American men and women are experiencing an obesity problem and their dogs and cats are following their lead. According to the AVMA, approximately 25 percent of pets are overweight.
This is due to a number of factors — people tend to be less active, spending more and more time in front of the TV and their computers, which means their companions have far fewer opportunities to be active. And since so many people tend to work long hours, leaving their pets at home alone, one of the primary ways people seem to alleviate their guilt and demonstrate their love is by indulging their pets with too much food.
Some breeds of dogs are particularly prone to obesity. These include Labrador retrievers, beagles, pugs, cocker spaniels, shih tzus and dachshunds. Unfortunately, some of these breeds are already susceptible to serious health problems, such as hip displasia, breathing, or heart and back problems, so you need to be especially carefully to keep them fit and trim. Mixed-breed cats tend to be more likely to suffer from weight issues than purebred cats.
However, all overweight pets are more prone to injury, have more stress on their heart and other vital organs, can suffer more severely from osteoarthritis, have respiratory issues and are at a greater risk for diabetes. Besides having an adverse affect on the pets’ quality and length of life, these diseases can result in costly treatments.
It's important to consult with your veterinarian to determine if your pet is at a good weight. Many people seem to have misconceptions about what is a healthy physique for their pets. Pet owners may think a few extra pounds is acceptable; however, carrying extra pounds may shorten your pet’s life, and smaller pets can be in danger carrying just 2-5 extra pounds. As with people, every pet will carry their weight differently, depending on their structure. But, as a general rule, the ideal condition is that in which you can feel your pet's ribs by gently rubbing on their sides and they should have at least a minor tuck-up in their waist (the belly area between their ribcage and rear).
In order to control your pet's weight, it's important to realize that food is not a substitute for love and attention. Being strict about helping your pet achieve an ideal weight is one of the kindest things you can do for it. Check your pet's condition at least every month as a way to focus on prevention of weight issues. To achieve and maintain your pet's ideal weight, your veterinarian will help you make a plan that may include some or all of the following:
Restrict food intakeCut back on the amount of food you give your pet and consider offering healthy snack alternatives such as apple slices, green beans, carrots and other low-calorie vegetables as well as ice cubes. If you offer a special treat, like some healthy leftovers from your dinner, then cut back on his/her normal meal.
Provide adequate exercise every day
Interactive play with you (playing with toys, going for walks, etc.) can be a fun way to help your pet stay healthy. But you can also encourage your pets to exercise when you aren't home by getting rid of their food bowls and feeding them from stuffable toys that they have to push about to make release the food (www.aspenpet.com and www.premierpet.com).
Catnip is an herb that may be stuffed in toys and may stimulate your cat’s nervous system so it is more likely to play. Be sure to consult your veterinarian before you begin an exercise program with your pet. As with people, the safest way for your pet to lose weight is to do so slowly under the care of a medical professional.
Consider changing dietIf your pet is severely overweight, your veterinarian may prescribe a diet food that is severely calorie restricted and is meant for short-term use to aid in losing weight, not as a long-term diet. Some contain a lot of fiber to help your pet feel full. This food should only be used when supervised by your veterinarian.You can also discuss with your veterinarian the option of using Slentrol (www.Slentrol.com), a weight-loss drug for dogs from Pfizer. This works in two ways — by sending a message to suppress appetite (i.e., making the dog feel full) and locally, in the intestines, by blocking the fat from being absorbed. This may be useful for targeted weight loss when used in addition to creating a healthier lifestyle for your pet.