In the US we are a culture that tends to like big things; big houses, big cars, big amounts of stuff and unfortunately, for our four legged friends, it seems we like big pets. My personal pet relationships include two Irish Setters and an ample cat, none small by any standard, but there is a difference between large, overweight or even obese. Sadly in this country depending on what article you read upwards of 60-70% of the pets fall into the overweight or obese category. Obesity, as we all know, is not healthy. It leads to a variety of diseases in the pet kingdom including diabetes, osteoarthritis, musculoskeletal injuries, and pancreatitis How did this happen? Is it the pet owner’s, the medical community, the pet food manufacturer’s or the pet supply outlet’s fault? The answer is that this problem has plenty of blame to go around.
Let’s start by looking in the mirror. Ultimately we are our pet’s primary caretaker and are responsible for what they consume. Many pet owners have chosen a free choice method of feeding. That is ensuring that there is always food in the bowl. Many dogs and cats can handle this method of feeding without engorging. However for some, the drive to always feed when available (a holdover from when they were not domesticated) overwhelms and they will eat themselves well beyond what they need to subsist. The most common cause of obesity in pets is calorie overload from their normal maintenance food. Often in multiple pet households the competitive drive or alpha aspect of a personality may emerge and encourage additional feeding as a statement of social order. Regardless of cause pets that can not readily free feed without becoming severely overweight need to be fed in a different manner.
Often I hear this explanation: “When the kids, or my husband comes home the cat greets them and then goes to his feeding place looking for food. I thought that maybe he hadn’t been fed yet”. So of course in order to please the pet more food goes down. I have a simple solution for this problem. One person becomes in charge of feeding the pet. That person measures up the appropriate amount of food in the morning and stores it in a container in the cabinet. It can be doled out in any way the family desires but if someone returns to the house and the container is empty this is a sign that the pet has consumed his or her ration for the day and no more should be given. Then the comment “He really looks for something when I come in”. That is the time when a small treat can be given from the previously determined (and measured out) daily treat container.
How do we know what comprises the appropriate amount of food, treats or even the occasional human enticement? That should be discussed and carefully calculated by your veterinarian. A considerable emphasis is now being placed on the profession to become more informed regarding diets and nutrition. If there is not a vet at your animal hospital that is capable and willing to discuss feeding then it may be time to look further to a practice that takes more of an interest in the total picture of your pet’s health. The world of veterinary nutrition is changing dramatically. We know that the health and well being of our dogs and cats is in large part dependent on what goes into their bodies. Many diseases are treated partly or occasionally even completely with nutritional alterations. When it comes to the pet population the adage “You are what you eat” couldn’t possibly be more accurate. In the next post we will examine the roll the pet food manufacturers play in contributing to this problem and how to look past the labels.