Wednesday October 9th was National Pet Obesity Awareness Day! Isn’t it ironic that this day comes just after National Walk Your Dog Week??
Every year for the past several years, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) has conducted annual surveys of pet owners and veterinarians. They are seeing numbers of obese pets rise each year. The survey also tells them that many pet owners don’t see their pets as overweight, while the veterinarians are telling pet owners their pets are indeed too heavy.
According to APOP, 52.2% (36.7 million)
Consider a cat who is supposed to weigh 9 or 10 pounds, but instead weighs 12 pounds. She is 20% overweight, the same as a 5ft 4inch adult female who is considered 30 pounds overweight at 174 pounds.
How about the beagle who weighs 40 pounds that is 30% overweight, or the pug who weighs 25 pounds and is 40% overweight? A
APOP’s founder, Dr. Ernie Ward, says “Pet obesity remains the leading health threat to our nation’s pets.” Many people don’t consider being overweight a health threat, but it certainly is. Being overweight leads to diabetes, which is on the rise in companion animals, especially cats. Managing diabetes requires special diet, insulin injections, and frequent visits to the veterinarian for blood work, which makes it an expensive illness to manage. Joint pain, as well as strain on organ function, especially the heart, can also result from being overweight.
The exact number that your pet weighs is not as important as its body condition. At Suburban Animal Clinic, we assign each pet a body condition score from 1 (too skinny) to 5 (obese). A 3 is ideal. If your pet is given a BCS of 4 or 5, then he or she needs to lose weight. Below are links to APOP’s Body Condition Scoring charts to view:
The best way to avoid being overweight is to maintain a healthy body weight to begin with. Caloric requirements for pets are based on the age and lifestyle of that pet. Yes, pets have to count calories just like people! Puppies and kittens need more calories than older pets. Once pets are spayed and neutered, their metabolism slows, so caloric intake has to be adjusted for that. Senior pets who are slowing down also don’t need as many calories.
Just as important as counting calories is considering where those calories come from. Dogs and cats should be fed a good quality diet. Occasional treats are acceptable. Stay away from most human food. Human food that’s good as low calorie treats includes baby carrots, green beans, a few pieces of apple, or even plain popcorn. Treats should be just that – a treat. Do you eat a snickers bar or handful of m&m’s every time you do something good? Probably not! Your pets don’t need them either. Praise, a scratch behind the ears, or a few minutes of play works just as well.
Click the link below to view the calories in various pet foods and treats. Ask your veterinarian how many calories your pet should be eating each day. Please keep in mind that the feeding guide on the pet food bags is just that: a guide. It should be used with caution and adjusted as your pets weight goes up or down.
Pets who are overweight should be fed a reduced calorie diet. Sometimes feeding a ‘light’ or ‘healthy weight’ formula is enough, along with exercise and a reduction in treats. Sometimes a prescription diet is necessary. Hill’s recently introduced a new weight loss diet, Prescription Metabolic Diet. This diet provides complete nutrition while designed to increase your pet’s metabolism to help it lose weight.
Just as important as diet and caloric intake is an exercise program for your pet. Most dogs enjoy walks or playing ball in the backyard. If you’re busy and can’t take your dog for a walk, consider hiring a dog walker. Doggie Daycares are also a good outlet for energy as well as for exercise while you’re at work. Cats enjoy stalking prey, such as feather toys, balls in motion, or a laser pointer. Also for your cat, consider putting her meal in a couple different bowls, spread out around the house. This encourages her to ‘hunt’ for her food, which also equals exercise.
It’s important to ask your veterinarian to help you design a weight loss plan for your pet. Losing weight too quickly can cause additional problems. Your veterinarian can advise you on what to feed your pet and how much (remember, we need to feed your pet for its target or goal weight, not for its current weight). Weight loss can be a slow process, but don’t become discouraged!
Research has also shown that pets who are kept at a healthy weight live 1-2 years longer than pets who are overweight. Not only are they healthier, but they’re also happier. Be your pet’s willpower! Don’t give in to the pitiful brown eyes…they’ll thank you later when they are a healthy weight and happy.
For more information on pet obesity, 2012 survey results quoted above, and weight loss tips, visit
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