Fat Cats (and Portly Pups)

fat_catJacquieIconBy Jacquie Eubanks

There’s little doubt that we love our canine and feline family members. In fact, according to the Association for Pet Obesity, we are loving them directly into a shortened lifespan and a reduced quality of life. Many of us consistently reward our pets with treats and feed them the leftovers from our dinner plates in addition to their own pet food. Statistics show that more than half of our dogs and cats are overweight and one in four is classified as obese. Many may not realize that, like obese humans, pets who are overweight are at an increased risk of osteoarthritis, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, ligament and joint injury, kidney, heart and respiratory disease and the list goes on.  

The epidemic of pet obesity in America is directly correlated to our own obesity rates and is mainly the result of overfeeding and lack of exercise. Just as the rate of obesity in humans has risen sharply, the incidence of pet obesity is startlingly high. Further contributing to the problem is the fact that a large percentage of pet owners do not know their pets are overweight. Nor do they recognize the health hazards of pet obesity. Are overweight pets the new normal? If you can’t tell just by looking, how do you know if your pet is overweight? Veterinarians use a 9 point scoring system, with 1 representing emaciation to 9 equaling grossly overweight. The ideal number to reach is 5, as that is considered the healthiest weight score.

To rate your pet, check the rib area first. You should be able to easily feel but not actually see the ribs. If you cannot feel them at all, your pet needs to lose weight. Still not sure? Check the area near the base of the tail, the spine, shoulders and hips. You should be able to feel a slight amount of fat over these areas. If bones are protruding, your pet is too thin. If you can’t feel any bones at all, it’s diet and exercise time. Now view your pet from above and you should be able to see a distinct waistline. If there is no waist or you see a protruding belly, your pet is grossly overweight. Lastly, look at your pet from the side. Although breeds vary, you should be able to see what’s called an abdominal tuck, where the area behind the ribs is smaller in diameter than the chest. A severe abdominal tuck means your pet is too thin. No abdominal tuck, your pet is overweight.

Before starting a pet weight reduction program, consult your pet’s veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical issues. Get advice on portion control and the proper food for your pet so you can help your pet to gradually reach and maintain an optimal weight and restore their energy, vitality and overall wellness. If you have determined that your pet is not overweight, take steps now to prevent obesity. Encourage exercise. Long walks are good for pets and their humans. Choose the correct type and amount of food to ensure your pet’s diet includes the proper amount of essential vitamins and minerals. Limit commercial treats to no more than 10% of your pet’s total daily calories.

Just as in humans, pet weight creeps up over time. Once you and your vet have selected a suitable food and determined how much to feed, weight loss should happen. Although overweight pets consume more calories than they require, eliminating calories too drastically is not recommended. Be patient and slowly increase physical activity to aid weight loss, help reduce appetite and increase your pet’s resting metabolic rate. In addition to regular walks, give your dog more opportunities to be active by taking them outdoors to play. Both you and your pet will receive the benefits of additional exercise and reduced stress.

Although obesity is less common in cats, we’ve all seen our fair share of overweight kitties. Encourage indoor cats to exercise by playing with them frequently. If you have an outdoor cat, it may be harder to monitor their food intake, as you don’t really know what they are hunting, catching and consuming outdoors. When possible, confine your cat to your house to better control caloric intake and give the neighborhood birds and small mammals a break.

The amount of daily calories that an average, lightly active spayed or neutered pet requires is surprisingly low. Absent a medical or genetic condition, a 10 lb. cat needs only 200 calories, a 10 lb dog 200-275 calories, a 20 lb dog 325-400 calories and a 50 lb dog 700-900 calories. It’s critical to measure the food and be sure everyone in the house is on board to ensure treats are limited. Better yet, switch out commercial dog treats for healthier items such as peeled apple or pear slices, steamed carrots or green beans, or sliced sweet potato. (Steer clear of grapes, raisins, onions, garlic and citrus, which are harmful or toxic to pets.)

When calories are restricted, your dog may increase begging for food. Be compassionate and caring and give them extra love and attention. If possible, try to feed several divided portions throughout the day, while being careful not to exceed the daily total. Weigh your pet every week or two to monitor progress. Expect to see a 1-2% weight loss each week based on total body weight. Restricting your pet’s food intake is not easy, but the returns are great. Pets who maintain an ideal weight often live an additional two years. In dog years, that’s a lot of additional time to spend with you.

Make a commitment to your pet’s weight loss and you may find yourself getting into better shape as well. A successful weight management plan requires permanent changes in the behaviors that encouraged the weight gain. If taking your pet for longer or more frequent walks gets you off the couch, all the better for everyone. Owning and walking a dog can have a measurable impact on your overall health, as studies show that dog owners are more likely to get their recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise and are more liable to stick with the exercise long term.

Veterinary products that support weight loss, nutrition and overall health include:

Vetri-Lean Plus For Dogs
Vetri Lean Plus Chewable Tablet by Vetri-Science – This advanced chicken liver flavored formula for dogs contains clinically tested ingredients that aid weight loss by supporting appetite control, muscle building and fat burning.
Canine Basic Nutrients (VETERINARY PRODUCT)
Canine Basic Nutrients by Thorne Vet – This product provides a complete range of highly absorbable multivitamins and minerals in support of canine health and vitality. Non-GMO formula. Canine Geriatric formula also available.
Nu-Cat Bite-Sized Soft Chews
Nu-Cat Bite-Sized Soft Chews by Vetri-Science – This complete multivitamin and mineral formula is suitable for kittens and cats of all ages. Specific formulation contains over 40 nutrients including digestive enzymes to support absorption and utilization, and omega-3 and 6 fatty acids for additional overall support.
Formula V1 Vet-Zimes by Ness Enzymes – This formula for dogs contains multiple digestive enzymes for optimal assimilation of all nutrients. Highly active enzymes are concentrated from cultivated plant sources in a base of pure plant fiber in support of overall health.
How Do I Determine if My Dog is Overweight?  http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=2+1659&aid=661
Overweight Pets. https://oregonvma.org/care-health/overweight-pets
Overweight Dogs.  https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/overweight-dogs
Fruits and Veggies for Pets.  http://trupanion.com/pet-care/fruits-and-veggies-for-pets