We, as humans, love feeding our loved ones. That includes our pets – although unfortunately, sometimes we take it too far. Recent research by Banfield Pet Hospital has found that one out of four dogs and one out of three cats in the US are overweight or obese.
Overfeeding your pets can lead to serious health consequences like heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis – some of which they can’t come back from even if you stop overfeeding them.
Your pet’s individual situation may vary, so consult your veterinarian for specific dietary advice. In general, here are some clear signs that you might be overfeeding your pet and how to know how much to actually feed them.
Your pet is struggling to self-clean — even though he or she used to do it regularly.
Cats and rabbits are both constantly cleaning themselves – it’s just an everyday part of cat and rabbit life. In fact, both species keep themselves so clean that neither one usually needs you to bathe them.
If your cat or rabbit has put on significant weight from overeating, however, their ability to clean those hard-to-reach areas – between their toes on their hind feet, or down by their tails, or anywhere near their butts – can be difficult or impossible to reach, according to Rabbit.org.
Other health conditions – like arthritis and the ageing process in general – can make cleaning more difficult as well.
Your pet is more lethargic than they used to be.
Although this is a frustratingly vague symptom that could indicate a variety of health concerns, a consistently overfed pet may no longer have the energy that they used to have before excess weight made running, jumping, and playing more difficult, according to Greencross Vets.
As a rule, any significant change in your pet’s behaviour should probably be checked out by your vet. Even if it’s not related to overfeeding, it’s important to monitor changes like these for your pet’s general health and wellbeing.
Here’s how you can tell if your pet is overweight or obese.
Australia’s Greencross Vets put together a detailed infographic that shows cats from very underweight to obese – and the physical signs you can look for to tell you where your cat may fall on this scale. Be aware that different fur types can make it more difficult to accurately assess your cat’s weight.
The House Rabbit Society has a handy guide here that talks about the different characteristics of both overweight and underweight rabbits. As with cats, different types of fur can make it more difficult to determine whether your rabbit is underweight, overweight, or just right.
In the UK, the Pet Food Manufacturers Association has a chart that gives you details on how to assess your dog’s weight.
For birds, snakes, lizards, turtles, and other pets, consult your veterinarian for detailed information on healthy weight goals and how to assess them according to your individual pet’s needs.
Age and activity level — as well as the breed’s general size — play a role in the proper food amount for your pet.
Like humans, your pets have different nutritional needs depending on several factors. An elderly, diabetic cat has different requirements than a kitten, for example. Likewise, your constantly active border collie will also have different needs than your couch potato French bulldog, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Pet food packaging gives guidelines for an average pet — but your individual needs are best assessed by your vet.
According to Banfield, pet food labels can vary by as much as 25% from what your individual pet actually needs. If your pet isn’t maintaining a healthy weight for their size, it might be time for a frank discussion with your vet about current food routines and amounts – and what you may need to change.
Different species have different food needs — but most pets won’t self-regulate if you leave food out all the time.
Rabbits are an exception – to be healthy, they need free access to grass hay at all times, according to the House Rabbit Society. But even with rabbits, other types of appropriate food – green vegetables, herbs, and either no or very small amounts of pelleted food – should be limited to sensible portions.
Most dogs and cats will eat what you give them – which means if you’re constantly allowing free access to food, they will probably eat it and not self-regulate, according to Banfield.
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