By Dr. Becker
I’m sad to report that for yet another year, U.S. pet obesity rates continued to escalate. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), in 2012 the number of overweight cats reached an all-time high.
The 2012 survey reveals that 52.5 percent of dogs and 58.3 percent of cats are either overweight or obese according to their veterinarian. The number of fat cats represents a 3 percent increase over the 2011 number. These percentages mean that approximately 80 million dogs and cats in this country are not only uncomfortably heavy, but also at increased risk for a long list of debilitating weight-related disorders.
According to Dr. Ernie Ward, found of APOP and lead veterinarian for the 2012 survey, obesity is the number one health threat to today’s pets. “We continue to see an escalation in the number of overweight cats and an explosion in the number of type 2 diabetes cases,” says Dr. Ward.
Oblivious Pet Owners
Highlighting another frustrating issue, the survey reports that 45.8 percent of dog owners and 45.3 percent of cat owners believe their overweight or obese pet is a normal weight.
Dr. Ward has dubbed this phenomenon the “fat gap” …
"The disconnect between reality and what a pet parent thinks is obese makes having a conversation with their veterinarian more challenging. Many pet owners are shocked when their veterinarian informs them their pet needs to lose weight. They just don't see it."
As we’ve also seen from prior year surveys, certain dog breeds are at greater risk for growing too heavy. Around 60 percent of Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers are considered overweight or obese by their vet.
'The Most Important Decision a Pet Owner Makes Each Day Is What They Choose to Feed.'
Dr. Ward believes the war against creating overweight pets is one pet owners and veterinarians must win. Obesity is an entirely preventable medical condition, and it’s the responsibility of pet owners – with support from their veterinarian – to maintain their dog’s or cat’s healthy weight through species-appropriate nutrition and physical activity.
Dr. Ward believes, and I certainly agree, “The Most Important Decision a Pet Owner Makes Each Day Is What They Choose to Feed. Choose wisely. Your pet’s life depends on it.”
Dr. Ward also sees a clear connection between pet and childhood obesity rates.
“The causes of pet and childhood obesity are largely the same: too many high-calorie foods and snacks combined with too little physical activity. Parents need to encourage children to put down their video games and pick up the dog leash to go for a walk. Instead of snacking on sugary treats, share crunchy vegetables with your dog. Eat more whole foods instead of highly processed fast food.”
Obesity Destroys Your Pet’s Health
Overweight and obesity in pets is both a primary disease and the root cause of many other diseases that develop as the result of too much weight, including:
And you can add to this list a significant reduction in the quantity and quality of your overweight pet’s life.
While some pet owners don’t realize their dog or cat is overweight, others know their pet is too heavy, but for some reason find it amusing. Still other owners of fat pets don’t seem to realize they are compromising the animal’s health.
I wish more pet owners understood the consequences of letting their dog or cat get fat. I find it hard to believe most pet parents would continue to overfeed, feed the wrong foods, and under-exercise their companion animals if they realized they were destroying their pet’s health.
What to Do If Your Pet Is Overweight
If you’re not sure whether your pet is too heavy, you can find a list of ideal weights at Pet Obesity Prevention.
Veterinarians rate the body condition of dogs and cats on a scale of 1 to 9, where 1 is emaciated and 9 is obese. A pet at a healthy size will fall into the middle of the range at 4 to 5. If your pet is a healthy weight and in good physical shape, you'll be able to feel the ribs (but not see them), see your pet's waistline when you look down at him, and notice a tuck in the abdomen when he's viewed from the side.
If your dog or cat is too heavy, begin a program to get her safely down to a healthy weight. No one thing you can do for your precious furry companion is more important than what and how much you feed her.
These three common sense guidelines are all you really need:
- Feed a balanced, species-appropriate diet to your pet. Regardless of her weight, your dog or cat still needs the right nutrition for her species, which means food that is high in animal protein and moisture, with low or no grain content.
- Practice portion control -- usually a morning and evening meal, carefully measured. A high-protein, low-carb diet with the right amount of calories for weight loss, controlled through the portions you feed, is what will take the weight off your dog or cat. And don't forget to factor in any calories from treats.
- Regularly exercise your pet. An overweight body gets back in shape by taking in fewer calories and expending more energy. Daily exercise, including at least 20 minutes of consistent aerobic activity, will help your pet burn fat and increase muscle tone.
More information for cat owners: Valuable Tips for Helping Your Heavy Cat
For dog owners: How to Help Your Chunky Dog Release Excess Pounds