‘Tis the season of holiday decorations, family and friends gathering and food, food, food. Humans are prone to put on pounds through the holiday season, and the same can be true for our furkids. The problem is that our pets do not choose to overeat and partake in calorie-laden foods and unhealthy treats. It is the pet parents and family members who enable them to overindulge.
For many human and pet parents, food equates to love. I was raised in that mindset. Food was not necessarily to fuel the body but rather to comfort and enjoy in excess. As a result, I have struggled with my weight throughout my life, as have many family members, along with the ailments that accompany it such as high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.
Did you know you may be literally killing your pet with kindness? That’s right, those daily treats you give your pet may give the illusion that all is well, but the reality is that the extra treats and the resulting extra weight are causing lasting damage to your pet’s internal organs, bones, and joints — some of which can never be remedied even with a change in diet and exercise.
A growing issue
Worried yet? According to veterinarians across the U.S., more obese pets than ever are showing up in their clinics, and the trend does not appear to be slowing. It is not surprising that excess weight can take as much of a toll on an animal’s body as it does on a human’s body. While some of the effects of obesity can be reversed through attentive diet changes and increased physical activity, there is some damage that can only be mitigated by the change of habits. Some damage will remain for life, and the longer the excess weight is on the body, the more severe the damage to the body will be.
Research is the first step toward making the changes that will grant you and your pet longer lives in which you can enjoy each other’s company. Here then, are some ways to identify whether your pet is overweight or obese, along with a few beginning steps on how to reverse the damage before it’s too late.
When I rescued my Australian Shepherd, Ty, I was told that he was being fed three cups per day. I bought the brand of dog food that he was fed and continued giving those portions. In a couple of months, however, I could see that Ty had a significant weight gain. I was astonished to learn, in a weigh-in at the vet’s, that Ty had gained 10 pounds! He looked older and moved slower. I learned that Ty was kept outside much of the time and was most likely burning off those calories, but no more. After careful research, I changed Ty’s dog food and decreased his portions. He maintained his weight for me on two cups per day, and I kept him on that food and portion throughout his life. Ty looked and acted like a puppy until the end.
I had a similar situation with my former Cairn Terrier, Toby. I had taken him to a local pet event, and a friend commented that Toby was “fat!” And she laughed! I was mortified. But then, in watching him walk, I realized he was rolling rather than strolling, and that he was, in fact, overweight. I was highly insulted by this woman’s comment, but she actually did me a favor by bringing Toby’s condition to my attention. I dutifully watched his diet and fed healthy treats, and Toby also got down to his fighting weight, which he maintained throughout his life.
Daily exercise helps
During the years I had Toby, I lived in south Wilkes-Barre, and I did not have a fenced-in yard. Toby and I walked many miles together, every day. I have wonderful memories of the many neighbors I met and befriended during this time. We were like clockwork, mornings and evenings, seven days a week. Then things changed. I got older, and when my Mom got ill, I left the family homestead. Where I am living does not have sidewalks. As a result, if I want to walk safely, I must get in the car and drive somewhere. With two dogs that get carsick, this process makes it easy to just skip the exercise altogether. And having a fenced-in yard makes it easier to let the dogs potty themselves without daily walks. I am not making excuses, just being honest. As a result, I am even more diligent about keeping my pets fit. Me? Not so much, but I am striving to do better.
The telltale signs
What kinds of changes should you look out for?
Many pet owners will not notice their dog or cat has been gradually putting on extra weight until the animal starts slowing down significantly. More often, it is the animal’s regular groomer or veterinarian that will notice your pet’s physical changes. To do a check on your pet, feel around its midsection while your pet is standing. The ribs and spine should be easy to feel, and on most pets, there should be a tucked in, or slight hourglass shape to the waist. If you cannot easily feel your dog or cat’s ribs or spine, and the tucked-in waist has thickened considerably enough to give the animal a more tubular shape, it is time for you to consult with your veterinarian about a weight loss regimen for your pet.
What’s a pound or two?
What harm can a few pounds do?
A gain of even a pound or two of additional fat on some dogs and cats can place significant stress on the body.
Some of the conditions that can occur as a result of excess weight are:
- Exercise intolerance, decreased stamina
- Respiratory compromise (breathing difficulty)
- Heat intolerance
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Diabetes or insulin resistance
- Liver disease or dysfunction
- Osteoarthritis (lameness)
- Increased surgical/anesthetic risk
- Lowered immune system function
- Increased risk of developing malignant tumors (cancer)
What you can do
What can be done to alleviate the damage?
The sharing of food is often regarded as a loving gesture, but the most loving thing you can do for your overweight pet is to put it on a diet. This is the only way to ensure that your pet will have the best opportunity for a life that is full of activity and good health. Besides, there are lots of healthy treats available, and lots of loving gestures you can share with your pet without worrying about them leading to weight gain. Talk to your veterinarian about a good reduced-calorie food and exercise plan that will specifically benefit your pet’s age, weight and breed, and you will be on your way to getting your pet on the road to recovery before it is too late.
It is important to realize that a healthy dog or cat will often act like it is VERY hungry. If you give in to those pleading eyes each and every time, you are not doing your beloved pet any favors. Practice portion control and measure their meals, and offer only healthy snacks. As with us, everything in moderation! If only I could be so committed to my own personal food intake as I am to my pets, I could be equally fit!
Judy Endo is the author of Paws-itive Pet Tales. A lifelong resident of the Wilkes-Barre area, she has been a professional dog trainer/competitor as well as a lifetime animal lover and strong supporter of animal rescue. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org