Addressing Pet Obesity

Pet Obesity on the Rise

In recent years, pet obesity has reached epidemic proportions worldwide. Debate rages over which factors are to blame for this growing problem. Is it food bag label instructing owners to feed too much? Are more pets becoming coach-potatoes? Is it the table scraps that seem to always mysteriously make their way to the floor? The truth is that it is likely a combination of many different factors ranging from cultural norms to diet and exercise. The most important thing to remember is a mantra that many people who are struggling to lose weight have to confront as well…

  • Do not just change the diet, change the lifestyle.

Healthy Pets Live Longer and Happier Lives

One of the most concerning things that veterinarians hear from owners is “I know he’s fat, but he’s happy!”. This attitude stems from the misconception that happiness in pets is dependent on how much food they eat on a given day. Although food can be a wonderful treat for rewarding good behavior in pets, it should not be used as a way to keep your pet happy. Find a way to stimulate your pet in different ways such as exercise, toys, or training. Use a low calorie treat as a reward for special circumstances only. Many pets can become bored with the monotony of day to day life, and stimulating their brains with activities keeps them happy and healthy.

Obese pets are not happy. It has been well-proven that overweight and obese pets are much more likely to develop serious or life-threatening illnesses than those of a healthy weight. Obesity increases the pet’s risk of developing diseases such diabetes mellitus, pancreatitis, liver disease, osteoarthritis, and cancer. These diseases can drastically decrease the pet’s quality of life not only from their negative physiological effects, but from the stress of frequent treatments and monitoring.

The First Step: Educate Yourself

The first step in keeping your pet at a healthy weight is educating yourself about their metabolic needs. The best resource is your veterinarian, who will be able to calculate exactly how many Calories your pet should consume daily. Do not blindly trust the instructions on the food bag, as they do not account for the high degree of variation in metabolism between pets of different sizes, breeds, and lifestyles. These instructions are often over estimations and frequently lead to overweight pets. After calculating your pet’s exact daily caloric need, you can divide this between 2-3 daily feedings and daily treat intake. Remember, this number is not necessarily constant and can fluctuate based on factors such as activity level, age, and health status. If your pet seems hungry all the time or exhibits any other behavior or mood changes, consider calling your vet before turning to the food bin. These changes can sometimes be associated with an underlying disease that needs to be addressed.

In addition to diet, activities are the next best way to keep your pet happy and at a healthy weight. These can range from daily walks, runs, or hikes, to playing with a toy, working on training, or throwing a ball. Each pet is different, so find an activity yours enjoys and stick with it. In the next few blog posts, we will discuss specific enrichment activities for different pets and how you can use them to stimulate your pet’s mind and body, as well as practice obedience.

Lastly, if you are ever in doubt about whether your pet is at a healthy weight, do not hesitate to pop by your local vet clinic. Sometimes it is difficult to assess a pets’ body condition (especially if they are a big fluffy cat), so some guidance from your veterinarian can be helpful in determining what a healthy weight would be for each animal.

A Few Tips:

  • Trouble finding a low calorie dog treat? Try tossing your dog a handful of frozen green beans!
  • Each dog or cat food bag should supply the amount of kcal (which is the same as Calories) per cup. If you cannot find it on the bag, you should be able to find it with a quick Google search.
  • Is your cat having trouble losing weight? Try canned cat food. Most canned cat food contains fewer carbohydrates and lower Calories than the dry stuff. It also keeps them well-hydrated.
  • If your pet is not tolerating being fed less food, prescription diet or weight loss foods found at the vet clinic can be extremely helpful as they are specifically formulated to satisfy their appetite without providing excessive Calories.
  • Fun fact: Small dog breeds actual require a higher amount of the calories for their weight than larger breeds due to a higher metabolic rate.

 

Stay tuned for our next blog posts on enrichment activities for pets!

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