Is my pet overweight? That's a question that is rarely asked by the pet parent but certainly discussed by our veterinarians in the exam rooms at Animal Health Care at well care visits. It is estimated that between 30-40% of pets in the US are overweight, some markedly so, that obesity has become one of the most common diseases affecting dogs and cats today. Some of the same problems that face overweight people can be seen in overweight pets- sugar diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, respiratory problems and more. Obesity can lead to shortened life expectancy and a poorer quality of life for your pet. Let's face it,and let's be brutally honest here, do we see many grossly overweight older people? No, because they're dead: our pets face the same problem!
So, besides weighing your pet, which we will do at each visit at ahc, how can you tell if your pets is too fat? You can monitor at home the following areas for weight concerns:
A dog's ideal weight may depend on their breed. Ask your pet care team for the published breed standards so that we can then help to determine what steps to take to help your pet reach and maintain their ideal weight. A younger, growing pet may widely fluctuate in their weights and that is why, at the monthly well care and vaccination protection visits, we will monitor the increases (and hopefully not decreases) to guide you in choosing proper feeding formulations for your pet's growth. There is a change in metabolism after your pet's neutering surgery so we will be particularly interested in ideal weight between 6-10 months of age so that we can formulate a plan for ideal feeding for the rest of your pet's life. Most dogs and cats will be transitioned to an adult maintenance formula at this time. Our dogs and cats are generally considered fully grown at 2 years of age and if they are properly weighted at this time, this weight will be the standard to which we will ideally hold them for the rest of their lives. Older pets may gain weight as their activity level and metabolism changes occur with aging. Or we might be giving too many treats and not exercising them as much in inclement weather. As your pets veterinarian we can recommend a diet and exercise plan to help your pet attain and maintain their proper weight.
So now what is an appropriate diet for your pet? There are many good food choices available for your pet both commercially and, if needed, as a veterinary diet prescription based on health needs and risks. Canned vs dry? Doesn't really matter as long as portion control is the goal. You should read the labels on foods and make sure that there is an AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) statement for the feeding intent of the food. It is impossible to feed one food for all life stages of your pet! Does it make sense that a formulation for growing puppies should be the same for the grey muzzle crowd? And, if weight loss is decided, most commercial foods can be tried but if the desired 1-2% weight loss per week is not achieved then absolutely ask your pet's vet for help. One diet doesn't work for all people nor should we expect that it will work for all pets!
What about treats?It's very hard to resist those "puppy-dog eyes" or that "please feed me, I'll make you feel guilty" look isn't it. there are some lower calorie treat foods that make sense for snacking. Many dogs like raw veggies such as carrots, string beans, broccoli. And, in warmer weather try frozen veggies; just no canned products: no chewing fun and too much salt added. Watch some of the higher sugared fruits such as apples. And, no grapes or raisins, onions or stringy veggies like celery.
There are many treats available at pet stores, supermarkets and at your veterinary office. Remember, size does not equal calorie count, just think about all the different people energy bars: the calorie content in those vary considerably depending on how dense the product and the ingredient listing. A very general rule would be that 4 size- appropriate snacks such as Milkbone treats equals approximately 1/4 cup of food. So for all the treats you add you must subtract that amount from the daily calorie content.
Now, let's address table scraps...most people foods are too full of salt, fat, and potentially other ingredients that your pets doesn't need. In fact the term is a misnomer. If you want to add table foods, they should be as good if not better than you would eat yourself. But beware, many of these foods will cause an imbalance in the closely crafted formulations of life stage pet foods potentially making your pet ill with digestive tract difficulties.
Treats should be just that-treats. Pets are actually healthier than their human family members because they eat the same food day in day out: not many have cholesterol or triglyceride problems (unless you have a Schnauzer breed) or "hardening of the arteries" another people-only disease. Ideally, treats should be a reward for a job well done accompanied by lots of verbal praises!
What is a good exercise program for my pet? Different pets need different amounts of exercise and that is a good place to start the discussion with your veterinary team. It's more important to have daily frequent exercise times rather than try to play "weekend warrior" overdoing it on the weekends. find a schedule that nwork for you and your pet but do something daily. A young active breed of dog with a strong desire to work will need considerably more exercise than an older small breed with heart disease.
The key to exercising your pet is to start out slowly and be consistent. You can increase the length and intensity of the workouts just like in people. If you notice that your dog is stiff or slow to rise the day after exercise, slow it down. there are many options to exercise your dog including, walking, hiking, and running. Swimming is also a good exercise for dogs, but please don't assume that your dog will naturally know how to do the "doggie paddle" nor that all dogs like water. Some heavy weighted, stocky dogs like Bulldogs may naturally sink in water so exercise caution with that exercise program. Try a game of fetch or as mostly happens throw and chase! There are other activities that might interest you and your dog including agility training, obedience classes, Frisbee and searching activities. We at Animal Health Care also have an in- water treadmill for joint sparing exercise especialy great for those trying to start an exercise program or those wishing to jump start a weight loss program.
While most cats snooze 23.5 hours a day, there still are ways to exercise your cats. Try LASER tag: just don't shine the light into their eyes or yours. Daggle toys and scratching posts are other options. Most cats however do like to interact with their owners so you will need to be part of the program, too. Placing feeding stations on top levels of sturdy cat condos can expend calories. Asking your cat to climb stairs before they get a food treat or even their meal is great exercise (also good for your gluts, too). Please, though, don't leave string or yarn around, cats can ingest these materials causing a digestive tract blockage or become entangled in them causing a serious emergency visit to the vet.
Take the time to exercise you pet regularly and feed them according to their life stage, life style, and life needs. Your veterinary team can help you keep your pet fit and trim which will lead to a better quality of life for them and you...