Americans are becoming increasingly overweight or obese, exercising less, and eating unhealthy foods, according to the recently released results of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. The results show that 63.1% of adults in the U.S. were either overweight or obese in 2009 - a small but measurable increase from 62.2% the previous year. Portion control is said to play a large role in why Americans are becoming increasingly overweight and that holds true for pets as well.
Just like their human companions, a growing number of cats and dogs in the United States are losing their ongoing battle with the scale. According to a 2010 study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, an estimated 54 percent (93 million) of dogs and cats in the United States are overweight or obese.
Veterinarians at the Vinton Small Animal Hospital report that more than 60 percent of the pets they see over the age of three are overweight, according to their website.
“Almost every other pet we see is somewhat overweight, said Dr. Kathie Neel, DVM, with the Vinton Animal Hospital. “A lot of times the family doesn’t even notice they’ve gained weight because they see the animal every day. When we tell them they’ve gained five pounds [since their last annual wellness checkup] they don’t believe us.”
Other common causes of chubby pets include inactivity as well as whether or not they have been spay or neutered.
“A lot of people do think their pets gain weight after its has been spayed or neutered, but most of the time the pet is reaching maturity and their metabolism is slowing down anyway [by the time they are spayed or neutered],” said Neel, who is quick to add that spaying and neutering animals is very important and primary to any weight concerns pet owners may have.
Certain breeds, including English Bulldogs, Beagles, Dachshunds, Pugs, Dalmatians and Cocker Spaniels, are also more prone to weight gain than other breeds. Multiple family members feeding their household pets can also be problematic, as often pets get more calories in a day than owners intend due to lack of communication about whether a pet has been fed already or not.
Overweight cats face a high risk of Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes. Degenerative arthritis and decreased mobility also are symptoms of weight gain. For dogs, the additional pounds also make them more prone to arthritis. Join pain leads to decreased mobility, which means they tend to gain even more weight. Other risks of excess weight in pets include Osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, heart and respiratory disease, ligament injuries, kidney disease, various forms of cancer and a decreased life expectancy of up to 2.5 years.
To help veterinarians educate their clients about healthy weight ranges for cats and dogs, in 2008 the American Veterinary Medical Association created obesity prevention kits that contained educational resources and images of pets at a healthy weight.
The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention also educates pet owners about ideal weight ranges. Sixty-five to 80 pounds is listed as the ideal weight for a healthy Labrador retriever, while a healthy Persian cat should weigh between 7 and 12 pounds.
The daily caloric need for an average, 10 pound, indoor cat is 180 – 200 calories and 200 – 275 for a dog. Twenty pounds dogs need an average of 325 – 400 calories while 50 pounds dogs need between 780 – 900 calories to maintain a healthy weight.
You can tell if your pet is overweight, cat or dog, if it is difficult to feel their ribs under the fat, if they have a sagging stomach and/or a broad, flat back. Pet owners should be able to feel their pet’s ribs and, when viewed from above, you should be able to see your pet’s waist.
The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine also reports that obesity among equine is also a growing problem. Overweight horses typically have high blood insulin levels. Together those conditions often lead to Pasture Associated Laminitis (PAL), a painful and debilitating condition of horses and ponies.
Neel reports that she has seen other small animals with weight problems, including birds and pocket pets (hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters, etc.) but admits that it isn’t often. “We don’t see a lot of that because people don’t typically bring those animals in [to the vet] on a regular basis for routine care,” said Neel.
So, what can you do it your pet is already over weight? It's no secret that cats aren't exactly open to exercise, so veterinarians typically suggest dietary changes to control weight issues. Dogs should be walked regularly.
“It’s good for their physical health, as well as their mental health,” said Neel.
Most cats are strictly indoor animals these days, which is the best way to keep them safe and health, Neel says, but it is important to make sure they get exercise as well. She advises cat owners to keep toys in the house and to engage cats in playtime often, and to wake them up if you find them sleeping a lot. Sometimes having a second cat they can socialize with helps as well.
It’s also important to feed your pet at the same time each day to avoid digestive disorders later on in life. Pets should be fed at the same time each day (which also helps prevent digestive disorders later on in life) and food bowels should be taken up 30 minutes after it is put out. In between meal snacks are a “no-no.”
Whether your pet is overweight or not, they should never have grapes, raisins, chocolate or onions, which can all be toxic to your pet if consumed in large enough quantities. It’s important to choose a good quality pet food as well. Generic brand pet food is often higher in fat.
Pet-nutrition experts agree that the best dog food is made from human-grade ingredients like meat, whole grains and vegetables as well as vitamins and minerals. Premium dog and cat food is so important because good nutrition is essential for a long, healthy life. Cats also need a food with Taurine, an essential amino acid, and certain other vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and fatty acids.
If you’ve tried these things and they are not helping slim down your four-legged friend, make an appointment with your veterinarian to be sure nothing else is going on.