Managing your pet's weight

How to make sure your cat or dog maintains a healthy weight.
Written by Mayhew team
Updated 2 years ago

Feeding the correct food

Dog vs Cat diets – a brief biology lesson
Dogs are considered omnivores, having evolved over thousands of years to live alongside humans and relying on them for scraps of food. Because of this, dogs have adapted to digest both meat and vegetation. Like humans, dogs can synthesize taurine (an essential amino acid building block for protein) from other proteins, which is essential for good health.

Cats can only derive taurine from meat and fish, so it’s vital to feed them a balanced feline diet. Cats typically have a higher protein requirement than dogs. They do not need carbohydrates and are typically classified as carnivorous, historically being hunting predators. Feeding a cat dog food or a vegetarian diet can cause deficiencies and lead to health problems.

Lifestage diets

Kitten and puppy foods are higher in calories and are fed for the growth phase. They are generally suitable for up to a year old. However, some pets may be more likely to gain weight when they are neutered so may need to switch to an adult diet from 6 months.

Growth phases are longer in very large breeds of dogs so they may be fed puppy foods for longer, or they may be able to switch to an in-between junior food.

Senior foods are typically fed once a pet reaches 7 to 8 yrs old and generally contains fewer calories and different vitamins and minerals to suit the requirements of an older pet.

Wet vs dry food

Tinned or pouch foods (wet foods) are relatively easy to store, have a stronger smell, and are thought to be more appealing to an animal. It has high water content at around 80%, which means your pet won’t drink as much. This is particularly noticeable in cats.

Dry foods are convenient to feed, easy to store and generally less expensive than wet food. Good quality dry foods are very well researched and balanced.

The down side is that dry foods generally contain a greater amount of calories from carbohydrates in a smaller amount of food so extra care must be taken to feed the correct amount. Water content is much lower (between 15 to 30%) so you must make sure fresh water is available at every opportunity.

Combinations of wet and dry can be fed, as long as the total amount fed is correct for your pet’s ideal body weight. 

How much to feed your pet

The packaging of your chosen food will have feeding guidelines written on them. This is the amount your pet should be fed over 24 hours. Remember these are guidelines. As we are being advised to stay at home, it is likely that dogs may get less exercise than normal and therefore will need to take in fewer calories.

If you are feeding your pet dry food, it is important to weigh out their food rather than guessing. It’s very easy to over feed dry food. To save time you could weigh out their daily portion in the morning. Then, divide this into meals that can be given throughout the day, rather than weighing out at each feed.

It is important to remember that your pet should be fed according to their ideal weight. This may not be the same as their current weight if they are overweight or underweight.


While we are spending more time with our pets it can be very tempting to give them plenty of treats, even if it is in the form of puzzle games or part of training! This can easily lead to overfeeding your pet – especially if you give them human foods as treats. Feeding your dog 60 grams of cheese is the equivalent to a human eating two doughnuts. Feeding your cat two crisps is equivalent to a human eating a burger!

It's also important to remember that lots of human foods, such as grapes and chocolate, are toxic to animals.

If you are giving occasional treats to your pet, remember to adjust your pets daily portion of food to account for the extra calories. Remember – treats are not nutritionally complete so should only replace a small proportion of your pet’s food.

Checking your pet's bodyweight

As a simple assessment of whether your dog or cat is a good body weight, you should check the following body areas:

Ribs: You should be able to feel your pets ribs easily when stroking them with the flat your hand. If you can’t feel the ribs it is likely that your pet is overweight. You should not be able to see your pet’s ribs; if you can, they may be underweight.

Waist: From the side you should be able to see a “tuck” to the abdomen starting where the chest ends and going up toward the hips. When looking from above here should be a visible “waist” behind the rib cage.

These are general rules but certain breeds can be more difficult to body score. If you are concerned that your pet may be over or underweight it’s a good idea to discuss this with your vet or veterinary nurse to make sure there are not any underlying health issues.

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