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Pet Owners Should Count Calories for Overweight Dogs and Cats


How many calories are in that dog biscuit? Pet owners whose four-legged companions are overweight should pay attention to calorie and other nutritional information on pet food labels, according to Dr. Susan Nelson, a veterinarian and assistant professor of clinical sciences at Kansas State University.

Human food comes in packages with calorie information, and so does a growing number of food items for dogs and cats. Given the high percentage of overweight dogs and cats in the United States, it’s about time pet owners start counting calories for their pets.

The National Academies’ National Research Council announced that 25 percent of the dogs and cats in the Western world are overweight. According to Dr. Nelson, counting calories is important if your pet is overweight, although attention to how much exercise your pet is getting and how many treats it gets are factors as well.

Similar to when a human goes on a diet, dogs and cats that need to shed a few pounds can benefit from a support group, with all the family members helping with the effort. That means no one should slip extra biscuits to the dog or pieces of cheese to the cat under the table. Unintentional food that pets can get, including food that small children may drop on the floor, needs to be counted as calories consumed. Generally, calories from pet treats - intentional or not - should not exceed 10 percent of the pet’s total daily calorie intake.

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Although a veterinarian can help you determine how much food and what type your dog or cat should be eating, you can follow some general guidelines. If your pet is normal weight, follow the feeding instructions on the food package. If you switch to a different food, do not assume that you will feed your dog or cat the same amount of each food, as the calorie content, fat, and other nutritional levels will likely differ.

How do you know if your kitty or pooch is too pudgy? You should be able to feel the animal’s ribs easily under a thin layer of fat, but you should not be able to see them. When you look at your pet from the side, its stomach should tuck up at the flank and not hang down in a straight line or balloon out. The hourglass look is not just for people: when looking over the top of a dog, the shoulders should be broad, the waist narrow, and the hips broader.

Dogs that have a thick middle need fewer calories and/or more exercise.

Counting calories to help prevent your pet from becoming overweight can reduce the health risks associated with carrying excess weight. Diabetes is a common problem in overweight dogs and cats, as is arthritis, breathing problems, heart disease, high blood pressure, loss of stamina, heat intolerance, digestive disorders, and a greater risk of skin infections.

Although it may be hard to resist the begging looks from your dog or cat when they want a treat or more food, saying no and taking them for a walk or playing with a toy may be a wiser and healthier choice.

Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association news, March 1, 2007
Kansas State University news release October 8, 2009



Calorie counters are a great tool to help manage your weight. They help you watch and keep track of your daily calorie intake and help you have a healthy weight.