Pet Obesity - A Weighty Problem
Mastiffs are big dogs, but at 160 pounds, Melody carries an unhealthy amount of weight. "We are trying to get some weight off of her," says owner Frances Bush, because the gentle giant suffers from both elbow and hip problems. A slimmer figure would relieve stress on her joints.
A cat named Poo Bear weighed 26 pounds by age nine. "One day I looked at Pooh and was horrified that I'd let that happen to him," says owner Michelle West. "I'm sure that if he hadn't gained so much weight, he never would have become diabetic."
WHY IS FIDO FAT?
Today's pets become overweight because they do not get enough exercise, are fed too many high-calorie tasty treats, and often overeate either out of boredom or from being overfed by their owners. You might think you are showing your love for your pet when giving him extra treats, but you are actually jeopardizing his health.
Obesity is defined as exceeding ideal body weight by 20%, and today is considered the most common nutritional disease of dogs and cats. A survey of veterinarians indicates that 40% of adult cats, and up to 50% of adult dogs, are overweight or obese. "Obesity definitely doubles, triples, or quadruples the risk for diabetes," says D. Dottie LaFlamme, a veterinarian, nutritionist, and researcher with Nestle Purina PetCare Company. It is also an aggravating factor in heart problems, arthritis, and skin problems.
Obesity is a longevity issue, too. Long-term studies show that slim dogs live up to two years longer than overweight dogs. Overweight cats also have an increased risk for dying in middle age.
Pets tend to gain weight as they grow older, which may be due to changes in their aging senses, explains Dr. Lawrence Meyers, a veterinarian and associate professor of anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology at Auburn University. "Studies show that a partial reduction in the sense of smell as pets age seems to prompt them to eat more food," he says.
Weight gain isn't just a problem in older pets - puppies and kittens can put on the pounds too. If you do not pay close attention to how much your new pet eats, he may easily gain weight before you know it. Pudgy puppies and kittens may look adorable, but they are not healthy and are likely to become overweight adults.
VISIT YOUR VETERINARIAN
One good thing about obesity in pets is that it can be treated. If you think your pet is overweight, take a trip to your veterinarian before putting him on any type of diet. YOur veterinarian will do an examination to rule out potential healthy complications. Pets should lose weight in a safe, gradual way. Usually, the target is to lose about one to one and a half percent of your pet's starting weight per week. Your veterinarian will calculate how much weight wshould be lost and suggest a diet and exercise plan appropriate for your pet.
To properly regulate feedings, you must know the caloric needs of your pet and the caloric content of the food(s) and treats you're feeding, says Dr. Sarah K. Abood, a veterinarian and assisstant professor of small animal clinical sciences at Michigan State University. Your veterinarian can tell you what your pet's needs are. There is a tremendous variation from one animal to another as to how many calories they burn in a day. Your veterinarian can choose from a number of formulas to determine the caloric needs of your pet.
HELPING YOUR PET SLIM DOWN
Moderately overweight dogs and cats lose weight if you eliminate or reduce treats and increase play sessions. "Avoid the tendency to feed your pet throughout the day. That's a major factor in causing obesity," says Dr. Richard Nelson, a veterinarian, professor, and department chair of medicine and epidemiology at the University of California-Davis. Rather than keeping the bowl full for all-day nibbling, switch to feeding meals in measured amounts.
Many overweight pets do well on reduced-calorie foods, which typically rplace fat with ingestible fiber, dilute calories with water, or "puff up" the product with air. "Senior" diets typically have fuwer calories, so switching older pets to a more age-specific formula can help too.
Divide your pet's daily food allotment into four or even five small meals a day to help keep him from feeling deprived. Multiple small meals also tend to increas the body's metabolic rate, so your pet will burn more calories faster. Once he reaches his target weight, serving meals twice daily will maintain his health. Weight loss in pets is just like weight loss in people - cutting down on the intake of calories and increasing exercise will usually result in the loss of weight.
When cats and dogs are truly obese, medical supervision by a veterinarian - and often a special therapeutic weight loss diet - are necessary. A variety of reducing diets, which must be prescribed and supervised by your veterinarian, are made by most major pet food manufacturers. Each offers innovative formulations that help pets safely lose weight.
