Pet Awareness - September

September Is Pet Obesity Awareness Month

Is Your Pet Overweight?

Weight and Your Pets

Sometimes we give our pets treats just because we love them. We may even give them some of our food, or make sure that our dog or cat never has an empty food bowl. However, “people food” is often too high in fat for your pet to metabolize properly and it may actually cause your pet to become a more finicky eater who will refuse to eat its more healthy pet food.

Health Risks fot the Overweight Pet

However, that is not always the case. Sometimes your seemingly active, seemingly healthy-eating pet may be carrying more weight than her body can handle, no fault of yours. That is to say, there are instances of obesity caused by heart, thyroid or other metabolic disorders, and not overeating. But regardless of the cause, overweight pets can face some serious pet health problems most often related to the function of their heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and joints – not to mention a deterioration in mobility which can lead to self-grooming issues which, in turn, can cause skin problems. Obese cats in particular can be predisposed to diabetes, Hepatic Lipidosis and arthritis. And in the end, overweight pets will generally experience a dramatic decrease in lifespan.

So what can we do to help turn the tide toward a nation of lean, healthy animals? The first thing is to assess your pet’s body condition so you can determine if obesity is even an issue. Unfortunately, standing on a scale won’t give you the answer because “ideal weight” differs depending on the breed. You can usually tell if a cat is overweight just by looking at it. Cats should be straight and slender; not round or barrel-shaped. Cats get fat on their tummies, not along their ribcages the way dogs do. If they have a pudgy pouch hanging down from their belly, they need to lose a few pounds. You can tell if a dog is overweight by running your hands over the animal's sides along its chest. You should easily be able to feel its ribs. A dog at a healthy weight should have an abdomen that is slightly tucked up when viewed from the side. Dogs should have waistlines; if you look at it from the top, it should have an hourglass shape. If you can't feel the ribs easily, or your dog has no waist and its abdomen drags … you’ve got an overweight dog.

If you think your pet is overweight, talk with your veterinarian, who can give you advice on a proper diet and exercise program. Your veterinarian will determine if there are any other medical problems contributing to your pet's obesity and give you advice on how fast your pet should lose weight.

Once you’ve been given the green light to put your pet on a weight-loss program, you will need to make a commitment to some lifestyle changes that are directly related to the success of tackling obesity. It’s all about diet and exercise. Forget all the fad diets humans follow these days. The healthiest way for your pets to eat is a fresh, raw pet food, rich in naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals like those present in whole grains, raw fruits and vegetables as well as fresh, human-quality meat. If your pet’s diet consists of healthy, raw dog food or raw cat food, you won’t have to worry as much about counting calories.

Once you’ve got the diet under control, it’s time to consider exercise. This doesn’t mean your dog needs to spend an hour a day walking on the treadmill. Whether it’s the dog park, an agility class, or even just a walk around the block, dogs should have at least 20 to 30 minutes of exercise daily to eliminate extra calories and sustain muscle tone. For cats, use a string or toy to encourage jumping and chasing, or give it something interesting to climb. If your cat is not prone to running away, spending some time in the yard can be very helpful as well.

Tips for Preventing Obesity in Your Pet

Encourage exercise. Take your dog for walks. Play with your cat.

Choose the correct type and amount of food. Simply cutting back on the amount of food you feed your pet may also decrease the amount of essential vitamins and minerals it receives. Prescription weight loss diets ensure an adequate intake of essential nutrients while eliminating excess calories. Your veterinarian can help you choose the right food for your pet.

Regularly monitor the pet’s weight. A small change in your pet’s weight can have big consequences.

Regulate your young dog's weight. Stop the problem before it starts by feeding your puppy healthy food, making sure it gets lots of exercise, and not giving it “people food."

Limit or eliminate treats. Treats should be given sparingly and should not make up more than 10% of your pet’s daily calories.

Treat any medical problems or diseases. Just as in humans, obesity is sometimes a symptom of an underlying medical problem and may not be successfully addressed until any medical issues are dealt with.

There is a medication to help with weight management in dogs by reducing their appetite and limiting fat absorption. Contact your veterinarian for more information.