We all know that face our pets make at us when they want a treat. But let’s stop for a second and think before we give in.
Obesity is a growing epidemic not just for humans but for our furry companions as well; a recent survey done by the veterinary students at University of Georgia showed that 54% of our nation’s pets are overweight or obese. That’s 88.4 million pets!
So keeping this in mind, how will being overweight affect your pet? There are many conditions that can develop from your pet being overweight such as osteoarthritis, decreased stamina, hypertension, diabetes, lipomas (fatty mass), respiratory compromise and most of all it can shorten their life span. Scary stuff right?
Well I know what you’re thinking, “how do I know if my pet is over weight?” Sometimes it can be hard to recognize that your pet is overweight as the weight gain can come on gradually or it is hard to actually accept that your pet is more than just a little chunky and is now fully obese. To assist in this evaluation, body condition scoring has been developed and is fairly easy to accomplish. There is a five-point system (where three out of five is considered optimal). What you want to do is evaluate your pet, feel for a small amount of padding over the ribs. It should be possible to feel the ribs and there should be a small tuck in the belly where the hind legs meet the body. See the graph below.
A question you may be asking yourself is “What can I do to prevent my pet from becoming overweight?” Let start with two words; portion control. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to figure out exactly how much each individual pet should be eating. Determining the correct size for meals depends on the type of food they are fed, how many times a day they eat, their size, their metabolic rate, the amount of exercise they get, and more. To start the process, take a look at the feeding guide on your pet’s food’s label to see how much they should be eating.
So say your pet is already over weight and you’re ready to get some of that extra chunk off your furry friend. This may sound simple, but in fact when one simply tries to cut back on food; it just doesn’t seem to cut it. As with humans, a more formal approach seems to work best. This means feeding a prescription diet made for weight loss (typically “lite” or “less active” diets are meant to prevent weight gain, not actually cause weight loss), exercise, and coming in for regular weigh-ins at the vet’s office.
- There must be control over what the pet eats. That’s easy enough if there is only one pet, but trickier if there is more than one pet in the home. Use your ingenuity to feed the pets separately.
- Feed in meals. Leaving food out encourages snacking. Feeding in meals makes it easier to feed multiple pets different foods or different amounts of food.
- Commit to regular weigh-ins. Know what the goal weight is and how long it should take to reach this goal/or how to tell if the pet is on target. It is important not to try to go too fast. If the weight loss is not on track, sometimes it is necessary to feed more rather than less. Your veterinarian may need to be in contact with the clinical nutritionists at the pet food company so as to make the best recommendations.
- Consider interactive toys that can be used when you are not home or where your own participation is minimal.
If you have concerns about your pet’s weight, talk to your veterinarian. Be sure to rule out any health issues that might specifically cause obesity as an initial step in obesity management.
By: Shelly Crosson