Jelly-Belly, butterball, husky, portly. We jokingly refer to chunky animals as this, but it’s no laughing matter. Experts estimate that nearly 55% of companion animals are overweight. This directly increases their risk for many serious conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes, breathing problems, and heart disease. They blame the pudgy pet problem on too many treats and not enough play time. Recently scientists determined that many companion animals are obese because they are emotional eaters! I understand first hand what it’s like to have an obese animal companion, and it’s one of the most challenging situations for everyone in our home. Today, October 9th, is National Pet Obesity Awareness Day, so I wanted to share some insights and fat facts with you.
“Over half the nation’s dogs and cats are now overweight making obesity the leading health threat of our pets. Largely preventable diseases such as arthritis and diabetes are being seen in record numbers costing pets their life and owners millions in medical bills. The reality most of these cases could be avoided simply by preventing weight gain and shedding excess pounds.”
Many animal guardians disregard the health hazards associated with overweight pets and instead focus on how cute their plump cat or roly-poly pet looks, says Nick Trout, DVM, a staff surgeon at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston and author of “Love Is the Best Medicine: What Two Dogs Taught One Veterinarian about Hope, Humility, and Everyday Miracles.” But overfeeding a fat cat or dog is basically loving it to death, says Dr. Trout. Overweight and obese pets not only have shorter life spans but also suffer from more medical problems during their lives, including back pain, arthritis, kidney disease, and diabetes—and they’re more expensive to care for as a result.
Just as disturbing, says Dr. Ward, is that an inactive pet is more likely to become depressed or anxious. That’s because a sedentary lifestyle leads to an alteration in the three major brain chemicals responsible for mood — and that can create emotional issues. “Aerobic activity for as little as twenty to thirty minutes a day balances norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin levels,” he says, “resulting in a better, more stable mood.” Also, well-exercised animals won’t be quite as wound-up, so they’ll be less likely to run amuck, chew, bark, squawk and meow for hours, and other behaviors that we could all do without!
- A 12 pound Yorkie is the same as an average human female weighing 218 pounds!
- A 14 pound cat is equivalent to a 237 pound man!
- A 90 pound female Labrador retriever is equal to a 186 pound 5’ 4” female or a 217 pound 5’ 9” male!
- A fluffy feline that weighs 15 pounds is equal to a 218 pound 5’ 4” female or 254 pound 5’ 9” male!
Fat, Skinny, or Just Right?
To determine if your animal companion is overweight, follow this scoring system used by most vets: As the animal is standing, look down at him/her. You should see an indentation after the ribs—the waist. As you place your hands on the rib cage and apply gentle pressure, you should be able to feel the ribs. If you can pinch an inch, he or she is not fluffy. He is fat. Use the Pet Weight Translator to determine how much your feline or canine companion weighs compared to an average adult human.
When a small or medium-sized animal gains even a little weight, it can have a significant impact on its health. When a 15 pound dog is 5 pounds overweight, that’s the equivalent of you weighing 30% more than you should!
52.5 percent of dogs and 58.3 percent of cats to be overweight or obese by their veterinarian. That equals approximately 80 million U.S. dogs and cats at increased risk for weight-related disorders such as diabetes, osteoarthritis, hypertension and many cancers.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
“The single most valuable tool a pet owner has in the fight against obesity is a measuring cup. Most pet owners don’t measure how much they’re feeding and even fewer know how much they should be feeding.”
Talk with your veterinarian about how much to feed your cat, dog, pig, bird or rat to keep them healthy. You can’t always rely on pet food labels. How much each animal needs depends on their species, their frame, activity level, and the type of food you give them. Most people are shocked to learn what an animal’s ideal body weight actually is. A veterinarian can help you assess your animal companion’s weight correctly and develop a plan of action.
Monitor & Measure!
How much food do you feed each animal? Is it a handful, a scoop, a bowl full? Measuring each animal’s food allows you to keep track of exactly how much each one is eating. This also helps to keep his or her food intake consistent.
No More Free feeding!
Free feeding (having food available at all times) can encourage overeating. Feed your animal companion at specific times of the day. Also, any food that is not eaten within 15 minutes should be picked up.
Food is a tool!
Use potions of their meals for training time instead of placing all of the food in a bowl for them to chow down on all at once.
Treat or No Treat?
Give treats sparingly. Don’t just dole out free treats. Use treats as a time for training or as a very special reward.
Hunt & Seek!
For most species, you can hide treats around the house, and encouraging natural foraging behaviors. The cat, bird, dog or rat can learn to “hunt” for his or her food!
Exercise Every Day!
Physical and mental stimulation are vital keeping any animal happy and healthy! This included keeping them. Get Creative and remember that all species need daily exercise! Remember to check with your vet before starting a new regimen.
NOTE: When it comes to exercise, not all dogs are created equal: Historically, each breed was bred for different tasks, says Chicago dog trainer Lynn Brezina. Download these Exercise Tips for Dogs Based on Breed. And check out Walking for Weight Loss! – Tips on aerobic dog walking, a start-up exercise program, and gear to make exercise safe, fun, and effective!
Check out these helpful tips for:
Download the Size-O-Meters for all species in your home:
- Don’t feel good. They often appear tired or lazy, lack energy and playfulness, are reluctant to jump or run, have difficulty grooming, lag behind on walks and pant heavily. In addition, the extra weight puts stress on their joints, hearts, lungs, liver, kidneys and more.
- Need more veterinary care. Overweight animals are at risk for a variety of health problems, including skin infections, high blood pressure, heart disease, immune suppression, diabetes mellitus, orthopedic and arthritic disorders and some forms of cancer. These issues can greatly increase the amount of care the animal will need as a result of his or her weight.
- Do not live as long. It’s a sad fact, but possibly the most important one to consider. Most overweight animals have a significantly decreased life expectancy—up to two and a half years, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP).
Shedding a few pounds is the simple answer to these problems listed above. Helping your animal companion to lose weight can decrease the stress on joints -this is especially important for animals with arthritis. Losing weight will help to improve their cardiovascular health, enhance their athletic abilities, and reduce or even eliminate the need for prescription medications that are required to manage medical disorders, caused by obesity. But best of all, when your animal loses weight, you spend less time and money at the vet, and you increase your bond from spending more fun, active, quality time together!
This is a war veterinarians, pet owners and parents must win. Obesity is the number one preventable medical condition seen in veterinary hospitals today and is the fastest growing health threat of our nation’s children. Our goal is to help pets and people live longer, healthier, and pain-free lives by maintaining a healthy weight, proper nutrition, and physical activity. The most important decision a pet owner makes each day is what they choose to feed their pet. Choose wisely. Your pet’s life depends on it. ~ Dr. Ernie Ward, founder of Association for Pet Obesity Prevention