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Overweight Dogs and Cats, a Hefty Problem for Today's Pet Owner
Go to the dog park on any given Saturday and take a look around.
How many dogs do you see that are in tiptop physical shape with an upward tuck of the abdomen, narrowing waist, and thin layer of fat over the ribs? Probably not too many; like their human companions, the majority of dogs and cats today are overweight or obese. And, just like their human companions, that sets up our canine and feline friends for serious health problems now and in the future.
The “fat pet” problem is a growing one according to the latest nationwide survey, released in February 2012, by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. This annual survey, now in its fifth year, found 53 percent of adult dogs and 55 percent of cats to be classified as overweight or obese by their veterinarians. That equals 88.4 million pets in the United States that are too heavy according to veterinarians, and the overall number is most likely greater.
“The most distressing finding in this year’s study was the fact that more pet owners are unaware their pet is overweight,” said APOP founder Dr. Ernie Ward. “Of pet owners, 22 percent of dog owners and 15 percent of cat owners characterized their pet as normal weight when it was actually overweight or obese. This is what I refer to as the ‘fat pet gap’ or the normalization of obesity by pet parents. In simplest terms, we’ve made fat pets the new normal.”
Dr. Camille Torres-Henderson, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences at Colorado State University and a veterinarian with the Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s Community Practice, agrees.
“I definitely think that a large percentage of dogs we see in Community Practice are overweight,” said Dr. Torres. “Certainly, our population is a little unique, but it is rare to find a dog that is in ideal body condition. When we do have a dog come in that is at his ideal weight, it almost looks like he’s malnourished because we just aren’t used to seeing dogs look the way they should.”
Cats, of course, aren’t much better off. With a more sedentary indoor lifestyle, higher calorie foods, and ample supplies of treats, tubby tabbies are just as common as hefty hounds. The health risks to these overweight companion animals mirrors those of humans, including cardiac disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, orthopaedic injuries, osteoarthritis, respiratory disorders, and various forms of cancer. The solution? Through diet and exercise, you can return your pet to a healthy weight and prevent or even reverse some medical conditions for which they are at risk.
The first rule of weight loss is willpower – in this case, though, not your dog’s or cat’s willpower, but yours. You will need to resist those begging eyes and remind yourself that food is not love. The rest is common sense, but here are a few tips to get you started:

Weight Loss Tips for Dogs

  1. Daily exercise is not only important for weight control, but also for keeping your pet’s muscles strong, cardiovascular system pumping, and metabolism well regulated. Walk; run; play catch and chase, and hide-and-seek; make play dates, and just get your pet moving.
  3. We all sneak treats to our dogs, but if an entire family is sneaking treats, that is a recipe for obesity. “It’s like every time you walked in the door, someone handed you a soda,” said Dr. Torres. Instead, institute a snack bowl. Take a portion of your dog’s dinner kibble rations (decrease dinner by the same amount), put it in the snack bowl, and have everyone in the family give your dog treats from there. When the snack bowl is empty, no more treats.
  5. If those sad brown eyes are difficult to resist, try small chunks of raw carrots or pieces of green beans instead. It’s still a treat, but without all the calories.
  7. Remember, your dog is much smaller than you are and a small piece of cheese is the equivalent of you eating an entire block of cheese. Just say no.
  9. Your dog is meant to be at a healthy weight – you’ll see a difference in attitude as the pounds come off and energy and vitality return.
  11. Make an appointment with your veterinarian to begin a safe weight loss program for your pet.

Weight Loss Tips for Cats

  1. Involve your veterinarian in developing a weight loss program for your overweight or obese cat, as cats have special nutritional needs that must be taken into consideration.
  3. Treats are just as bad for cats as they are for dogs and need to be limited.
  5. Feed a measured amount of food (discuss with your veterinarian what this should be).
  7. Turn being pestered for food into playtime.
  9. Feed four to six small meals instead of two larger ones but keep the weight loss calories the same. Try to do one feeding later in the evening, particularly if you have a cat that wakes you up at 4 a.m. looking for a handout.
  11. Cat owners need to be a bit more creative when it comes to exercise (tough to go running with your cat). Suggestions from Dr. Torres include: hide your cat’s food bowl in different areas around the house so that they have to “hunt” for their meal; use feather toys to get your cat up and “dancing”; move flashlight beams around the floor; and make available paper bags and cardboard boxes for your cat to play hide-and-seek.
As pet owners, we have a special responsibility to keep our companion animals happy and healthy. They rely on us to provide them with an appropriate diet that will meet their nutritional needs while not turning them into couch potatoes. If you suspect that your pet may be overweight, ask your veterinarian to help you get that fat cat fit and that portly pup pumped.