Chubby Dogs and Fat Cats More Common Than Ever

“Hey, hey, hey, this is Fat Albert.” Who remembers this cartoon with Bill Cosby and the Cosby Kids? Well, we are not here to talk about cartoons or even something comical. Let’s talk obesity. That’s right, being overweight. Despite all the information being shared about the negative effects of obesity in our pets, research by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) reveals that the percentage of pets that are overweight remains high. In fact, almost 58 percent of cats and 53 percent of dogs are overweight or obese. This equates to about 35 million dogs and 53 million cats that need to be on a stricter diet and exercise regime.

Obesity in our pets can lead to many health issues, thus not only decreasing life expectancy, but also costing you more money in added health costs with your veterinarian. Health issues can include increased cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal discomfort, increased incidence of diabetes, increased risk of hypertension, “fatty liver syndrome” in cats, less stamina and heat intolerance, respiratory issues, possible reproductive problems, and a higher incidence in some types of cancers. Dr. Joe Bartges, a veterinary nutritionist and internist who serves on the APOP board and head of the Small Animal Clinical Services Department at University of Tennessee Knoxville’s College of Veterinary Medicine states, “without the obesity risk factor in place, the likelihood of pets getting many serious diseases is inarguably reduced.”

One of the challenges and contributing to this increase trend of overweight pets is that many owners don’t recognize that their pets are overweight. In veterinary medicine many of us evaluate your pet by assigning what is called a body condition score for your pet. These scores are on a scale (no pun here) of 1-9, with scores of 4-6 being healthy, and not too thin or too overweight. In dogs, this equates to the ribs being easily felt but not seen and as you observe your canine friend from above, they should “waist in” behind the rib cage and when viewing from the side the abdomen should be “tucked up.”

With our feline friends, optimal weight is observed by a slightly narrower waist behind the rib cage when looking from above and the ribs being easily felt with a slight fat covering, along with the abdominal fat pad being minimal. Although we can all agree round is a shape, it is NOT being in shape from a health standpoint.

One notable pet food company has recently introduced a computer program where specific measurements are taken on your dog or cat and entered into a program whereby it then calculates your pet’s optimum body weight and how many calories per day you should be feeding. Your veterinarian is a great resource to discuss optimum weight and guide you on daily caloric consumption.  Don’t forget to add in the treats that are being given  to these calculations. Our pets are much smaller than us and as few as an additional 15-30 calories a day can be 10 percent or more of total daily caloric needs. Activity levels, age, and time of year may also affect the amount of food your pet needs. There are numerous diets and treats available like Sergeant’s Barkery Treats or Pur Luv treats to name a few. The list of options on diets and treats is extensive and often confusing. Your vet can help guide you on options.

Of course diet is half of the equation to proper weight. The other half is, you guessed it, exercise. Walking your dog daily for 30 minutes is a great form or 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 and accordingly alter diet as well. Cats typically don’t jog very well and are not keen on the whole leash thing. However, you can get them to exercise. Tap into their predatory instinct to get them to play. Have then chase a laser beam. Use toys like the Zoink! Fun N’ Run Pet Laser. Play games, such as “find the food” where you divide their food into smaller portions in bowls and place them in various places around the house.

As a pet parent, practice tough love instead of loving them to death by overfeeding. Wouldn’t we all like to have a trainer and dietitian who motivates us to exercise and eat correctly? 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.

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