Obesity in Pets—A Growing Problem
A Companion Animal Care Article from All-Creatures.org

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FROM Diane Venberg, Flower Feline Sanctuary
May 2018

Carrying extra weight puts your companion animal at greater risk of type 2 diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, certain cancers, high blood pressure, and a shortened life span.

Originally published on Stanwood-Camano News

Many Americans are literally loving their pets to death. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, over 50% of owned dogs and cats in the U.S. are overweight or obese, and sadly these numbers are up from 2016.

Carrying extra weight puts your companion animal at greater risk of type 2 diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, certain cancers, high blood pressure, and a shortened life span. To help your adult pet lose weight, you may need to change what what you feed them and how often, and slowly increase their activity level. It’s wise to have your pet examined before starting a weight loss program, and to work with your veterinarian if possible.

Understanding how finicky your pet is, and how sensitive their digestion is, will determine how slowly changes should be made to the diet. Never withhold food completely to make your pet eat a new food; cats can be at risk for liver failure if their food intake is drastically cut or they may stop eating due to stress or illness, especially if they are overweight. Moving away from free-feeding to two to four small meals a day makes portion control possible, and gives your pet something to look forward to. Some animals may eat out of boredom if they are alone all day. If you need to be away for long periods, scheduling a mid-day walk and visit with a pet sitter can help enrich your dog or cat’s life and assist with a fitness regime.

While obviously convenient, a dry kibble “all-you-can-eat buffet” is often the culprit for weight gain in both dogs and cats. Cats are obligate carnivores and do best on high quality protein diets, not grain based foods. Kibble is usually lower protein than canned, freeze-dried or raw food, and switching to wet foods will also provide the moisture kitties need to keep their kidneys healthy. Look for human quality foods with no rendered meat by-products, as these can include downer and diseased animals. “Diet pet food” often contains extra fiber but may not be high protein.

Raw diets are becoming increasingly popular as a variety of frozen raw foods are now available in stores. These simply require thawing before serving; some folks add warm water to make the food room temperature. If you embark on making your own raw food, do your research and remember that while many animals thrive on a raw diet, some animals may not. Dogs often appreciate a small percentage of vegetables in their diet and some enjoy raw carrot or apple pieces as a treat. Never feed grapes or raisins to dogs are these are toxic for them.

For a full list of dangerous “people foods,” see the ASPCA.org’s animal poison control page online. To avoid grain and corn in treats, look for freeze dried salmon, chicken, or liver. These are single ingredient, high protein and easy to portion into very small pieces. Food puzzles are ideal for entertaining both dogs and cats but do keep track of the calories consumed.

If your dog is a “couch potato,” start with short walks on flat terrain and gradually increase the length and hilly territory. Veterinarians generally recommend frequent and short exercise sessions rather than long excursions, which may be harmful, especially for older pets. Be cautious if your dog is breathing hard during a walk or suffers stiffness or joint pain the next morning. For dogs who love to sniff instead of walk, you may need to do two walks to satisfy their innate needs—a “smell walk” and an actual walking walk.

Cats can go for walks too but first need to get used to wearing a harness. This is done by having your kitty wear a harness without a lead inside for a few minutes at a time, and gauging the comfort level before attempting to go outside. Young kitties may adjust better than older cats and there are cats who flat out refuse to move when outfitted in a harness.

Playing with an interactive wand toy or a laser nightly may be adequate exercise for some felines. Adding an enclosed, outdoor “catio” for your cat allows for enrichment in a safe and predator-free environment.

All animals benefit from play, and along with an appropriate diet and exercise, can help make your best friend happy and healthy.

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