Obesity in pets is a growing problem, and the repercussions are serious. According to research from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), 58 percent of cats and 53 percent of dogs in the U.S. were overweight as of 2014. A Purina 14-year study also showed that the expected lifespan of your pet can be increased by up to 15% if kept at a lean body mass. That is approximately 2 years in a Labrador and possibly more in our smaller breeds! The shortened life expectancy in obese pets is due to higher risks for diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and some types of cancer. Overfeeding, insufficient exercise and incorrect perceptions of normal are the mainstays of the pet obesity epidemic. Many of our pets are being fed too many treats, food scraps or just oversized portions and with busy lives today, many pet owners hope a run in the yard for Fido is enough exercise to keep him healthy. Cat experts agree that they are healthiest and safest indoors, but an indoor-only kitty can become a lazy kitty, which can lead to weight gain. Many pets are simply not getting exercise appropriate for their needs. Perception of the perfect weight has also been skewed over the years. The APOP survey revealed that 90% of owners of overweight cats and 95% of owners of overweight dogs incorrectly identified their pets as falling within the normal weight range.
The easiest and best way to deal with obesity in our pets is to prevent it. Early in a pet’s life set good foundations; avoid human foods and scraps, do not free feed, offer measured amounts twice daily based on your veterinarian’s recommendations and get annual checkups. To get their waistline back is more difficult but can be managed with a few simple steps. Diagnosis of obesity/overweight is the first step, so schedule a visit with your veterinarian. You and your veterinarian can come up with a plan together that is realistic for your lifestyle. Your veterinarian will decide what an ideal weight will be and the measured amount of food that your pet needs each day. That may be with the current food, or for severe cases, a prescription weight management food may be best. Eliminate all other calorie sources. If you must give treats, have your vet calculate it into the plan. Increase pet activity. The key is consistent exercise; design a plan of activity that is realistic and sustainable. Your vet can help with ideas, particularly for indoor cats.
Keep your eye on the bigger picture and remind yourself about the negative health impacts of pet obesity. To be successful, be prepared for the long run, stick to the plan and follow up with your veterinarian. With some dedication and tough love, you can shed those extra pounds off your beloved and help them live a healthier, longer life.