By Dr. Becker
These days, I think most pet lovers are catching on to the fact that the majority of dogs and cats in the U.S. are fat, and getting fatter. Unfortunately, knowledge doesn't equal action, so while there's growing awareness of the problem of pet obesity, there's still not enough being done to reverse this very dangerous trend.
Obesity Is THE Greatest Threat to Your Pet's Health
In 2016, 54 percent of U.S. dogs, or about 42 million were too heavy to be healthy. Overweight dogs were 34 percent of the total; obese dogs made up the remaining 20 percent. The news is even worse for cats, with 28 percent overweight and 31 percent obese, for a total of 59 percent or 51 million kitties.
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 arthritis, diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), hypothyroidism, kidney disease and a significant reduction in the quantity and quality of your pet's life.
While some pet parents remain oblivious to their dog's or cat's condition, others know but aren't concerned or don't seem to realize they're compromising the animal's health. I wish more people understood the consequences of letting their pet get fat.
"Obesity continues to be the greatest health threat to dogs and cats," observes veterinarian Dr. Ernie Ward, founder of APOP (the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention). "Obesity is a disease that kills millions of pets prematurely, creates immeasurable pain and suffering, and costs pet owners tens of millions of dollars in avoidable medical costs."1
Items No Pet-Loving Home Should Be Without
In addition to being overfed and/or fed the wrong foods and treats, many family pets today are suffering from a severe shortage of both physical exercise and mental stimulation. To make it a bit easier for busy people to help their pets exercise their bodies and brains, certified animal behavior consultant Steve Dale put together a list of items every household with a pet should have:2
Homes With a Cat
High places where the cat is allowed
A scratching post
A window ledge
Homes With a Dog
A job (herding, hunting, catching, learning new tricks)
Walks (probably on a leash)
Toys for chewing, digging up and carrying around
Rotating toys and novel ways to play (preferably with you)
Starchy Pet Food Is Making Dogs and Cats Fat
A very big contributor to the pet obesity epidemic in this country is the processed pet food industry. And while it's true many pet parents overfeed, very often the problem is also the quality of the food they're offering in addition to the quantity.
The incidence of obesity, cancer, diabetes and several other chronic health conditions in dogs and cats is much worse now than it was 20 years ago. Consequently, many sick pets have been switched to processed grain-free diets because their owners mistakenly assume they contain less sugar than regular pet foods.
But if you're feeding a dry diet, while it might be free of grains, it can't be free of carbs, because carbs are necessary to form kibble. If you look at the package label, you'll see potato, sweet potato, lentils, peas (pea starch), chickpeas, tapioca and/or other carbohydrate sources. What many pet parents don't realize is starch breaks down into sugar, even though you don't see sugar on the pet food package label.
Unfortunately, many dry pet foods are loaded with carbs (40 to 50 percent of total content in some cases), which can lead to blood sugar fluctuations, insulin resistance, obesity, diabetes and other health problems in pets.
This isn't something many consumers are aware of because pet food manufacturers aren't required to list carbohydrate content on package labels. Carb intake above the daily needs (less than 10 percent) of your pet activates internal enzyme factors that go to work storing the excess as body fat.
How to Calculate the Carb Content of Your Pet's Food
The food you feed your dog or cat should contain less than 10 percent carbohydrates. Here's how to do the math based on the "guaranteed analysis" information on the package:
100 - % protein - % fat - % moisture - % ash (if not listed, assume 6 percent)
Fiber is the indigestible roughage that doesn't break down into sugar, so you don't have to include it in the formula. Below is an image of the guaranteed analysis on a bag of popular grain-free dog food.
Plugging in our formula:
100 - protein at 20% - fat at 8% - moisture at 10% - ash at 6%
A carbohydrate content of 56 percent, as is the case with this dog food, is over five times the amount your pet needs. Remember: carbs break down into sugar and are stored as excess body fat.
The Best Food for Your Dog or Cat, Regardless of Weight
If your pet needs to lose a few pounds, or even if he doesn't, the best food you can offer to slim him down or keep him at a healthy weight is a nutritionally balanced homemade diet, either raw or lightly cooked. If you're not in a position to fix your pet's meals at home, my recommendation is a commercially available balanced raw food diet. If your pet requires a veterinary diet I recommend a fresh "prescription diet."
Skip all the commercial weight control, "maintenance" and low-fat diets. Regardless of his weight, your dog or cat still needs the right nutrition for his species, which means food that is high in animal protein and moisture, with low or no grain content.
It's also very important to 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.
You'll also need to 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, increase muscle tone and help prevent boredom and destructive behaviors.