Happy New Year! This is the time of year when many people commit to New Year’s Resolutions. Common goals include getting in shape, eating healthier, and losing weight. Have you thought about implementing a similar resolution for your pet? Many pets are overweight or obese, which can lead to some serious health concerns. This year, make it a goal to get fit with your furry friend!
Common causes of obesity include over-feeding and not enough exercise. Feeding table scraps and treats adds extra calories that can add up quickly. Other factors, such as the type of food, the individual pet’s metabolism, diseases, and genetic conditions can also play a role. Obesity can lead to a host of dangerous health concerns in dogs and cats, including arthritis, Diabetes, Hepatic Lipidosis, respiratory compromise, and increased surgical/anesthetic risk. Many of these conditions require life-long management; some are more severe, or even life-threatening. Extra weight also leads to an overall shorter lifespan. A recent study done by Purina found that dogs with an ideal body condition lived an average of 2.5 years longer than overweight dogs. Imagine adding years to your pet’s life, just by keeping them at a healthy body weight.
What can you do to help keep your pet at an ideal weight? Diet and exercise are important factors to keep in mind. Each pet’s lifestyle is different, and activity levels can vary throughout the year. Feeding more when they are able to get more exercise and cutting back on food volumes at less active times can help to maintain an ideal body condition. To increase exercise, gradually increase the length and frequency of walks and the amount of daily playtime. Interactive toys such as feather toys and laser pointers can help indoor cats become more active. As far as dietary management, meal feeding is ideal, as free feeding can encourage pets to over-eat. It’s important to keep in mind that different brands of food contain different amounts of calories. The guidelines on the back of the bag are a good place to start, but beware that they are often too generous. There are also specially-formulated prescription diet foods that can help with weight management, available through veterinarians. Cutting back on treats is also a good way to encourage weight loss. Giving treats can be a positive experience, and luckily there is a way to keep both the cost and the calories low - try keeping some of your pet’s regular kibble in a separate jar and using that as treats instead of buying the higher calorie treats. In addition to diet and exercise, it’s a good idea to rule out any health issues that can cause obesity, such as thyroid issues and Cushing’s disease. Regular bloodwork can reveal many of the underlying conditions that could contribute to weight gain.
Checking your pet’s weight regularly can be helpful. The best way to keep track of your pet’s body condition, however, is not necessarily by weight alone. Body condition scoring is a more reliable indicator of a healthy size. Feeling the ribs is the best way to judge body condition. Ideally, the ribs should be easily felt and should feel like the back of your hand. If you have to push through a layer of fat to feel the ribs, this indicates that there is extra weight. If ribs cannot be felt at all, the pet may be considered obese. When looking at the body’s appearance, the waist should appear narrower than the chest. Please see the body condition chart below for images of underweight, ideal, and overweight pets.
Getting to an ideal weight (#3 on the body condition chart) will help your pet live a healthier and longer life. Please let us know if you have any questions about weight management, and have a safe and happy start to 2014!