How to Win the War Against Pet Obesity
If we all stop and just take a look around the next time we are at the park or walking our dogs, we can see that obesity is one of the biggest health problems that pets in the United States are facing today.
Obesity is an excess of body fat, which can cause many problems throughout the body’s systems and affect the functioning of the body’s major organs. It is generally agreed upon that pets and people pass the overweight mark and move into the ‘obese’ category when they weigh 20-25% more than their ideal body weight.
The numbers of overweight and obese pets are growing year over year. According to Pet Obesity Prevention, 54% of dogs and cats in the United States are overweight or obese. More than half?! Do you believe me when I say this is a serious problem that needs our attention? Just look at the statistics from the past two years:
In 2013, about 52.6% of dogs and 57.6% of cats were reported to be overweight or obese in the United States according to Pet Obesity Prevention. In 2014, these numbers had already increased to 52.7% of dogs and 57.9% of cats in the United States.
The scope of the problem can really be seen when you read that the survey also found that 90% of cat owners and 95% of dog owners whose pets were overweight thought that their pets were actually a healthy weight. They had no idea that their pet was overweight or even obese. I believe that we as a society have forgotten what healthy cats and dogs look like. So maybe we all need to stop and take a closer look around the next time we are at the park or walking our dogs and see how our pets measure up.
Some of the main health problems associated with obesity can include: high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, cancers, damage to joints and bones, difficulty breathing, tiring easily, increased risk of disease or infection, and reduced length and quality of life.
The thing about overweight pets that we all need to remember is this: IT IS 100% PREVENTABLE! Our pets do not need to be overweight or have any health problems stemming from obesity. In fact, it should be even easier for us to keep our pets at a healthy weight than to keep ourselves at a healthy weight, in my opinion. We should all be guilt-free and happy if we are feeding our pets the appropriate amount of a nutritious food daily with occasional treats and guilty pleasures built into their diets. Our pets won’t know they’re supposed to be craving extra treats if we don’t tell them! It is much easier to make excuses for myself to eat too much ice cream (distracted by the TV) or miss going to the gym (distracted by the TV) than it is to willingly overfeed my dog or cat when I know the appropriate amount.
Another key to prevention is to make sure that we are keeping our pets active from a young age well into their senior years. Age is a big factor in weight gain in pets, and this has a lot to do with decreased activity. It is up to us as responsible pet owners, especially with certain lazy dogs and cats, to keep them active and moving around. We should play with them, throw their favorite ball, take them to off-leash parks and on daily walks; or we should drag a string around the house or point a laser at the floor for our cats to chase.
Have you taken a long, hard look at your fur baby and finally decided he is overweight and you want to do what you can to keep him healthy and extend his life? You can take a look at this printable chart to help you if you are still unsure if your pet is at a healthy weight.
First things first, you will need to change your dog’s diet. This may mean reducing the amount of food he is eating daily, or this may mean changing him to a food that is more nutritionally sound and can support a healthy, active lifestyle.
When it comes to the right amount of food for your dog to either lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, the serving size suggested on the back of the bag should be a starting point only and is usually too much food. You will need to adjust this amount according to your dog’s activity level and metabolism. I feed two cups (when I say cup, I refer to a measuring cup) a day to both my Annie, a 46 lb dog, and my Skeeter, a 60 lb dog to maintain both of their weights. This works because Annie is very active and burns a lot of calories while Skeeter is lazy and likes to sleep all day. You will have to observe your pets and make sensible decisions based on their needs!
The next thing you should do is start to increase the amount of exercise your dog or cat is getting. Not going for walks with your dog regularly? Start going on short walks twice a day and increase the length of your walks over time. Play your favorite game with your dog in the backyard every day when you get home from work-fetch, tug of war, chase, bite at the water hose-any game that gets your pet moving is fine. Get your cat a toy to chase around the house or a laser to play with. Try a puzzle food bowl so your dog or cat has to do some work to get his meal! There are a lot of ways to keep your dog or cat moving.
Finally, try to keep an objective eye on your pet’s weight. It can be hard for us to see any imperfections in the dogs and cats we love. Weigh your pet regularly and write it down so you can track weight gains and losses if you need to. If we commit to making the changes to eating healthier and exercising more ourselves, it will be easier to include our sweet pets in this lifestyle as well.
How have you helped your pet lose weight and become more active?
- Anne Ross