AAHA develops guidelines for weight management

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New guidelines could assist practitioners with the challenging endeavor of helping pets lose weight.

The American Animal Hospital Association released the 2014 AAHA Weight Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats in the January/February issue of the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association.


“Obesity is unfortunately very common in our cats and dogs,” said Dr. Deborah E. Linder, chair of the guidelines task force and the veterinary nutritionist who oversees the Tufts Obesity Clinic for Animals at Tufts University.

“We’re discovering more every day about how excess weight is harming our pets. From quality of life to serious medical conditions, obesity is damaging, and we have an obligation as veterinarians to help keep pets healthy and happy.

“The guidelines were developed to guide veterinarians in being the most successful in raising awareness and providing tips and suggestions for managing this complex disorder.”

A panel of experts developed the 11-page document, citing evidence for specific recommendations whenever possible and appropriate. Hill’s Pet Nutrition and Zoetis sponsored the guidelines.

According to the abstract: “Communicating and implementing a weight management program for dogs and cats can be a challenging endeavor for veterinarians, but a rewarding one. An effective individualized weight loss program provides a consistent and healthy rate of weight loss to reduce risk of disease, prevent malnutrition, and improve quality of life. Weight loss is achieved with appropriate caloric restriction, diet selection, exercise, and strategies to help modify behavior of both the pet and client.”

The guidelines include sections on prevention, initial assessment, designing a weight-loss program, exercise/activity, and monitoring and maintenance. A one-page table covers issues impeding or preventing weight loss along with possible solutions.

“The guidelines are meant to serve as a toolkit for veterinarians who may be finding it difficult to troubleshoot certain situations,” Dr. Linder said. “It’s always helpful to know you’re not the only one who is having trouble and to get ideas from others who have worked through the same thing.”

The authors would like to see more research regarding the optimal exercise plans for cats and dogs. They also look forward to new model regulations this year from the Association of American Feed Control Officials that will lead to calories appearing on the labels of almost all cat and dog foods.

According to the guidelines: “The prevalence of overweight dogs and cats is excessively high, and the authors would like these guidelines to serve as a call to action for small animal practitioners everywhere to give these patients the attention they merit.”

The guidelines are available here (PDF).

Related JAVMA content:

The fat factor (Aug. 1, 2013)

Calories to appear on pet food labels (Aug. 1, 2013