Pella Chronicle

October 17, 2013

Fighting obesity in pets

The Chronicle

Pella —

Being overweight can cause joint pain, strain the cardiovascular system and result in fatigue. But humans are not the only animals to suffer from obesity. Many companion animals are overweight as well. Helping pets to shed extra weight can alleviate a number of health concerns and help pets feel more comfortable.

Extra pounds can sneak up on cats and dogs. According to the National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, in 2012 52.5 percent of dogs and 58.3 percent of cats in America were overweight or obese. This equates to 80 million dogs and cats at increased risk for weight-related health disorders, including many cancers.

"Our data shows that obesity is rampant, and we are certainly setting up more and more dogs and cats for joint problems during their lives," said veterinarian and surgical specialist Dr. Steve Budsberg of the University of Georgia. "This results in hundreds of millions of dollars in medical bills and countless surgical procedures for weight-related conditions."

Few animals will turn away from extra food, and overfeeding is a primary culprit in animal obesity. Here are some other causes of paunchy pets:

* Leaving food available all of the time.

* Giving the animal too large a serving size.

* Supplementing food with table scraps.

* Offering too many treats in between meals.

* Feeding the animal too many carbohydrates or a subpar food.

* Being unaware the pet is scavenging food from the garbage or from other animals.

* Lack of exercise.

Focusing on the causes of obesity in pets can help pet owners develop a strategy to assist companion animals with weight loss.

* Check ingredients.Scores of different pet foods are on the market. Not all are created equal, and some may actually contain ingredients that make it difficult for pets to maintain a healthy weight. For example, many dog treats now contain sugar to make them even more irresistible to dogs, fueling greater sales. Some of the mainstream dog treats available at pet stores and supermarkets list sugar as the second or third ingredient, which means there are high concentrations of sugar, and this can lead to weight gain. By reading the labels, pet owners can weigh the potential health benefits of the foods they choose to feed their pets.

* Measure food carefully. The serving portions suggested on food products are just suggestions. Pet owners can reduce or increase serving sizes as necessary based on an animal's activity level and age. Older, less active pets will not need to eat as much. Reducing portion sizes can help pets lose weight.

* Split up meals. Rather than feeding a cat or dog one large meal per day, serve two to three smaller meals per day. Eating smaller portions more frequently can keep pets' metabolisms working while burning off excess calories.

* Check where the nutrition is coming from. When reading labels ensure that a meat is the primary source of calories in the food. Foods that provide the majority of their calories from grains and other carbohydrates may not be satisfying pets, who will then compensate by overeating. Pets can be both obese and malnourished.

* Pay attention to picky pets. Hungry animals should not be picky of their food choices. If an animal refuses to eat until you give him or her a food or treat of choice, it could be an indication that the pet is customarily overfed. A hungry pet will eat what is served.

* Select low-calorie treats. Opt for apple slices, green beans or raw carrots as rewards for pets. They are lower in calories than many processed treats. Always check that a food is safe before feeding it to a companion animal. Chocolate, garlic, grapes and onions are toxic to some animals.

* Make sure pets get plenty of exercise. Combine the right foods with exercise to ensure a pet maintains a healthy weight. Dogs can be walked, and cats can chase around stimulating toys or balls to burn calories.

* Don't overlook a physical malady. Sometimes weight gain is the result of an illness. Poor thyroid function is a common culprit when pets' weights fluctuate. Annual checkups with a veterinarian are necessary to keep abreast of any potential weight issues.

Much like their owners, dogs and cats suffer from being overweight and obese. Many of the same remedies that work for overweight men and women are just as effective at helping pets maintain healthy weights.