We all know that obesity in people is an epidemic these days. A recent Centers for Disease Control study found that 68% of adult Americans are overweight or obese. Not surprisingly, obesity is a terrible problem in pets as well. You may wish that you had someone controlling your food intake - it might make dieting easier! Well, pets have us, caring for them, monitoring their food and treat intake, so there is no reason they should be overweight, and certainly not obese, right?!
Last year, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) completed the National Pet Obesity Awareness Study. It found that 26% of cats nationwide are overweight while an additional 34% are obese. Overweight dogs topped 37% nationwide, while another 19% were obese.
Those numbers are surprising, but even more astonishing is the fact that many pets classified as obese are considered by their owners to be in the normal weight range.
Because of this disconnect, it is not always easy or comfortable to discuss weight problems in pets during a veterinary exam. Some owners may take it as a personal attack while others blatantly disagree, stating that Rocky the Jack Russell is really part boxer and supposed to weigh 57 pounds! An animal of normal weight should have ribs that are palpable without excess fat covering, a waist when viewed from above, and an abdomen that tucks when viewed from the side.
Overweight pets are at risk for similar health concerns as people, and, as with people, are much more prone to:
- Type 2 diabetes - three times more likely in obese cats than normal cats
- Respiratory disease such as asthma
- Heart disease
- Joint and soft tissue problems such as osteoarthritis and cruciate ligament injury
- High blood pressure
- Many types of cancers
- Heat intolerance
In fact, research has shown that the life expectancy of an overweight pet is decreased by 2.5 years. I don’t know about you, but if I could give my dog 2.5 extra years of life by keeping him a healthy weight, I would do it in a heartbeat!
Let’s talk about how! First off, let’s look at some more interesting facts from Hill's Pet Nutrition and APOP. With regard to calories, did you know that:
- 1 Milk Bone large dog biscuit fed to a 60 pound dog is the same as an adult human eating 1 regular size Snickers bar
- 1 premium pig ear fed to a 40 pound dog is equivalent to an adult human drinking 6 twelve ounce Coke Classics
- 1 Purina Busy Bone (small-medium size) fed to a 40 pound dog is similar to an adult human eating 4 McDonald’s Egg McMuffins
- A 1-inch cube of cheddar cheese fed to a cat is equivalent to an adult human eating 3 Hershey’s chocolate bars
Be advised, it is best to discuss a weight loss plan for your pet with your veterinarian in case there are any underlying health concerns at play. That said, here are some simple, straightforward ideas to help with weight loss in pets.
- Use a measuring cup to measure your pet’s food. You’d be surprised how many dogs are being fed “1 cup” of food via a full 32-ounce (4 cup) container!
- Feed healthy treats. Dogs like things that crunch, like biscuits. Try plain popcorn or rice cakes instead. Many dogs also love veggies - baby carrots, broccoli, celery, cauliflower, green beans…..
- Do not free feed. Expecting a pet to autoregulate their food intake is asking too much.
- Break one biscuit in smaller pieces and give as treats throughout the day rather than giving multiple biscuits.
- Walk, play with or pet your furry friend when it begs for food. The attention will often offset the desire for food.
- For sedentary cats, move the food bowl regularly so that the act of eating takes effort and gets them moving.
- Weigh your pet frequently - many vet offices will happily weigh your animal for no charge to monitor weight loss.
Look at your pet with a more discerning eye the next time you have a minute. As stewards of our pets’ health, it is up to us to ensure they maintain a healthy weight and are comfortable, happy and live a long life. They give us so much - how can we let them down?