Pet obesity continues to be a growing problem, affecting the majority of US dogs and cats. Research conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) found that approximately 58% of cats and 54% of dogs were overweight or obese in 2015 compared to 2014 survey results that showed 57.9% of cats and 52.7% of dogs being overweight or obese.
The annual obesity prevalence survey is conducted by APOP. Veterinary practices assessed the body condition scores of every dog and cat patient they saw for a regular wellness exam on a given day in October. Body condition scores based on a five-point scale and actual weight were used in classifying pets as either underweight, ideal, overweight or obese. The latest survey included the assessment of 1,224 dogs and cats by 136 veterinary clinics. Animal Hospital of North Asheville has participated in this study for the past several years.
Excess weight can reduce pet life expectancy and negatively impact quality of life. “The reality is, obesity kills,” comments Dr. Joe Bartges, a Professor at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine and APOP Board member. “Numerous studies have linked obesity with type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, many forms of cancer and decreased life expectancy. Our survey validates the notion that we’re seeing more obese pets with more potential medical problems.”
Not only is obesity on the rise, but many families do not realize their pet is overweight or obese. Some pet families even struggle with the idea of what a healthy body weight is for their pet.
How does your pet measure up? Take these steps to help identify what your pet’s ideal weight is and how to maintain it.
1. Assess your pet
A healthy weight comes in all shapes and sizes, just like in humans. Different breeds of cats and dogs are built differently, so a healthy weight may look different at a glance. Some dog breeds are notoriously overweight (Labradors especially) whereas others like whippets are naturally slender, so when a dog has a “healthy body weight” they may look thin since they do not have the typical body size that people are accustomed to seeing.
An easy way to tell if your pet is a healthy weight at home is to run your hands over your pet’s ribs. Can you feel them? Are the ribs and spine pronounced? Can you see a waistline? Ribs should be easily felt with a slight fat layer over them. There should be a waist, an area tucked in at the end of the rib cage. Your primary veterinarian is here to help determine your pet’s body condition and how to help if your pet is underweight or overweight.
2. Feed a healthy diet with portion control
Discuss with your primary veterinarian the best diet for your pet. There are a lot of fad diets out there along with “diets” that have misleading marketing and labeling which can make choosing a food for your pet difficult and confusing. Choose a well-balanced, life stage appropriate, Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) tested diet that is recommended for the medical history of your pet. Check out our articles about reading pet food labels and picking a healthy diet for your pet.
Portion control plays a huge part in maintaining a healthy weight or aiding in weight loss. Free feeding can rack up a lot of calories, and many people forget about added calories from treats throughout the day, rawhides and bones, feces eaters, pets who finish a housemate’s food, or the snacks off our plates. Calories are everywhere and they can quickly add up in a pet’s diet.
Portions can hide extra calories too if not measured correctly. A regular drinking cup that is used to measure food may actually contain much more than a true “cup” of food. Use a measuring cup for cooking to obtain a accurate measurement of food. Make sure it is level at the actual cup marking (the extra food in a rounded cup of food adds calories and can pack on extra weight for your pet). Inexpensive measuring cups can be purchased, and AHNA offers free measuring cups that you can stop in and ask for any time. You can measure out how much food is recommended and mark it on the food scoop/cup.
Read the guidelines on the food bag, especially when switching foods. Not all foods have the same calorie content and feeding the same amount of a new food can cause weight gain or loss. Make sure everyone is on board in the house about how much to feed.
Treats are a special part of our bond with our pets. Just like us, pets like special treats, but also like us, moderation is the key. We should not eat a whole cake at a celebration, but a slice. You do not need to give your pet a whole bag of treats at one sitting. Instead, break the treats up into small bites (pea size) so you can offer more pieces with fewer calories. Save the high value, high calorie treats for special occasions: birthdays, training a new behavior, or during a special situation. Choose low calorie treats (bite size carrots, green beans, or even some of the regular dog food from the measured daily allowance). Treats should not make up more than 10% of your pet’s daily calories. Click Here for more treat tips.
4. Drink More Water
Water is one of the most important nutrients for us and our pets. It maintains organ health, and can aid in weight loss. Cats are notorious for not drinking enough water, which can lead to health problems such as urinary tract disease and constipation. For all of your pets, you should have fresh water available all the time.
5. Make Time for Exercise
Exercise can take many forms such as long (or even short) walks, running, playing fetch with a ball or chasing a laser pointer dot. Even adding a couple extra minutes of play a day can help. Playtime with our furry friends can decrease stress in our lives too!
6. Visit your veterinarian to make a game plan to help achieve and maintain a healthy weight. When pets gain or lose weight, it can affect their health or be an indication that something’s wrong. By noticing changes early, you can help detect or prevent illness, and maintain a healthy weight for your pet. Your veterinarian will look at your pet’s medical history, body score, weight, dietary needs, current diet and lifestyle to help construct an individualized plan to help your pet achieve and/or maintain a healthy weight.
Your pet will thank you in the long term.
Source: Dr Ernie Ward and The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP)
The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention was founded in 2005 by Dr. Ernie Ward with the primary mission of documenting pet obesity levels in the United States to raise awareness of the issue and its negative impact on pets. The APOP board is made up of veterinary practitioners, nutritionists, surgeons and internal medicine specialists. APOP conducts annual research to substantiate pet obesity prevalence levels in the United States and offers resources for veterinarians and pet owners to better equip them to recognize and fight pet obesity. More information about APOP can be found on their Facebook page.