Portion Control for Pets

While we at the APA don’t believe in #dietculture, we do know that your pet’s food intake is an important part of keeping them healthy.

I know this from personal experience.

My dog, Betty Boop, is a rescue who got returned to a rural shelter because of her appetite – for neighbor’s chickens. The shelter drove her the few hundred miles to St Louis where I adopted her in a Brentwood Petsmart. Okay, technically, I foster failed but you get the idea.

Betty Boop

One of the ways that humans show love is through food. We bond through food. Food is a cultural touchstone, it’s entertainment, it’s obsession. My point is: it’s equal parts wonderful and terrible for a lot of people. But when it comes to your pet: you need to break through all the layers of messy guilt and anxiety and feed them a safe, reasonable diet. I have one really simple tip for keeping your pet’s weight in check.

About a year ago a friend came over to visit and talk about cats (that’s normal right?). She saw Betty and while giving her head scratches, said, “you’re a cute little sausage roll.”

Oof. Although the chonky pets are cute, I know they aren’t healthy. Was my dog a chonk? Well, okay, so she is a little round – but aren’t we all? What is a dangerous amount of round?

I stewed over this for some time. Over the summer of 2020, I started to notice Betty had some difficulty going up stairs. She would sometimes slip or her legs would give out or she was just slower than usual.

Some of the issues an overweight pet might suffer include: 

  • Damage to joints, bones, and ligaments.
  • Diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes)
  • Heart disease and increased blood pressure.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Decreased stamina.
  • Decreased liver function.
  • Increased surgical and anesthetic risk.


In the APA Clinic there’s a chart of pet body condition. 

Body Condition Score

Okay…so Betty is definitely a 4ish.

…maybe a 5?

It turns out it’s really hard to diagnose your pet’s body condition, especially if you aren’t an expert. There’s a few reasons why:

  1. Denial – I’m here. How round is too round?
  2. When you see your pet every day, you don’t necessarily notice the subtle shift from ideal to overweight to obese
  3. It’s hard to deny your beloved pet snacks and treats. Especially if you feel guilty because you know you should have taken her on a walk…. Or you wish you could afford a fenced in yard… or you let the cats on the bed but not the dog and is that fair? Am I a bad dog mom?

No, I’m not. And neither are you.

But here’s what you need to do: you need to start measuring your dog’s food. Even if she’s not overweight, this is going to help keep her that way. Your dog’s food will have measurements on the side for how much to feed your dog. Talk to your vet about the ideal weight for your dog, and then feed that amount.

Betty’s ideal weight is 60lbs so I feed her according to the 60lbs recommendation on the bag. Do not estimate. Use a measuring cup. Get one specifically for your dog’s food and leave it somewhere conveniently close by the kibble.

I started measuring her food a few weeks ago. Does she love it? No. She definitely licks her empty bowl to get my attention because she’s a brat. But is she suffering? No. She’s going to thank me when the stairs in our apartment are easier. When she can breathe easier. It’s about quality of life.

And sometimes when she’s really being outrageously whiney, I admit I do give her a carrot or two.

It’s definitely possible to overfeed healthy snacks though. From The Farmer’s Dog we found these helpful tips:

 Even too much of a fruit or vegetable can contribute to weight gain, so mastering portion control is essential. You’ve probably heard of the 90/10 rule stating that treats should comprise no more than 10% of a complete and balanced diet. Precisely measuring 10% isn’t always straightforward, however, and guesstimating can result in overfeeding.

One way to determine calorie count is to consult a food database, like the one provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Data Central. Then with your dog’s calorie requirements in hand, perform some basic math. For example, say you have a 20-pound dog and you’d like to treat them to a banana. Since they require between 325 to 400 calories a day, a maximum of about 32 to 40 of these calories should originate from treats. Feeding her an entire small banana –which contains about 90 calories– is excessive.

For a list of snack options and to read the full article: https://www.thefarmersdog.com/digest/top-14-dog-friendly-snacks/

If you read no other sentences in this blog, read this one: You are a good pet parent, regardless of your pet’s weight.

This is true too: you are entirely capable of controlling your pet’s portions. It will help her live a happier, healthier life. You have a big human brain and you’re capable of understanding the reasons behind the choice to limit your pet’s calorie intake, even if she doesn’t really understand. She loves you and you are a good human, I promise.  

As always if you have any questions, you can drop me a line at outreach@apamo.org.

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