Thursday, August 20, 2015

Pet obesity: What you need to know, and some helpful tips

“He’s not fat; he’s just fluffy!”

Most pet owners believe that their cat or dog is a normal weight, even in cases of obesity.  Identifying pet obesity is difficult for the majority of people.  The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s (APOP) eighth annual National Pet Obesity Prevalence Survey found that “58% of U.S. cats and 53% of dogs were overweight in 2014.”  Further, the survey showed that “90% of owners of overweight cats and 95% of owners of overweight dogs incorrectly identified their pet as normal weight.”  Recognizing the extra weight and acknowledging the problem is the first step to tackling the issue.

Veterinarians and other animal professionals refer to a Body Condition Score in assessing pets’ weights.  The scoring system usually ranges from 1 to 5, with 1 being underweight, 3 being ideal, and 5 being obese.  Pets in the ideal weight range will have ribs and spine that are easily felt but not necessarily seen.  There is a waist when viewed from above, and the abdomen is raised and not sagging when viewed from the side.  Pets who are overweight or obese have ribs and spines that are hard to feel or count underneath fat deposits.  The waist can be distended or even nonexistent when viewed from above.  Fat deposits are typically found on the hips, base of tail, chest, and hindquarters.

When you ultimately identify your pet as obese, you may wonder what the “big deal” is.  After all, a chubby pet is a happy pet, isn’t it?  The problem is that, like humans, pets who are obese are at much higher risk for serious health issues.  APOP identifies the following as primary risks of excess weight in pets:

-Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes
-Heart and Respiratory Disease
-Hepatic Lipidosis (“Fatty Liver Disease”)
-Cranial Cruciate Ligament Injury (ACL knee injury)
-Kidney Disease
-Many Forms of Cancer
-Decreased life expectancy (up to 2.5 years)

Once you realize the seriousness of this problem and want to make changes, what can you do?

You can make changes and enhancements to help your overweight pet.  Try using healthy vegetables or fruits as a treat. Experiment with a wide variety such as carrots, bananas, or broccoli. Even hand-feeding low calorie kibble can be a treat.   Kibble becomes “special” when it is hand-fed.  Also, playing, petting, grooming, and praising is a great substitute for food treats.  These activities will increase the bond with your pet, as interaction is key to success.  

Make treats or meals more challenging.  There are products on the market that require involvement, reasoning and movement with treats or kibble as a reward.  These products require a pet to move, flip, or tug at a toy in order to get the food from within.  While there are a many on the market, some brand names to help in your search are:  the Buster Food Cube, the Tug-a-Jug, and the SmartyKat KnockOut treat toy.

Make gradual changes and get your veterinarian involved.  The first step is to determine the number of calories your pet eats in a day. To find the calorie content, look on the bag or can, check out the manufacturer’s web site, or call their toll free phone number.   Next measure the amount that you are feeding.  Pet owners are often surprised by how much is really in that “scoop” of food!  Also, do not forget to count treats.

Once armed with the current number of calories being consumed, the second step is a visit with your veterinarian. He/she will work with you to determine your pet’s ideal body weight and number of calories needed to achieve that goal.  Your veterinarian will help with alternative food suggestions, feeding schedules, challenges in multi pet households, and other strategies for success.  Follow up with monthly weight checks to see if your strategies are working or if your plan needs to be revised.  

As with humans, to lose weight, pets must burn more calories than they take in.  You can help your pet with added exercise, such as walks for dogs or toys that inspire the desire for chasing in cats.  The time spent together with your pets will not only help with their weight and health.  It will increase the bond you have with them and will add quality to the years yet to come.

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