We seem to have a distorted view of what food portions should be in the US, which leads to many cases of weight and health problems. The issue of obesity not only affects us, but our pets as well. What we think of as providing extra love and spoiling our pets with bigger meals may actually be causing them health issues and a shorter lifespan.
At least 25% of pets in the US are considered to be overweight and it is becoming an increasing problem and need for pet insurance. Obesity in dogs can be hereditary such as with small hound dogs, Labradors and Collies. However, it all boils down to eating too much and exercising too little.
There are signs for checking if a pet is overweight, the easiest being to examine the animal’s body. In an animal of healthy weight, you should be able to feel the ribs when massaging your pet’s sides and notice a “waist” indentation (Note: if the ribs are too pronounced, your pet may be underweight). Your pet’s weight should be similar to other animals of the same breed that are considered to be a healthy weight. Some signs of weight problems are if your pet is slow to move about and tires easily with exercise.
In the scheme of pet medical problems, we may not think obesity to be very extreme. However, it can lead to many medical complications down the road which are usually accompanied by many trips to the vet and expensive veterinary bills.
Extra weight can cause problems such as:
- Increased stress on joints which can cause arthritis
- Decreased pulmonary capacity – their heart has to work harder to pump
- Breathing difficulties – decreased lung capacity can lead to respiratory problems
- Greater risk of cancer and skin disease
- Lowered heat tolerance
- Increased risks during surgery and prolonged healing time
- Much shorter lifespan – pets of a healthy weight live about 2 years longer than an overweight pet
If your pet is obese or you are concerned about it gaining weight, there are many steps you can take to ensure your pet will attain that fit physique.
- Feed your pet 2-4 smaller meals a day. More frequent meals will prevent your pet from getting hunger pangs.
- Look into diet foods or high protein diets.** Stay away from foods with fat listed as one of the first four ingredients.
- Reduce the amount you feed your pet per meal, and prevent rapid eating (which can lead to other complications such as bloat in dogs).
- Unless they are high in fiber, skip out on snacks as these usually contain a lot of fat and little nutrients.
- Don’t feed table scraps as these unnecessary “treats” lead to an overweight pet. Not only does table feeding encourage begging, but some human foods are not suitable to animals and can cause serious illness.
While restricting your pet’s diet is one key to the solution, exercise is just as equally important. Exercise allows your pet to express its instinctive behavior such as exploration, chasing, the use of scent, and play. It is also crucial for young, developing animals to get exercise for proper muscular and skeletal development. Lack of exercise can lead to poor muscle development and many undesirable manners including destructive, antisocial, and aggressive behaviors and “accidents” in the house.
Animals vary in the amount of exercise they need depending on size, breed, etc. but regardless of its size, it’s important to give your pet the daily opportunity to run. There are many great reasons for you to exercise with your pet, but of course anything you can do to keep your pet active will ensure a longer and healthier life.
**Before beginning any weight management program, consult your vet and be sure that your pet’s obesity isn’t due to any medical conditions (such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease).