How to Help Your Pet Avoid Obesity and Disease
Can a few extra pounds age your pet prematurely? A study published in 2003 answered that question with a resounding yes. This groundbreaking study, performed by Purina over a 14-year period, placed 48 Labrador retrievers into two groups. One group was fed an amount that resulted in a normal weight, also known as ideal body condition, and the other group was fed a larger amount that made them overweight. The dogs with ideal body condition lost less muscle mass than dogs in the overweight category and even had delayed visual signs of aging, such as graying hair. Most importantly, the dogs with ideal body condition required treatment for age-related conditions an average of two years later than the overweight dogs.
No studies since have refuted the findings of the Purina study. Overweight pets are similar to overweight humans and develop the same types of complications, including heart disease, diabetes, respiratory problems and arthritis. Extra weight on a pet may not seem like a big deal, and you may even think it’s cute when little Fido waddles, but being just a few pounds over the recommended weight could put your pet in the obese category. For example, a Yorkshire terrier should weigh between 6 and 8 pounds. If your Yorkshire terrier weighs 10 pounds, he is 25 percent overweight and equivalent to a man of average height who weighs 211 pounds. Similarly, a 14-pound cat is the same as a man who weighs 237 pounds. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention has a pet weight translator that helps put your pet’s weight into perspective by comparing it to its equivalent human weight.
Aside from body weight, there are visual cues that indicate your pet is carrying extra weight. A cat with ideal body condition should have palpable ribs with a slight fat covering and a minimal abdominal fat pad. A dog with ideal body condition has easily palpable ribs with very little fat covering. When viewed from above, a dog’s waist should have a slight dip resembling an hourglass, and a side view should show an abdominal tuck. The Purina website has more information on body conditions with pictures of both cats and dogs to help you visually assess your pet.
As hard as it may be to swallow, you are responsible for your pet being overweight. An animal can’t put on a leash and take herself for a walk, and she can only eat what you put in front of her. It’s understandable that you want to show your love by giving your pet extra food and treats, but the most loving thing you can do is help your pet live longer and have a better quality of life. The longer you wait, the more likely your pet is to develop health problems. Waiting can also make it harder to change bad habits, so get started now and be consistent.
Always check with your vet first to determine how many calories your pet needs every day and what type of food he should be eating. Many veterinarians will recommend a certain brand or even a prescription food. These foods may be expensive, but remember that high-quality food can save you money in the long run by preventing a variety of health problems. Your vet can also advise you on whether you should allow free feeding, which entails leaving out a bowl of food all day for grazing, or if you should feed your pet at specific intervals. This handy dog food calculator at Dog Food Advisor can help you determine the amount you should be feeding your dog. The WebMD Cat Food 101 guide is an excellent resource that covers everything you need to know about cat feeding, including the debate on dry versus wet food.
Treats are a wonderful way to praise your furry companion, but they should account for less than 10 percent of your pet’s daily calories. Always choose treats specifically made for your type of pet. Avoid giving your pet table scraps, which are often full of fat, salt and preservatives. Human food could upset your pet’s stomach, and it’s difficult to keep track of the calories in those few bites, which may be equivalent to a meal for a cat or small dog.
Exercise is a key component in helping your four-legged friend slim down, but use caution if your pet is extremely overweight. If your pet has trouble getting around, don’t expect him to adopt a rigorous exercise routine immediately. Introduce new activities gradually and allow him to work up to a more intense routine. If he starts panting heavily and showing signs of fatigue, it’s time to call it a day. Start with slow 10-minute walks and work up to longer and brisker sessions. Dogs also love playing fetch, keep away and tug of war. Swimming is another great exercise, especially for dogs with joint problems. While dogs are usually eager to play, cats can be more subdued. Some cats will actually walk on a leash, so give it a try if you’re feeling brave! However, most cats prefer indoor activities, such as climbing a cat tree, chasing wand toys or playing with another cat.
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 55 percent of dogs and 53 percent of cats are overweight. You can help change these statistics starting with your own pet. If your pet is even slightly overweight, take action now to prevent diseases that can shorten her life. Knowing you could improve the quality of her life and gain another two years with your loyal companion, how could you not do everything in your power to help her maintain an ideal weight?