Is your pet too fat?

By Randall W. Haveman, DVM, MS
Sunnyside Veterinary Hospital, PC
Happy Valley, Oregon

Have you ever noticed that people often look like their pets? The tall, thin, svelte woman with the Greyhound or Saluki? The sturdy, blocky man with the English Bulldog?  Over time, people have gotten heavier and so have their pets. The percentage incidence of obesity in people and their pets is about the same.

Veterinarians are aware of this, and that’s why the American Veterinary Medical Association has designated the theme of this year’s National Pet Week in May as “People and Pets Healthy Together.” The focus is to make all of us more physically fit, both animals and man.

A 14-year study published in the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association followed 48 pairs of Labrador Retriever litter mates. A 25 percent restriction of food intake — or maintaining an ideal body condition throughout these dog’s lives — increased the median life span of the dog by 1.8 years and delayed the onset of chronic disease symptoms.

Controlling weight should be easier for pets than people.   We control the amount of food and calories we feed our pets daily.  And pets can’t snack on that bag of chips in the pantry, without our help.  BUT, the longer I am in practise, the more I see that the problem is the owner’s indulgence.  Some pets are even scapegoats for the their dieting owner.  The biggest obstacle in pet weight loss is the owner’s attitude.  “The fatness of the lamb is in the eye of the shepherd”, as the old saying goes.

The consequences of obesity are similar in people and pets.  Overweight pets are at higher risk of diabetes, pancreatitis, cancer, heart disease, liver disease, and arthritis.  In addition, some pets can’t reach to groom themselves and have skin and coat problems.  Quality of life is affected, because the pet can no longer run and interact as well with the family.  Mobility may be so decreased that stairs are an insurmountable obstacle

Your Veterinarian is the best source of advise to assess your pet’s body condition, which food to feed,  and how much to offer.  There are prescription diets, like R/D, Iams Restricted Calorie, etc, to rapidly reduce weight or treat the morbidly obese pet.  A product, Slentrol, actually decreases the pet’s appetite to help with weight loss in the typical pet or the “foodoholic.”.  Green or yellow veggies or fruits may be a good alternative to commercial treats and be sure to avoid calorie dense table food.  Avoid grapes, strawberries, or tomatoes, though.  Cooked green beans for dogs may lessen a voracious appetite.

Beware of depending on Lite, Less Active, or Reduced Calorie diets.  Most of these are only 5 – 10% less calories than regular pet food.  Most overweight pets I see are on one of these foods.

Just as in people, exercise helps to burn calories and any interaction with your pet will increase their activity.  Walking or throwing a ball or Frisbee is good for dog and owner.  Swimming is great low impact exercise, too.  For cats, using their favorite toys on a children’s fishing rod and reel can be fun for all.  Laser pointers are inexpensive and many cats never tire of chasing the red dot.  Cat nip can help get kitty in a playful mood.  I even recommend feeding in a different bowl, in a different place, and at a different time.  I encourage owners to try the change for three weeks, no matter how hard, and soon the new regimen will be the new habit.  Losing weight with your pet can be a team endeavor.

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