American men and women are experiencing an obesity problem and their dogs and cats are, unfortunately, following their lead. According to the AVMA approximately 25% of pets are overweight. This is due to three main problems. Firstly, 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. Since so many people tend to work long hours leaving their pets at home alone one of the ways people alleviate their guilt is by indulging their pets with too much food. Also, animal lovers seem to have misconceptions about what is a healthy physique for their pets.
Some breeds 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 displaysia, back problems, breathing and heart problems, so you need to be especially carefully to keep them fit and trim.
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.
It’s important to consult with your veterinarian to determine if your pet is at a good weight. 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 waste (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 them. Overindulging your pets to the point that they become unhealthy is actually killing with kindness. To achieve and maintain your pet’s ideal weight your veterinarian will help you make a plan which may include some or all of the following:
Gradually cut 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. 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 such as walks, play and training sessions. You can even encourage your pet to exercise when you aren’t home by getting rid of their food bowls and feeding them from food stuffable toys which they have to push about to make release the food. However, diving into a vigorous exercise program can cause injuries and stress so start slowly and visit your veterinarian before you begin. As with people, the safest way for your pet to lose weight is to do so slowly under the care of a medical professional.
Consult your veterinarian about possibly using a diet food. If your pet is severely overweight your veterinarian may prescribe a diet which is more 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 should only be used when supervised by your veterinarian. In addition, there is a relatively new drug on the market called Slentrol which works in two ways, by sending a message to the brain to say I’m full and locally in the intestines by blocking the fat from being absorbed. However as soon as you stop the drug those benefits go away. So, it can be used for targeted weight loss, but only under the supervision of your veterinarian and in conjunction with a weight loss plan which includes an overall healthier lifestyle for your pet.