Things are getting too big. Cars, houses, kids, and yes, pets. That’s right, our pets are getting too big. We all know obesity in American is an epidemic that has gotten out of control, but did you realize it was beginning to affect our companion animals as well? Obesity is defined as an increase in body weight, beyond the limitation of skeletal and physical requirements, resulting from an accumulation of excess body fat.
It is ultimately caused by an intake of more calories than the number of calories being burned by the body. It has gotten very difficult for a dog or cat in this culture to maintain an ideal body weight and achieve optimal health and well being simply because people are feeding more food than their pets ought to be eating and giving them less exercise than they need.
However, that is not always the case. Sometimes your seemingly active, seemingly healthy-eating pet may be carrying more weight than her body can handle, no fault of yours. That is to say, there are instances of obesity caused by heart, thyroid or other metabolic disorders, and not overeating. But regardless of the cause, overweight pets can face some serious pet health problems most often related to the function of their heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and joints – not to mention a deterioration in mobility which can lead to self-grooming issues which, in turn, can cause skin problems. Obese cats in particular can be predisposed to diabetes, Hepatic Lipidosis and arthritis. And in the end, overweight pets will generally experience a dramatic decrease in lifespan.
So what can we do to help turn the tide toward a nation of lean, healthy animals? The first thing is to assess your pet’s body condition so you can determine if obesity is even an issue. Unfortunately, standing on a scale won’t give you the answer because “ideal weight” differs depending on the breed. You can usually tell if a cat is overweight just by looking at it. Cats should be straight and slender; not round or barrel-shaped. Cats get fat on their tummies, not along their ribcages the way dogs do. If they have a pudgy pouch hanging down from their belly, they need to lose a few pounds.
You can tell if a dog is overweight by running your hands over the animal's sides along its chest. You should easily be able to feel its ribs. A dog at a healthy weight should have an abdomen that is slightly tucked up when viewed from the side. Dogs should have waistlines; if you look at it from the top, it should have an hourglass shape. If you can't feel the ribs easily, or your dog has no waist and its abdomen drags … you’ve got an overweight dog.
If you have an overweight pet, the next step is to talk to your veterinarian about your concerns. Your pet’s ideal weight is based on several factors like overall health conditions and breed, so consult your vet before changing your pet’s food, decreasing meal portions, or increasing your pet’s daily activity. For example, cats should never be put on a weight-loss program without a vet’s input because a dramatic decrease in caloric intake can cause your cat to develop Hepatic Lipidosis, a life threatening liver disease.
Once you’ve been given the green light to put your pet on a weight-loss program, you will need to make a commitment to some lifestyle changes that are directly related to the success of tackling obesity. It’s all about diet and exercise. Forget all the fad diets humans follow these days. The healthiest way for your pets to eat is a fresh, raw pet food, rich in naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals like those present in whole grains, raw fruits and vegetables as well as fresh, human-quality meat. If your pet’s diet consists of healthy, raw dog food or raw cat food, you won’t have to worry as much about counting calories.
Also keep an eye on the portions you’re feeding. You know how shampoo bottles suggest lathering and rinsing twice? We all know they’re just trying to sell more shampoo. Well some pet foods have the same approach – especially those that recommend free-feeding. Free-feeding is like a person having an open buffet in their house 24 hours a day.
Dogs and cats need to rest their digestive systems, even more so than humans, so having set feeding times once or at most twice-a-day is the best way to go. This will allow your critter to fully digest their meals and then burn off some of those calories. If you visit a holistic veterinarian, it’s possible that they may also recommend one day of fasting every week, which promotes a longer period of digestive rest and cleansing.
Once you’ve got the diet under control, it’s time to consider exercise. This doesn’t mean your dog needs to spend an hour a day walking on the treadmill. Whether it’s the dog park, an agility class, or even just a walk around the block, dogs should have at least 20 to 30 minutes of exercise daily to eliminate extra calories and sustain muscle tone. For cats, use a string or toy to encourage jumping and chasing, or give it something interesting to climb. If your cat is not prone to running away, spending some time in the yard can be very helpful as well.