As a culture, we are becoming increasingly focused on our physique. Hardly an hour passes when we don’t receive some kind of message telling us that we need to eat less of something, eat more of something else, exercise more, or lose weight. While this constant bombardment seems a little severe, there is no doubt that obesity is a growing health concern in our country. Though it is not talked about nearly as much, our best friends are suffering from our increasingly sedentary lifestyle and poor nutritional choices as well.
Pet obesity is becoming a huge issue in veterinary medicine. One study estimated that 58% of cats and 53% of dogs in the United States are overweight. We have all heard about risks to our health associated with being overweight- high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and more. But what about our pets? Does being a little more round carry the same potential for illness in animals as it does in humans? In short, yes!
Like humans, overweight animals are at a higher risk for arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, breathing problems, and a shorter life span. It has been suggested that being overweight may be a risk factor for certain types of cancer and kidney problems as well. The good news? Taking simple steps to reverse or prevent weight problems can greatly reduce the health risks associated with being overweight.
The first step in taking control of your pet’s weight is a trip to the veterinarian. Unlike the generic advice found on the internet or on the side of a bag of food, your veterinarian can give you advice tailored specifically for your pet’s age, breed, activity level, and state of health. Your vet can also tell you just how much your pet should weigh and what type of physical activity would be best for them.
When you visit your vet, ask about proper nutrition. He or she may recommend a specific type of food that will work for your pet and will steer you away from foods with low quality ingredients. As with people, the quality of the food matters as much as the quantity. Consider rationing your pet rather than leaving food in their bowl at all times. This is the simplest way to control how much they are getting and to prevent them from eating too much. The catch is that you have to be conscious about treats, too. You might only be feeding your dog two cups of kibble per day, but they are going to gain weight if you give them fistfuls of biscuits on top of that. To control the treat effect, you can reduce the amount or frequency that they are given or you can reduce the amount of regular food to compensate for the treats. For many pets and their owners, treats provide a way to bond and are a part of training; for them, the latter option may work best.
On top of controlling your pet’s intake, you might consider making them work for their food. Food puzzle toys are widely available online or at pet stores and can serve the double benefit of slowing down a gobbler and providing entertainment with dinner. Less complicated food toys, like Kongs, can be stuffed and frozen to create leisurely mealtimes. Cheap puzzles can be made from items in your recycling pile- just do a search on the internet for endless ideas of do-it-yourself pet food puzzles. Keep an eye on your animal when you implement these new bowls or toys as some animals may not immediately understand how they work and might need some help to figure it out.
Physical activity is as important as diet for achieving- and maintaining- weight loss. Just like with people, an animal that is not used to strenuous physical activity must work up to it. An obese dog who is a couch potato is not going to be a five mile jogging companion overnight. In fact, forcing animals to do too much too soon can cause them problems like joint pain or sore muscles. If your pet already has joint problems, like arthritis, your vet can advise you about activities that won’t make the problem worse and that your pet may enjoy. An added benefit to making sure that your pet gets enough exercise is that you’ll get more, too. This is also a great opportunity for you to have quality time together. Adequate exercise also helps curb behavioral issues that come from boredom or too much pent up energy.
Our pets’ health is up to us- help them be at their best by taking charge of their diet and exercise!