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home : columns : columns April 29, 2016

7/22/2014 12:11:00 PM
Is your pet overweight?
Tiger wonders if this photo makes him look fat. photo by Jodi Schneider McNamee
+ click to enlarge
Tiger wonders if this photo makes him look fat. photo by Jodi Schneider McNamee

By Jodi Schneider McNamee

You just got home after taking your pooch for his yearly booster at the veterinarian. You never expected to hear that he was overweight. What's a couple of pounds when he seems happy and healthy enough?

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention's (APOP) latest veterinary survey, 53 percent of adult dogs and 55 percent of adult cats in the United States are classified as overweight or obese by their veterinarians. Being obese can shorten your pet's lifespan.

The bigger problem, according to APOP founder Dr. Ernie Ward, is that pet owners don't even realize their chubby four-legged friends have a weight problem.

You man think that your pudgy pug or extra-large and lovable Labrador is adorable, but the additional pounds he's carrying can cause medical conditions and physical limitations that in the long run shorten your time together.

Many of the medical and physical conditions associated with overweight or obese humans are the same in pets. Just a few extra pounds on your pet can put them at risk for diabetes, heart and kidney disease, joint problems, high blood pressure and cancer.

Without a scale it's hard to know if your dog or cat is overweight. Veterinarians use a rating system called the body condition score to determine whether a pet is in the "danger zone." Most pet parents have no idea that the ideal weight for their pet is not a number, but a certain ratio. You want ribs to be easily felt, but not necessarily seen, and a defined waist.

You should never start your pet on a diet without the assistance of your veterinarian. There may be a medical condition that could be causing Kitty or Fido's excess weight.

As a pet parent, it can be difficult to determine just how much food you should be giving your pet. For that reason, regular veterinary exams should include an evaluation of your pet's body condition; your veterinarian can help you determine whether Fido or Kitty has a weight issue and can help you decide on a proper diet and safe quantity to feed your pet daily.

If your pet is overweight your vet may have you regulate the amount of food you give your pet. Exercise is also important in maintaining your pet's weight or helping your pet to lose weight. However, if your pet is not used to strenuous exercise, start slowly. Gradually increase the pace and duration as he becomes more fit.

Get in the habit of daily walks; it's a great form of exercise for dogs. Interactive toys are a good choice to encourage exercise for cats.

Regular exercise will not only help burn excess calories for your pet but will also provide mental stimulation and keep joints and muscles flexible and healthy.

You can make mealtime more fun with interactive feeding toys. These not only stimulate your pet's mind, they make him work for his supper; and when pets eat more slowly they use up more calories. You may not necessarily need to change your pet's food; it's the amount of food that's the problem. Avoid table scraps and make sure you account for treats when deciding how much to feed your dog during meals.

Keeping your pet's weight in check is easier when you check it regularly. Your pet should typically lose about a pound per month, and monthly weigh-ins at the veterinarian's office will help you determine whether or not your dog or cat's weight-loss program is working. Remember that working with your veterinarian in determining this plan and making sure it's working will guide you and your pet back on track to a healthy weight.

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