One of the most common and effective preventative health tips you can get from your veterinarian is to keep your animal fit and at an ideal weight. We see cats and dogs of all walks of life battling with weight issues on a weekly basis. While some of the times we see animals that are underweight, most clients with weight issues are overweight.
It can be a problem for city-dwellers to keep their animal in tip-top shape past being an energy-filled puppy or kitten. With busy work schedules and the limited amount of parks and trails in the city that allow off-leash areas for dogs to run and play, dogs become sedentary, while their food intake never changes. We all know that a decreased energy expenditure and an increased or maintained caloric intake is a recipe for weight gain. Factor that in, as well as age, reproductive status, breed (smaller breeds are more susceptible to becoming overweight) and other existing diseases, and the fact that older animals move slower and have less of those intense bursts of energy and your pooch is well on their way to joining the near 50% of obese dogs in North America’s entire canine population.
The story is similar for cats. Because most city-dwellers own cats that are strictly indoors, unless your breed of cat is particularly active, a relatively sedentary lifestyle sets in much quicker than in dogs. It is also harder to stimulate and have your cat perform significant exercise than in dogs. Additionally, age, reproductive status, pre-existing medical conditions and certain breeds of cats also have similar genetic predispositions that make them more susceptible to weight gain.
So why should you be concerned about obesity in your pets? Well, put simply, for the exact same reasons why we need to take care of our bodies. Cats and dogs are both susceptible to osteoarthritis, diabetes in cats, complications with the heart and lungs, and even cancers! Having an overweight pet also makes surgery more difficult because they can have complications under anesthesia, lowers your pets overall energy level and mobility, and can make battling medical conditions more difficult.
So where does this leave you, the doting, concerned pet owner? The most obvious and commonly suggested solution is to reduce the amount of food you feed, that includes treats (human food especially!). Just like in people, keeping a food diary of your pet’s daily food intake will help shed some light on how much your pet really eats in a day and where you can cut out some calories.
Secondly, but not of lesser importance is the kind of food you’re feeding your pet. Your animal should be on a food that is specific for your animal’s age, species and size. Puppy and kitten diets are high in sugars and fats that would easily make any adult animal overweight! Additionally, food should be given in measured amounts, not by eye, or until the food bowl is full to the top.
After overcoming the temptation to give into puppy dog eyes or the cutest cat meows for food, you can start tackling increasing your pet’s daily exercise. Taking your dog for longer walks, with intervals of walking, playing fetch, and running are ideal (and only if approved by your veterinarian). Regular play periods with cats by using balls and laser pointers will keep your cat engaged and active. Of course, you should always be aware of your pet’s and your own physical limitations associated with age, and exercise them accordingly.
If you’re already following these rules but aren’t seeing any results, special calorie-reduced or fiber diets, that keep the animal full, but keeps all those extra pounds at bay. Additionally, if you don’t know how to read human food labels, it would be a great asset to better improve your own nutrition and that of your pet. Pay attention to values such as calories, fats, sodium, minimum and maximum levels of protein and fiber, and so on. Here‘s a great “how-to” read your pet’s food label.
Take a look at these easy-to-read charts below that measure your animal’s body condition score (BCS for short) to keep an eye on your animal’s progress (you can also drop by our clinic to get their weights updated). Remember, you are in complete control of your animal’s diet, they rely solely on you to keep them healthy! Good luck, and happy playing!