Are you too good to your pet?

Your dog is sitting by the breakfast table, looking at you with soulful eyes. What will one little sausage patty hurt? You’re at the drive-through at McDonald’s, getting ready to woof down a cheeseburger. Doesn’t your pooch deserve one, too? Unfortunately, we tend to equate food with love and our pets are suffering because of it.


Obesity in pets, both dogs and cats, is rampant. In fact, the percentage of overweight and obese cats is higher at 57.6%, than dogs at 52.6%, according to the Association of Pet Obesity Prevention.


An extreme example was a cat named Meow, who weighed a whopping 39 pounds when he died at the age of 5. Veterinarians blamed his death on his weight, which put stress on his whole system.


“If your pet is overweight, the first line of attack should be to determine the correct amount of calories your pet should be taking in each day,” says Dr. Erin O’Leary, Heal House Call Veterinarian. “We have to remember that calories in should equal calories out. We often underestimate how much we are actually feeding, including treats.”


Besides treats, an overlooked source of calories might come from counter surfing. If you have a counter-surfing pet, you need to count them when you’re estimating how much your pet is taking in — or eliminate the source. Betsy Saul, co-founder of Heal House Call Veterinarian, says her dog Jake snagged sticks of butter and chunks of cheese off the counter when the family wasn’t looking.


The place to start is on pet food packages.  There, you can usually find the kcal’s per cup/can.


“As a very general range for an adult, neutered dog, the kilocalorie needs per day are 30 (weight in pounds/2.2) + 70,” Dr. O’Leary says. “So for my dog Trooper, who weighs about 50 pounds) his equation is 30(50/2.2) + 70 = 751 kcals/day. The amount, of course, can vary somewhat, depending on the dog’s general metabolism, activity level, etc. (Trooper is a basset so he gets very little credit for activity level.)


“More simply, you can look at the range of suggested serving sizes on your pet food package and use the lowest amount for the pet’s weight. Or you can ask your veterinarian to assist you in calculating what your pet needs.”


Another trick for weight loss, she says, is to add high fiber fillers like green beans to make smaller portions fill your pet up, or you can try more frequent, smaller meals during the day.


“Whether you do discrete meals or free-feed, the key is to know exactly how many calories are available to your pet each day. You can also increase the amount of exercise your pet is getting to help burn off more calories,” Dr. O’Leary says.


Middle-aged animals (like people) are more prone to putting on the pounds, as are neutered ones. Activity levels may slow down during those years, which exacerbates the problem.


Encourage exercise. Older dogs will enjoy taking walks, which is fine exercise for you and him or her. For younger ones, something as simple as a feather toy will change a sedentary cat into a whirling dervish, while a game of fetch can keep a dog running back and forth for longer than you want to play.


If you find that after “truly” putting your dog on a diet for a month, there has been no weight loss, it’s time to screen him or her for endocrine diseases like hypothyroidism that slow metabolism and can cause weight gain.


Excess weight bears with it all sorts of health problems, including osteoarthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, respiratory problems and more. It also decreases life expectancy by up to 2.5 years.


For a pet’s quality of life, watch the quantity of food you give him or her. It will reap a reward of good health and longer life.

Photo Credit: “Princess the Big Fat Dog” by Vinnie Rattolle. CC BY-SA 4.0

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