Our pets are in the middle of a disastrous epidemic; and, sadly, many owners are not even aware of the situation. Veterinarians are reporting increasing numbers of overweight and obese pets. Whatís the cure for this nationwide problem?
Veterinarians have estimated that more than 88 million pets are far too heavy, and this tendency toward chubbiness is causing injuries, illnesses and even shortening life spans. Unfortunately, there is a serious disconnection between what veterinarians tell owners and what the owners see in their pets.
The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention surveys veterinarians and owners each year to find just how overweight our pets are. Recent surveys have shown that 53 percent of dogs and 55 percent of cats are classified as overweight or obese by their veterinarians, but 15 to 22 percent of owners see those same pets as normal weight! In the words of APOP founder, Dr. Ernie Ward, pet owners have now normalized obesity and made fat pets the new normal.
Whatís even worse is that despite veterinariansí warnings, the numbers of fat pets continues to grow. In recent years, pets classified as obese (greater than 30 percent above normal body weight) have increased after each survey. This means that more and more pets are at higher risk for a variety of weight-related problems.
Carrying excess pounds can cause pets to develop breathing problems, kidney disease and aggravate arthritis. Cats are extremely prone to acquiring Type 2 diabetes when they are overweight, and any anesthetic procedure for your pet is automatically more of a risk because of increased body fat.
Above all, excess weight will shorten a petís lifespan. A landmark study has shown that pets who eat a limited amount of calories live almost two years longer than pets without calorie restrictions.
Pet owners are the major gateway to both preventing our pets from becoming obese and helping them lose the excess fat. After all, itís the owner who controls the petís access to all foods!
If your veterinarian has diagnosed your pet as overweight, donít despair. Your veterinarian is happy to develop a plan that will safely and effectively lose the extra pounds. Next, use tools like a Body Condition Score chart (http://www.hillspet.com/weight-management/pet-weight-score.html) to more fully understand what an overweight pet looks like.
Involve your whole family in the petís weight loss process. Assign one person to be the petís primary feeder and make sure that no one else in the family is providing non-approved treats or snacks on the side. It may not seem like much, but even a couple of dog biscuits each day can add an extra 50-100 calories. Thatís almost 25 percent of a small dogís total daily requirement.
For obese pets, your veterinarian will recommend a prescription weight-reducing diet for your pet. Although you might be tempted to continue feeding the previous brand of food at smaller portions, this practice could actually lead to nutritional deficiencies. Reduction diets are specially formulated to provide the right amount of all nutrients, while still limiting the amount of calories.
You may need to change your petís feeding schedule, too. Most pet owners either leave food out for their pets all day (free-choice feeding) and that often leads to the obesity problem, or they only feed a large amount once a day. By feeding the right amount twice or even three times a day, you can actually help your pet lose more weight.
Increasing your petís exercise is also a crucial component to weight loss. Once your veterinarian gives the okay try to work up to two 20-minute walks per day or even one-hour-long walk. The extra benefit has positive effects on your health also.
For cats, use kitty toys to encourage play and movement. Teaser toys on strings and even laser pointers can keep your cat moving, and a couple of 20-minute sessions each day will help your feline burn more calories.
Once you have started the process, your veterinarian will want to see you for regular weigh-ins and consultations to make sure you are meeting goals and adjusting as needed.
This is a serious issue and has a proven effect on longevity. We all want our pets to be with us for as long as possible, so helping them lose excess weight is just one way we can help make that happen!
Dr. Jim Humphries is a house call veterinarian in Falcon. He also serves as a visiting professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University. He lives in Falcon with his wife, horses and Great Danes. http://www.MobilePetDocs.com