You may be aware that almost 70% of adult Americans are overweight, but you may not know that an estimated 54% of dogs and 58% of cats in the United States also have a weight issue. Pet Obesity Awareness Day, celebrated on the second Wednesday of October, brings awareness to this health issue and promotes more balanced diets and active lifestyles for our pets.
The reality is that our pets become overweight or obese in the same ways that people do. When our pets have a ravenous appetite, we too often give them as much canned or dry food as they can eat. Then there are the snacks. It’s fun to see the eagerness on the faces of our pets when we rattle the treat bag or drop table scraps. But before you know it, those oversized portions and abundant treats have enlarged their bellies. And unless we’re diligent about ensuring our pets have ample play time and walks, two things we often neglect in our own lives, those bellies will keep increasing over time.
The problem is that excess weight reduces our pets’ overall quality of life. It lessens their interest in and ability to perform daily activities. The play time that they used to enjoy might now feel like a chore, and those walks that are so good for them will become a struggle. In all likelihood, because eating may now serve as their biggest pleasure, they’ll start to become obnoxious about demanding food. In addition, the weight increase will put stress on their body, leading to various joint and bone related problems. They may also start to develop breathing issues. Just as serious, excess weight can increase the risk of disease. According to Pet Obesity Prevention, here are some ailments that can develop:
- Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes
- High Blood Pressure
- Heart and Respiratory Disease
- Cranial Cruciate Ligament Injury
- Kidney Disease
Finally, the excess weight can reduce the life expectancy of a pet dog or cat by up to three years.
Did you realize a 12 pound Yorkie is the same as an average female weighing 218 pounds and a 14 pound cat is equivalent to a 237 pound man? Did you consider that a 90 pound female Labrador retriever is equal to a 186 pound 5’ 4” female or 217 pound 5’ 9” male or a fluffy feline that weighs 15 pounds (DSH) is equal to a 218 pound 5’ 4” female or 254 pound 5’ 9” male?—Pet Obesity Prevention
How do you know if your pet is overweight?. Awareness is the first step. The general rule is you should be able to feel your pet’s ribs but not see them. If you place your hands on the sides of your pet’s chest and still can’t see your pet’s ribs, your pet is overweight. If you have any concerns, follow-up by using a bathroom scale (or a kitchen scale for small pets) to determine your pet’s actual weight. Next, determine the ideal weight of your pet’s specific breed by using one of many available online tools, including those at Pet Obesity Prevention. Third, check out one of the many online sites to figure out the amount of calories that are appropriate for your pet. You can match that against your pet’s food and how much your pet eats. (Don’t forget to include between-meal treats and table scraps.) If your pet’s weight needs to change, follow these tips from Pet Safe:
- Talk to your vet. Your veterinarian is the best resource for helping you create a healthy plan to control, monitor, and improve your pet’s weight.
- Control the calories of your pet’s meals. When available, check nutrition labels for high quality ingredients instead of fillers.
- Limit the number of treats and avoid giving table scraps. When your pet looks at you with sad eyes, choose a healthy alternatives like carrots or broccoli.
- Stay consistent. Keep a measuring cup with your pet’s food–and use it. You might even consider using an automatic feeder, which ensures your pet is fed on the same schedule each day.
- Get out and play! Just be sure to cater it to your specific pet’s needs. A short walk around the block may be most appropriate for those older and/or disabled animals, while a romp in the park may be better suited the needs of those younger and more-abled animals.
There’s nothing wrong with giving pets an occasional treat. Nor does it hurt to let your pets have some lazy days. But doing these on a regular basis will result in more harm than good. Our pets love and depend on us for their welfare. By making their health a priority, we give them the best opportunity for a long and wonderful life.