overweight pets

We hear so much in the news today about obesity in people of the United States.  What we don’t hear so much about is the obesity problem in our pets.  A recent survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP)  found that 53% of adult dogs and 55% of cats were classified as overweight or obese by their veterinarian.  That equals 88.4 million pets that are too heavy according to veterinarians. What is perhaps more distressing is that many pet owners are unaware their pet is overweight.  This same study found that 22 percent of dog owners and 15 percent of cat owners characterized their pet as normal weight when it was actually overweight or obese.

Obesity in your pet can lead to many health problems including osteoarthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, breathing problems, kidney disease and shortened life expectancy.  Orthopedic surgeon and Director of Clinical Research at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine Dr. Steve Budsberg states that “evidence shows that the negative impact of obesity on all the body’s systems is overwhelming.  I see on a daily basis the effects of obesity on dogs and cats with osteoarthritis.  It is very frustrating to see how much pain and discomfort excess weight causes in my patients.”

Here are some typical scenarios veterinarians encounter when presented with a pet that is overweight.  See if any sound familiar. The quotes are the usual responses pet owners give when it is suggested that perhaps their pet would benefit by losing some weight.

Type I: The Nibbler: “But doctor, she hardly eats a thing.”

This pet probably has food out for him/her all day and nibbles a little at a time.  When dinner time comes and the pet picks at the leftovers, it will take the choicest morsels, leave the rest and still appear to not have eaten very much.  However, over a 24 hour period “The Nibbler’s” total calorie intake is excessive and it gains weight.

Type II: The Beggar: “But doctor, this rascal won’t keep quiet unless she gets her treats.”

In this scenario the pet has discovered that the more noise and fussing it produces the more likely it is to be rewarded for this behavior.  The owner finally gives in to keep the pet quiet and the pet sees the food as a reward.  Basically, the owner is training “The Beggar” by rewarding his/her behavior.  It turns into a fun game but the pet’s health may suffer if obesity results.

Type III: The Good Dog/Cat: “But doctor, she’s such a good dog/cat we don’t want her to go hungry.”

This pet became overweight because the owner’s signal of affection for their pet has focused on feeding (usually by more than one family member). It is an understandable trait but unfortunately for the pet, it can be a case of too much of a good thing.

Type IV: The Gourmet Dog/Cat: “But doctor, she just refuses to eat dog/cat food.”

In this case the pet has trained the owner to feed her such things as chicken, liver, cheese, ice cream, etc.  This pet has been given a choice of what to eat and has chosen certain people food.  The “Gourmet Dog/Cat” usually overeats because she isn’t getting a proper balance of nutrition, plus everything tastes so good there is a reward factor in eating.

Simply put, pet obesity is a people problem, not a pet problem. No pets goes to the refrigerator or the pantry to help themselves.  We enable our pets to get fat!

What To Do About An Overweight Pet

If your pet is overweight, visit with your veterinarian to get an examination and accurate weight recorded and to rule out any underlying health issues.  If your pet is otherwise healthy, discuss changing your pet’s diet.  There are some new metabolic diets on the market that have shown excellent results.  Consuming fewer calories is the first step your veterinarian might recommend.  Portion control is also important to maintain.  When reading the label on your pet’s food, follow the recommendations for your pet’s ideal weight, not his current weight.  Also, increase your pet’s activity during the day to the help burn that extra fat.

We all love our pets and want to do what is best for them.  A healthy and fit pet is a happy one, and he/she will be around longer for your to enjoy.