Obesity Taking a Toll on Dogs, Cats

I admit it: I own a tubby Tabby. I also own three rather plump pups. That being said, I was in denial for a long time, but we are all watching our weight these days.

And rightly so. You’ve heard plenty of stories about how many Americans are obese. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than one third of U.S. adults are obese, and 17 percent of children, ages 2 to 19 years, are considered obese. But we are not alone.

Just as many of us have made the wrong choices in food and have not embraced daily exercise as we should, we’ve also made poor choices for our pets. So much so that Oct. 8 is now National Pet Obesity Awareness Day.

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) does a yearly survey and the findings are pretty shocking. In 2013, the group’s survey determined that nearly 58 percent of our cats and 53 percent of our dogs are overweight or obese.

It’s easy to laugh it off and say that our dogs are just “big boned.” But it’s no laughing matter. Just as in humans, primary risks of excess weight for our pets include insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes; osteoarthritis; high blood pressure; heart and respiratory disease; and a decrease in life expectancy of 2.5 years. Are you still laughing?

APOP, which includes a diverse membership including veterinarians in private practice, teaching at the university level, and state and local veterinary organizations, notes the hardest thing to get owners to understand is just how much that extra weight means to a dog.

APOP has created an online weight translator and tables that show how much weight on common breeds of dogs might compare if the same percentage was on an average sized human.

“For example, if I tell a client their female Lab is 20 pounds overweight, that doesn’t sound so bad,” said APOP founder and president Dr. Ernie Ford. “Owners think, ‘It’s a big dog.’ If I tell them it’s the same as them weighing almost 190 pounds, suddenly the light bulb goes on: ‘My dog is fat.’”

Need more examples? A 12-pound Pomeranian is equivalent to the average size woman (5 feet 4 inches) topping the scales at 249 pounds. A 105-pound male Golden Retriever would be comparable to a 5-foot-9-inch man who weighed 237 pounds.

The website offers a variety of tools including calorie counts of popular pet treats (did you know that by 2015, all pet treats must include the calorie count?) as well as some tables estimating caloric needs of different breeds. Of course, your veterinarian is the best source of info on whether or not your dog or cat is overweight and can also give you more detailed information on what and how to feed your pet.

Don’t forget that diet and exercise go hand in hand. At our house, all of the pets are on reduced calorie foods and I make it a point to take the pack on walks in the evening. If you don’t want to take your cat for a walk on a leash, lasers are a fun way to keep them moving! Be sure to check out previous posts on walking your pet for more information, and check out the APOP website.

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