October 9th is National Pet Obesity Awareness Day. Obesity and its causes, effects, and solutions can make for a tough conversation to have, but it’s becoming increasingly necessary. As their caregivers, guardians, and owners, it’s our responsibility to recognize this problem in our pets and commit to its solution.
We love our pets. We spend countless hours of our lives perusing store aisles and websites in search of the best toys, beds, food, litter, shampoos, and medical advice. We cart them around town to their favorite parks, their doctors, their daycares, and their groomers. We snuggle, kiss, play, love, and in the end, we mourn their inevitable passing.
These scenarios are true for many of us who consider our pets as parts of our families. Nothing is too good; however, there can be too much good. The ways in which we love our pets are much the same as the ways in which we love our humans, especially in that they are not without flaws.
The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s latest report1tells us that in 2018, 59.5% of dogs and 55.8% of cats in U.S. households were overweight or obese. Obesity is responsible for lower quality of life and contributes to many diseases and conditions that not only cause our pets to suffer, but also shorten their already short lives.
Recognizing the Problem
We don’t maliciously grow fat cats and dogs. Much of the time, it happens because people may have trouble seeing their pets as overweight or obese. They may turn a blind eye or they may not realize what an overweight pet really looks like.
When visiting your veterinarian, ask if your pet’s weight is in the healthy range. Be willing to see your pet objectively. Without being too skinny, your pet should have an hourglass figure with a visible waist. You should be able to feel ribs without having to poke through a thick layer of fat.
Recognize that withholding treats or food from your own plate does not equal withholding love. While we cannot ask our pets what they prefer, we can reasonably assume they’d rather feel and live healthy for as long as possible than be diseased or in pain for a short time. It’s false that a fat, overfed pet is a happy pet.
Overfeeding and lack of exercise cause obesity, but it’s not always so simple. Other contributors to obesity include types of food, depression, genetics, disease, medications, and environmental influences. That’s why it’s important to communicate and work with your veterinarian to pin down possible culprits and begin correcting them. It’s also vital to set aside fear of blame, assumption, and judgement. We’re not here to judge; we’re here to help. Together, assess the cause of your pet’s excess weight. Formulate a plan of action, monitor progress, and adjust as necessary.
Complications of Obesity
Obesity affects pets much as it does humans. It can lead to type 2 diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, and heart (and other organ) disease. It hinders their ability to clean themselves, reduces their agility, and puts stress on their bones and joints. It causes them pain, shortens their lifespan, and reduces their quality of life. Fit pets feel, move, and live better than overweight and obese pets do.
• Ask your veterinarian for a weight evaluation and determine their nutritional needs based on age, lifestyle, and overall health. Every pet has different needs. There isn’t one plan that caters to all.
• Don’t overfeed your pet. Extra food does not equal extra love. Hand out treats sparingly.
• Choose healthy treats like carrots and apple slices.
• Keep a feeding schedule and stick to it. No open bowls.
• Read labels on foods for content, calories, and recommended serving sizes. You may be surprised at how few calories pets require. The World Small Animal Veterinary Association offers caloric guidelines for cats2and dogs3. Again, because every body is different, it’s best to consult your veterinarian about your pet’s needs.
• Exercise your pet. Take walks and hikes. Toss balls, pull ropes, and play tag. Get those little legs running. If your pet is new to exercise, start slow and build up activity levels and duration. Make plenty of toys available, including interactive ones. Provide cat trees and scratchers on which your cat can jump and climb.
• Don’t be a sucker. Dogs and cats train us well with sad eyes and curdling cries. Don’t give in and feed them off-schedule or from your plate.
Overweight pets are at risk for short, sick, painful lives. Because they are in our charge, and their livelihoods are in our hands, it falls upon us to keep our pets healthy and trim. Talk to your veterinarian and take steps to prevent and correct pet obesity.