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Which Americans are Most Concerned About the Health of Their Pets?

July 05, 2011 | 6,545 views
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pet's health concernA company that manufactures a supplement to treat pet arthritis and joint pain has discovered the largest number of pet obesity-related customer service calls they received in a six month period -- over 30 percent -- came from new parents.

These new moms and dads admitted their dogs are getting extra calories from food dropped from the baby's high-chair. They also acknowledged they aren't paying adequate attention to their pet's food portions, and also their dogs aren't getting as much exercise as they did before the baby arrived.

According to Veterinary Practice News, quoting the arthritis product's manufacturer:

"Through the research and our discussions with veterinarian experts, new parents tend to let down their guard when watching their dogs' diet because their focus is clearly on addressing their new baby."

As the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) recently reported, 20 percent of U.S. dogs and cats are considered obese. Not just overweight, but obese.

It's important to remember that just a few additional pounds on the relatively small frame of your dog or cat can add considerable stress to joints, leading to pain and degenerative diseases like arthritis.

Dr. Becker's Comments:

I admit I had to read the articles linked above more than once to understand the point being made!

Apparently, new parents of (human) babies are the demographic most likely to be concerned about their pet growing obese and developing joint-related conditions as a result.

Since the vast majority of my time and energy is dedicated to pets and wild critters, it took me a few minutes to grasp that the family dog or cat often takes a backseat when there's a new baby in the family.

I can certainly understand how this happens. Having a child is a life-changing event.

Fortunately, now that we have this important data in our hands, we can help expectant parents be better prepared to continue to take excellent care of the family pet after the baby arrives.

A Little Means a Lot When It Comes to Weight Gain in Your Pet

Did you know almost half of all Labrador and Golden Retrievers in the U.S. are overweight or obese? And according to the American Kennel Club (AKC), the Labrador Retriever is the most popular dog in the nation.

This means there are entirely too many wonderful family dogs out there at significant risk of developing one or several obesity-related diseases because their human guardians are overfeeding and under exercising them.

If, for example, you have a female Lab with an average size frame and she weighs in at 90 pounds, in human terms she's the equivalent of a 5 foot 4 inch woman at 186 pounds. Of course, there are differences in frame sizes that must be accounted for, but you get the picture.

If your average size Yorkshire Terrier weighs 12 pounds, she's the equivalent of that same 5 foot 4 inch woman at 223 pounds.

If your cat is average size and weighs 15 pounds, he's the equivalent of a human male at 225 pounds on a 5 foot 9 inch frame. If your cat swells up to 20 pounds, you've put another whopping 75 pounds on that 5 foot 9 inch human frame. Each pound on your cat is like 13 to 15 pounds on a human.

There's really no such thing as insignificant weight gain in your companion. If your dog or cat is a good size and starts to gain weight, you should view it as a pet health emergency requiring your immediate attention.

An Overweight Pet is an Unhealthy Pet

Many of the same health problems overweight and obese humans develop are also seen in companion animals, including:

  • Respiratory disorders
  • Cancer

Your dog or kitty can't tell you when he's hurting or feels ill. Unfortunately, many pet parents don't even realize their companion is sick until the situation is irreversible—maybe even life-threatening.

Unlike humans who can reasonably expect to live into their 80s and 90s, your furry friend's lifespan is painfully short even under the best circumstances. Obesity-related diseases appear quickly in companion animals and can do irreparable damage to the quality of your pet's life.

In additional to the emotional toll a sick pet takes on family members, veterinary expenses for serious or chronic obesity-related conditions can take a financial toll as well.

By keeping your dog or cat at a healthy weight, you can dramatically reduce the risk of a serious illness which could damage your pet's health and wreak havoc on your finances.

Suggestions for Expectant or New Parents with Pets

As I say so often, preparation is priceless!

This is especially true when you need to figure out how to juggle the competing priorities of a new baby and keeping your beloved dog or cat healthy and happy.

I recommend giving some serious thought to how you'll manage your pet once the baby arrives. Life will be very different for everyone in the family, including your dog or cat.

Some ideas to consider:

  • Since it seems pets catch on fast to snacking opportunities on the floor around high chairs, one solution to inadvertently over feeding your pet is to make sure he doesn't have access to the area where you feed your baby. Dogs view kids in highchairs as living Pez dispensers (ripe opportunities for lots of snacks), so don't give them the opportunity to perfect this skill.

    Close off your pet in another area of the house while your child eats. Or if it makes sense, install a baby gate or other barrier to prevent your pet from gaining access to the high chair area at mealtime.
  • If you haven't already, develop the habit of carefully measuring out an appropriate amount of food for your pet each day, and stick to this routine once the baby comes home.

    I don't recommend free-feeding (also known as the all day all you can eat buffet). This is a good way to end up with a fat pet, whether or not there's a new baby in the house. Portion control is the key to keeping your pet at a healthy weight. Calculate the amount of calories your dog or cat needs on a daily basis and portion it out in a morning and evening meal. If you feed treats, include those in the daily total. Don't add them on top.
  • Take care not to over feed your pet out of guilt. You may feel badly if you're not able to give your companion the same time and attention she received before the baby arrived. Resist the urge to give her extra food or treats to make up for the time you haven't been spending with her. It's a temporary fix for the guilt you may be feeling, but all it does for your pet is make her overweight and unhealthy.
  • Make a plan for how you'll keep your pet well-exercised once the baby arrives. If neither you nor your spouse will be able handle this chore for the first few months, assign it to other members of the household. If that isn't feasible, try to enlist extended family, friends, or neighbors you trust. Maybe someone you know has a responsible child who would like to earn a little spending money.

    You can also consider a professional dog walker/exerciser or doggy daycare. Many new families find one or two days at doggie daycare provides their pet with much-needed exercise and socialization opportunities, while giving them a day to fully focus on baby. Another option might be to enlist someone to babysit so you can exercise your dog yourself. You could also teach your dog to use a treadmill and work him out on it on days when no one is available to take him for a walk or to the dog park.

    Your goal should be to think the situation through beforehand and have a plan in place the first day the baby is home.
  • If your pet is a cat, it should be a lot easier to keep kitty active around the house while you’re caring for your new baby. You can invest in a laser toy, which many cats love. Or a more interactive toy like Da Bird. Use toys that appeal to your kitty’s hunter instincts and you can’t go wrong. The idea is to spend at least 20 minutes a day interacting with your cat and encouraging physical activity.

Remember, preparation really is priceless. There's a lot to think about and plan for with a new baby on the way.

Don't let your other 'baby,' your precious dog or kitty, get lost in the shuffle and excitement. Develop a plan ahead of time for exactly how you'll continue to give excellent care to your pet after the baby arrives.

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