Just like the majority of American people, our pets are becoming obese at an alarming rate. A fifth annual veterinary survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found that 53 percent of adult dogs and 55 percent of adult cats are overweight. One of the most distressing facts is that most owners are unaware or in denial that their pet is overweight. Unfortunately, we have made fat pets the new normal.
This is a people problem not a pet problem. The pet does not choose the food it eats, the owner does. The pet does not choose the volume of food it eats the owner does. Pet owners need to take responsibility for the amount of calories the pet is consuming and for the amount of calories the pet is burning. No pet opens the refrigerator or pantry and helps themselves. We are enablers. It is really very simple. It is all about calories taken in and calories burned.
Some of the common weight related conditions in dogs and cats are osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, breathing problems, kidney disease, dermatitis, and shortened lifespan. It is very frustrating from a veterinary standpoint to see how much effect excess weight has on our patients. It is a call to action for veterinarians to do a better job of educating our pet owners on obesity and its prevention. Prevention is a much better plan. Once a pet becomes obese it is very difficult to reverse the situation. However, it is not impossible.
There are many excuses that owners give veterinarians every day for why there pet is obese. The most common statement is that, “I only feed him x amount,” or “the bag says to feed him x amount.” We also hear that, “I can not look at that sad face and not give him a treat” and “oh he is just fat and happy just like me.” Unfortunately, all of these statements just contribute to the pet’s obesity.
So what do we do? First just like for people, you need to count the calories the pet consumes. That is not an easy task. Most pet foods do not list the calories per cup or can of food. You need to go to their website or call the company to find out. All pet foods do not contain the same amount of calories per volume. The range is often 250-550 calories per cup. Every treat has calories and needs to be counted. If your dog is overweight, I recommend switching to a very low calorie, high fiber dog food around 250 calories per cup and decreasing the volume by ¼. Switching treats to fresh vegetables can also help. Cats are a very different story. Feeding a decreased volume of high fiber, low calorie food, often does not work. They just slow their metabolism to accommodate the decreased calories. Recent studies have shown that high protein, low carbohydrates at low volume seems to work best. We call this the catkins diet.
Owners also need to realize that just like themselves, their pet’s metabolism changes with age. Your cat or dog is not burning as many calories year after year. Owners must decrease the pet’s calorie consumption accordingly. Lastly exercise is extremely important; more is better. The more calories burned the fewer accumulate as fat. The less fat accumulated the longer, happier life your pet will enjoy. Remember that love and food are not synonyms.