By Steven Appelbaum (excerpted from the June 2016 issue of Pet Age magazine)
Overweight pets suffer from many of the same issues their human counterparts do. Overweight dogs and cats are more likely to suffer from heart disease, low energy, increased risk of arthritis and other joint problems, and shorter life spans, just to name a few. Retailers can assist clients by making educated suggestions based on their knowledge of the weight loss process. Of course, offering advice on health issues, especially weight-related ones, requires both tact and caution.
Generally, it is best to wait for a customer to inquire about weight loss supplements or special diets for their pets. This decreases the possibility of accidentally offending customers by pointing out the obvious: that their pet is fat.
As a rule, when you run your hands lightly along a dog or cat’s side, you should be able to feel the ribs. If you can’t, that’s a sign of excess fat. The lack of a waistline is another sign. You don’t need to do any of this with some pets, as it will be clear they are overweight.
Before making any weight loss recommendations, ask your customers if they have recently taken their pet to a veterinarian. If not, suggest that they do so. A vet can determine if there are any underlying medical causes contributing to a pet’s weight problems or if the pet has any additional medical conditions that might complicate any weight loss plan.
However, there are other things to consider. If a pet’s caloric intake is dramatically reduced, its metabolic rate (how fast or slow bodies burn calories) will slow down. This is a defense mechanism to prevent starvation and is why drastic starvation diets rarely work.
If you cut enough food out of the diet, weight loss will occur, but as soon as the pet goes back to consuming more calories it will likely gain the weight right back because the pet’s metabolism is still burning calories at the slower rate. Plus, such a starvation diet is unhealthy, not to mention uncomfortable.
Here are some reasonable steps your customers can consider for their overweight pets:
- Cut out all extra treats and human food. Many people don’t realize how much extra food they give their pets: the half of a piece of bread in the morning, three dog or cat treats before work, the extra scraps left over from preparing dinner and additional ones after dinner, etc. Children often add to this by feeding them as well. Therefore, the first weight loss rule is to cut all of this out of the pet’s diet—no extra snacks.
- Feed other pets separately from the overweight dog or cat. This lets her eat her food but not take any from others.
- Measure portion sizes; don’t guess. Customers won’t know whether to feed more or less if they don’t know exactly how much they were feeding in the first place.
- Feed a high-quality food that contains below average calories and fat combined with above average protein. Higher protein food helps a pet feel less hungry, which in turn causes less begging, making it easier not to break rule number one.
- Exercise. The importance of moderate, consistent, sustained exercise cannot be overstated. For dogs, chasing a ball around the yard for seven minutes isn’t nearly as beneficial as taking them for a 20-minute walk four times a week. Remind your customer not to push their overweight dog too hard. For cats, encourage your customers to play more with their felines. A rousing game of chase the laser dot or catch the wand toy at least once a day can provide an indoor cat with a good amount of exercise.