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Overweight Pets Can Jeopardize Their Health

As pet parents, our companion animals depend solely on us to make important decisions for their health and well-being.  Choosing the right food is a critical part of our responsibility to provide the best care possible.  But just as crucial is the amount of food that we feed our precious pets.

We know that when dogs and cats are overweight, their health can be jeopardized.  Current estimates indicate that more than half of all companion animals are overweight or obese.  And health challenges resulting from obesity account for the majority of veterinarian visits.

An overweight pet carries too many pounds of pressure for a healthy skeletal system to withstand. This excessive pressure is a contributing factor in the development of bone and joint issues, which are believed to afflict nearly 90% of all senior cats.  An overweight pet’s heart must work much harder to circulate blood, putting unnecessary stress on this vital organ.  And unregulated blood sugar has become much more prevalent in both dogs and cats, and some believe that excess weight is the singlemost important contributing factor.

With all of the evidence indicating that good health is much more elusive when animals are overweight, one wonders why more pet parents fail to commit to feeding their sweet companions a healthier diet.  

One reason is that weight gain is usually so gradual that pet parents really don’t realize that their pet has become overweight.  And the second major reason?  By and large, we are resistant to change our routines.

Many employ a free-feed method, where food is left out all day for the pet.  Rarely is the food measured, and it’s often more than our pets require.  Then, after returning from work, we reward our companions with several treats, not keeping track of how many we provide.  

And pets have become more sedentary, just like their pet parents.  It is not uncommon to see dogs and cats lounging on the couch, keeping their people company while they watch TV for hours every night.

So, we have pets being overfed and not getting sufficient exercise.  I think we can all agree … this is a classic recipe for excessive weight gain.

The first step to any successful weight loss program is accepting that your pet is overweight and embracing a willingness to alter established patterns of behavior and consumption.

For starters, you need to determine whether or not your companion animal is overweight.  Most of us don’t weigh our companion animals, excluding vet visits which typically come only once a year.  But this is easy to do at home, using your bathroom scale.  First, weigh yourself.  Then, pick up your pet and step back onto the scale.  Subtract the first weight from the second, revealing your pet’s weight.  You’ll need to do this periodically, so keep track of the weights in a journal or on a piece of paper that you leave posted on your refrigerator (or another handy spot).

Don’t worry if your pet is too heavy for you to comfortably lift, because there is another way to check if your pet is overweight.  Simply place your hands on the ribcage, with your fingers pointed toward the feet.  If you can feel ribs, your dog or cat is probably within the normal (average) weight range.  If you can feel approximately one inch of fat between the skin and ribs, or if the ribs are hard to locate, your pet could be packing excessive pounds.  If, however, you cannot find the ribs at all, your pet could be obese, and you should make weight reduction an immediate priority. 

Figure out the optimal amount of food you should be feeding.  If you have trouble making a determination from the information included on your pet’s bag and or can of food, consult with your veterinarian.  The amount shown on the label may not always be suited to your particular pet, and may need to be adjusted depending on how overweight your pet is.  You should start with feeding the amount that is on the bag and after two weeks you can adjust the amount.

If you want to free-feed, check to make sure that you’re not pouring more than the recommended amount into the bowl.  Some dogs and cats may cry or pester you, hoping for more food, but after a few days they will adjust to the new portions.  

You should also determine how many treats you give your pet on a daily basis.  As long as you are already tracking your pet’s weight, leave space in your journal to record the number of treats you provide.  Every time you give them a cookie, make a mark.  Within a week, you should have a pretty clear idea of the number of treats you’re providing.  If you find that you’re providing more treats than indicated on the label, you might consider using food from your pet’s recommended daily feeding as treats.

Select and pursue at least one method of exercise that you can do with your pet.  For ideas about how to incorporate exercise for your companion animal in your routine, be sure to read both of the articles below (one focuses on dogs and the other on cats).

To track the progress of your new weight-loss program, weigh your dog or cat at least once per month, and possibly weekly, as metabolisms can change quickly.   

With a little extra effort, you will be able to foster a healthier life for your furry friend.

Thank you for all that you do to make the world a better place for companion animals.

Very best regards,
Dr. Jane Bicks

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