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.
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
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
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?
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
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, DVM
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