contains higher fiber to help make the pet feel more full without adding excess calories. A low-fat diet does not necessarily mean there are fewer calories, though!
Supplement with increased exercise. More walks or ball-chasing for dogs, and toys on a string or laser pointer chase for cats are great sources of exercise. Be cautious, however, that the overweight, out-of-shape dog doesn't overexercise as a "weekend warrior."
Be prepared for a hungrier pet. That's what a diet is all about! You may compensate for this by more frequent feedings throughout the day (snacking) but not by increasing the calories.
Monitor progress. Weigh monthly on an accurate scale, one that can measure ounces for pets under 20 lbs. You can use your veterinarian's scale if you don't have one at home.

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