Obesity in Pets

October 3, 2010

Just like people, our pets are facing an epidemic of obesity. Roughly 40 to 55% of pets are overweight and at least a third of those are obese. And, let’s face it, fat pets have the same problems as fat people. Excessive weight gain results in pain and suffering that is 100% preventable. So why are there so many fat pets if this problem is so preventable?

It could be that we, being pet owners and veterinarians, just aren’t talking about the problem. Many veterinarians are afraid they will insult their clients if they mention that the pet is overweight or even obese. This fear is compounded when the owners themselves are overweight or obese. And, most pet owners with overweight pets don’t even realize that their pet is fat. A pet’s body shape may change too slowly for a pet owner to notice, or the pet owner might not realize that their pet should have a waist or that his ribs should be easy to feel.

Fall is a good time to bring up your pet’s fitness with your veterinarian because the weather is finally cooling off and we can get our pets out to exercise without the risk of heat stroke. I know our office has been flooded with flexible tape measures, obesity charts and feeding schedules that can all help your pet lose weight. Maybe if you bring up the topic, your veterinarian won’t be as afraid to discuss the issue in earnest.

Issues that need to be discussed include the links between obesity and conditions like diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer. Ignoring obesity is like, or maybe even worse than, ignoring fleas or heartworms. Usually simple lifestyle changes can improve your pet’s overall health.

Most people don’t realize that pets are meal feeders. Think of a wolf, they eat a big meal and then don’t eat again for 24, 48 or more hours. And, they work for their meal. Grazers, or pets that nibble on dry food all day long, tend to get fat. This isn’t always true, but it is something to think about changing if your pet is fat. Feeding a good meal once a day is often sufficient.

Treats are the true nemesis. For every treat you feed your pet, you need to remove that number of calories from the main meal. Most people don’t realize this. You can read pet food packages to determine which treats have the lowest calories and try to use those or simply break treats in half to decrease calories. The dog doesn’t realize he’s only getting ½ a treat. He is just excited to get it.

A good rule of thumb is; if it is bad for you, it is bad for your pet. So, potato chips, fried chicken and ice cream are going to make your pet fat. Low fat micro-waved chicken breast, carrots and broccoli probably won’t.

There are lots of foods, and even a pill now, that will help patients lose weight. So, really, there is no excuse not to pursue true fitness for your pet. Ask your veterinarian which program will best suit you and your pet, and start paying attention to your pet’s food intake and start walking! Now is the season to be outside enjoying life to its fullest and losing weight.


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