Preventing Pet Obesity

UPDATED: Nov 14, 2013

On our television or on the radio, we’re bombarded with information about cost cutting and improving health. As pet owners, we must also take responsibility for the health of our pets. The simplest thing anyone can do to help in avoiding illness in our pets is to make sure they are eating a healthy diet and exercising daily. Does this sound familiar?

In 2009, a nationwide study was conducted to try to estimate the number of overweight pets.  The results revealed that about 45 percent of all dogs and 57 percent of all cats were overweight or obese! This equates to about 35 million dogs and 53 million cats needing to be on a stricter diet and exercise regime. Unfortunately, it seems the trend is continuing with more obesity in our pets.

One of the biggest contributors to this obesity epidemic is excessive calories due to too many unhealthy treats along with too great a volume of dog food. Also, especially in our urban areas, pets have a more sedentary or less active lifestyle, which contributes to obesity.

Obesity in our pets can lead to many other health issues, thus not only decreasing life expectancy but also costing you more money at the veterinarian in added healthcare costs. This can include increased cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal discomfort, increased risk of diabetes (especially in cats), increased risk of hypertension, “fatty liver syndrome” in cats, less stamina and heat intolerance, possible reproductive problems and a higher incidence in some types of cancers.

So how do you tell if your pet is getting pudgy? In veterinary medicine we use what is called Body Condition Scores. This is usually on a scale of one to nine, with scores of 4-6 being healthy – not too thin or too overweight. In dogs, this equates to the ribs being easily felt but not seen, and as observed from above the dog should “waste in” behind the rib cage. Viewing the dog from the side, the abdomen should be “tucked up”. With our feline friends, optimal weight is observed by a slightly narrower waste behind the rib cage as looking from above and the ribs being felt easily with slight fat covering, along with the abdominal fat pad being minimal.

There are many weight control diets available and the list is too extensive to even begin to discuss here. Your veterinarian can help with choosing the best diet. Choosing a weight loss diet is NOT a one-size-fits-all proposition for pets.

Walking your dog daily for 30 minutes is a great form of exercise for both pet and “walker.” Play games – make it fun and be realistic. In certain areas of the country, due to winter or summer climates, you may have to adapt to the weather conditions.  As a consequence, alter diet as well.

Now, while cats typically don’t jog very well, you can get them to exercise. Tap into their predatory instinct to get them to play. Have them chase a laser light beam. Use toys. Games like “find the food” are great – you can divide their food into smaller portions in small bowls and place them in various places around the house.

So as a pet parent, sometimes you must practice tough love. Wouldn’t we all like to have that trainer and dietician who motivates us to exercise and eat right? Well, you can be that person for your pets! It will make them healthier, build stronger bonds between you and your pets, save you money and help to ensure that your pets live longer.

 

-Photo Credit: From flickr by Borderlys

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