Obese Pets: Living with Cats and Dogs Suffering with Weight Issues
Pets suffering from obesity need attention. The Advisory Board provides tips on how to actively managing their waistlines.
This week, Petside is celebrating Pet Obesity Awareness Week. Each year, the first full week of October is dedicated to raising awareness about pet obesity, and ways owners can manage and maintain an optimal weight for their pet. In honor of this occasion, we've asked the Petside Advisory Board for insightful tips on managing pet waistlines and common misconceptions about pet obesity. Here's what they had to say:
Obesity is a very common problem in our pet population. One of the most recent surveys puts the number of obese dogs and cats at around 50% of pets. One of the common misconceptions is that obesity is just about weight and the deposition of fat; but it is a much more complicated disease process. Obesity predisposes pets to a variety of metabolic problems ranging from diabetes to metabolic to hormonal changes. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention is a wonderful resource with a great deal of very user friendly information. The board members of this organization are leaders in their field and exceptional people (I have personally worked with Drs. Peterson and Bartges and they are brilliant!)
The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention reports that nearly half the nation’s pets are classified as overweight or obese by their veterinarian, including 43% of dogs and 53% of cats. That’s roughly 85 million pets!
Given that the US is home to the most obese people in the world, it comes as no surprise that many pets walk in their owners’ footsteps. Pet owners don’t take obesity seriously which may lead to diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, respiratory problems and many forms of cancer, thus shortening pets’ lives.
Unfortunately, just like in humans, there is no magic bullet that’s the secret to weight loss. The mantra is always the same, “Caloric intake needs to match metabolic need.” Your vet can help you calculate caloric need based on your pet’s activity level and life stage. And regular exercise needs to be incorporated into your pet’s daily routine. Back and forth from the couch to the food bowl doesn’t count!
If you think your pet is pudgy work with your veterinarian to formulate a diet and exercise program. He/she may want to run some tests to make sure your companion is healthy and rule out underlying disorders like thyroid disease that would predispose them to obesity. Cats, in particular need to be under the guidance of your veterinary health care team because they are prone to liver problems if they lose weight too rapidly.
My favorite misconception about pet obesity involves the philosophy that sharing (your human food) with your pet is all about your caring. Try this one: not sharing is REALLY caring. It is much harder to NOT share steak, chicken and ice cream with your animals, especially when he looks at you with those loving eyes. Pets truly can convince you or a guest they are starving—can’t they? Try this: feed the recommended serving size listed on most bags of pet food or on your pet food brand website. Use websites like the Association of Pet Obesity Prevention to count your pet’s calories. This comes in handy when adding supplements and/or giving commercial, home-made or vegetables as pet treats which can increase his or her caloric intake. Lastly, always use a measuring cup when feeding your pet. This has helped my family keep our pets slim and healthy.
Many people don’t understand how serious obesity is for a cat. Obesity causes health issues and it shortens lives. Besides regulating a cat’s diet, activities can help cats lose weight. Encourage cats to work for their food. If feeding dry food, conduct treasure hunts. Place individual pieces of dry food on cat trees, on shelves in toys. If you have stairs, roll treats and/or dry food down the stairs, making the cat move for her meals. Don’t free feed. Instead, schedule multiple feedings throughout the day. Auto feeders are great for this. Playing with cats a couple of times a day will also burn calories and stimulate the cat.
The biggest misconception is that most people think their pets are not obese. Pet obesity, just like obesity in the American population, is increasing.
For dogs, cut back on calories and increase exercise. The body would rather stay heavy, and it is hard to lose weight. Instead of making the pet feel like it is starving, feed a higher volume but calorie restricted diet. You can add things to dogs’ diet to increase the fullness but without adding lots of calories, things like zucchini, green beans and broccoli or cauliflower are some choices. For snacks bell pepper strips or an occasional carrot are good choices. Carrots are higher in calories and sugar so just carrots all the time may be too many calories.
Make exercise fun, play with your dog!!
For cats, getting an overweight cat to lose weight is very difficult since they don’t go for walks like dogs do. You can stop free feeding and decrease the volume of dry food. If they eat more slowly they will feel fuller sooner, ways to get them to slow down eating are getting a shallow wide bowl and put golf balls or large clean rocks so that the food is in ribbons around these obstacles and they have to pick at the food more slowly to eat instead of gulping down large mouthfuls.
Cats that are very overweight should not lose weight too quickly; it can cause a condition called hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease. It is best to start a weight reduction program for any pet under the guidance of your family veterinarian to ensure the weight loss is not done too rapidly and your pet remains healthy.
We know dogs who are overweight do not live as long as dogs who are slender. That alone should galvanize us all to keep or get our dogs at a good weight. Their lives are far too short even under perfect circumstances.
Often people say they are feeding their dog just two cups a day and can’t understand why they keep gaining weight. My question for them is “What kind of cup?” If you are using a Big Gulp then your dog may be getting closer to 8 cups a day! Use a real measuring cup and fill it ONLY to the line, not to the top. If you use dry kibble and feel like the amount your dog is getting is just pitifully small, soak that food in water until it won’t hold anymore. That will result in a much larger portion and is what we are really feeding anyway since kibble is rehydrated in the stomach.
My favorite trick for helping dogs lose weight is to feed about a quarter of their regular portion as meals and use the other kibble as teaching rewards throughout the day. Not only will you have a beautifully well-mannered, slim dog who won’t beg for food, you will have a dog who loves to work.
- Filed Under: Advisory Board