Some therapeutic foods increase dietary protein to help the pet's body burn fat. Others are designed to better regulate the body's natural insulin levels so that the calories are more readily burned instead of being stored as fat. Research studies have shown that certain vitamins can affect the way food is processed and stored int he pet's body, and affect weight loss. For instance, adding a vitamin-like substance called L-carnitine to the diet will increase the rate at which muscles burn fat for energy, says Dr. Dan Carey, a veterinarian and director of technical communications for the Iams Company.
EXERCISE FOR HEALTH - AND FUN!
Controlling diet is only the first step. Your overweight pet needs to take lots of "steps" in the form of exercise to take off pounds. Both cats and dogs should get about 20 minutes of aerobic exercise every day to stay helathy. Keep in mind that obese animals cannot maintain activity for extended periods. Any exercise program should begin slowly and be adjusted to your pet's ability level.
Controlled leash walking at the dog's pace is ideal to build up his stamina. As the weight comes off , his energy level will increase. Start with a 10-minute walk in the morning and afternoon, and add another 5 minutes each week. Once the dog is able to walk for 20 minutes at a stretch, try picking up the pace and increasing the distance. The interaction you share with your dog during the walk is much healthier for you both than giving him attention wtih treats.
"There is no reason that cat's can't be taught to walk on a leash," says Dr. LaFlamme. Cats won't accompany you on a power walk, but a slow to moderate stroll on a leash once or twice a day around the house or garden will help them burn energy.
Interactive play is the best way to encourage exercise for your feline friend. Feather toys or fishing-pole lures are dieal, says Dr. Rhonday L. Schulman, a veterinarian and internist at the University of Illinois. "If you just spend some time with them, some cats will learn to play fetch," she says. Try using tiny watds of paper (big enough so your cat won't eat them), flipping them across the room or down the stairs for your cat to chase.
Very overweight cats and dogs may be reluctant to move at all. "Make the animals work a little bit for their food," suggests Dr. Abood. "Put the food at the top or bottom of the staircase so the animal always has to go up and down to get the food." If he can't navigate stairs, put food on a chair and provide a ramp up to the chair so he's burning a few calories. Setting the bowl across the house from your cat's bed also forces her to move.
Dieting cats and dogs often pester owners for more food. Reserve part of the pet's regular dieat - a handful of kibble, for instance - and keep it handy to dispense as "treats" when your pet comes begging. Commercial treat balls are another option. Place a portion of your pet's regular daily ration inside the treat ball so he'll have to work at it to get to the food. THis can solve portion control, exercise, and the pester factor all at once.
Pooh Bear the cat managed to lose ten pounds in twelve months when Michelle decided to control his food intake and encouraged exercise. Weight loss also helped reduce Poo's need for insulin. Michelle knows weight control is important to Pooh's continued good health. She says, "I want him to be with me as long as possible."
In a very way, when it comes to feeding our pets, less is more.
WEIGHT DEFYING TIPS
- Keeping your cat or dog thin from infancy on prevents health problems, improves longevity, and increases quality of life.
- Make twice-daily 20-minute play therapy part of your routine.
- Reward with attention, not treats.
- Choose an age- and activity-appropriate diet.
- Ask your veterinarian for feeding guidelines based on individual needs.
- Feed measured amounts of food two to three times a day instead of simply keeping the bowl full all the time.
- When you must be gone during the day, consider using an automatic feeder that offers meals in locked compartments at timed intervals.
IS HE FLUFFY OR FAT?
A scale isn't the best way to tell if your dog or cat is overweight. A much better measure is a hands-on approach.
Some dog breeds call for slightly different compositions - for instance, greyhounds and other racing breeds are supposed to have visible ribs. Generally, you should be able to feel your cat or dog's ribs but not see them. From above, you should see a decided break at the waist, beginning at the back of the ribs to just before the hips.
In profile, pets should have a distinct tummy tuck beginning just behind the last ribs and going up into the hind legs. Many adult overweight cats tend to carry a "pouch" of fat low in the tummy, but seem of average size otherwise. Overweight dogs often develop rolls of fat on the lower back above the tail. If you can't feel the pet's ribs, and/or he has a pendulous or bulging tummy, your pet is too plump.