According to a 2009 study published by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 34 million dogs and 54 million cats are classified as overweight. Sadly, these staggering numbers continue to rise. Just like in humans, obesity is now the biggest health threat to pets in the U.S. Excess weight lowers metabolism, increases appetite and can worsen other medical conditions, such as arthritis and respiratory problems.
If your pet needs surgery, extra fat can make it more difficult for a surgeon to operate and increase the chances of complications with anesthesia. With nearly half the nation’s pet population afflicted with weight issues, chances are you or someone you know has a pet that is affected. Here are six tips to help your pet shed unwanted pounds and keep the weight off for good.
1. Increased Awareness
There are two main causes of obesity in pets: too many calories and too little exercise. Secondary factors can also come into play, such as genetic factors of a given breed or the sex of the animal. A quick online search will reveal whether or not your breed is prone to weight gain. And be aware that neutered, middle-aged and female pets are more likely to have weight issues.
The discouraging fact is that many pet parents accept their overweight pets as ‘normal’, or deny the problem altogether, making the problem less likely to be addressed.
Weight is not always the best indicator due to individual variation. For example, one Doberman may be trim at 70 pounds and another trim at 90. In addition, a drooping stomach does not always mean an animal is fat, especially in cats. The best way to determine whether or not your pet is overweight is to have your veterinarian do an assessment.
2. Change Your Lifestyle
Let’s face it … far too many Americans lead sedentary lifestyles, and their pets are following suit. It is no secret that we like to sit and eat at the same time, so if we are going to help ourselves and our pets avoid becoming the next victims of the obesity epidemic, we need to get everybody moving more and eating less.
Realize that everything your pet eats has calories – yes, including treats – so you can begin to reduce calories right away simply by providing low-calorie treats, such as Life’s Abundance’s Wholesome Hearts.
Increasing exercise is good for everybody. Long walks and playing fetch are good ways to bond with your dog, and you can get your cat moving with a feather wand or a laser pointer. Here’s a fun tip: cats love to chase small balls. Throw five or six little balls around and watch the fun … retrieve all the balls at once if you want to minimize your trips across the room.
3. Feed Frequent Small Meals and Measure Amounts
Did you know that every time you eat, you burn calories? The same is true for our companion animals. So measure the food amount for the whole day and divide it into several smaller meals. You can also feed a low-calorie treat or vegetable in between each small meal. It is vital that you measure the food, even if you free-feed. If your pet needs to lose weight, you can reduce portions by 30% without jeopardizing your pet’s health.
Remember that when pets beg for a treat, often what they really want is attention. Instead of a treat, how about a hug or a nice grooming session?
Consider supplementing a cat or small dog’s diet with canned food. Canned food often has a high moisture content, which helps your companion animal feel full with fewer calories. Remember to keep the overall calorie count consistent, even if you change their diet.
If you begin a weight-loss regimen and don’t see any results within two weeks, be sure to discuss other options with your veterinarian.
4. Keep Records
Food journals are not only very effective weight-management tools for people, they are for pets, too. Start by keeping records for seven days, tracking everything that you feed your companion animals. We often don’t realize how much we are really feeding until we see it mapped out.
5. Weight-Loss Medication
The FDA recently approved Slentrol, a weight-loss medication approved for canine use. The exact mechanism of this drug remains unknown, but researchers believe that it helps suppress the appetite and inhibit the absorption of fat. If you have tried all other options and still aren’t having success, or if your dog’s weight is putting his health in jeopardy, you may want to talk to your veterinarian about this new pharmaceutical offering.
6. Dietary Supplements
Many hormones can be controlled with phytonutrients. Resveratrol, sourced from the skin of grapes, has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, increase metabolic rate, boost physical endurance and reduce fat mass. Quercetin, found in fruits, vegetables, leaves and grains, has been shown to fight inflammation in obese patients. Leptin is a new hormonal supplement that suppresses appetites and is being used to facilitate weight-loss. Researchers have discovered that diabetic dogs have low levels of leptin, which can lead to overeating. Furthermore, researchers found that by adding leptin to the diet, canine appetites are noticeably suppressed. I caution you to only use these supplements under the supervision of your vet, as the proper dosages vary from animal to animal (for example, leptin can at certain dosages have the opposite effect, actually increasing appetites).
With a little bit of effort, a minimal investment in time and big helpings of love and patience, you can help your companion animal lose excess weight and maximize their chances for a longer, healthier and happier lifetime.
Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for your dear companions.
Dr. Jane Bicks
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