Overweight or obesity in dogs and cats is a problem that has grown to alarming proportions. Although it is our responsibility as pet caretakers to manage their weight, the majority of pet food manufacturers have not helped. In their efforts to provide foods that are nutritious, low residue and palatable the industry has produced many options for the pet owner. Our pets love them. Unfortunately these diets often are calorie intense. The analogy of granola to a high quality dry pet food is a good one. Although granola can be an excellent source of protein, fats, whole grains, and dried fruits it is very calorie dense. That is it takes a very small volume to satisfy our caloric requirement for a meal. But does it fill us up? That is the other all important issue. This makes it extremely difficult in the case of cats and small dogs to feed meals that are satisfying without providing too many calories.
Having a pet that is overweight increases the likelihood that your dog or cat will develop one or more of several diseases. Obesity is a risk factor for a multitude of diseases. For example in our feline friends diabetes is a common condition that occurs as a result of being overweight. Although some cats will reverse this disease after a period of weight loss, dietary correction, and insulin administration the majority of overweight cats that become diabetic will continue throughout their lives. Likewise a liver disease known as cholangiohepatitis may be associated with cats that are overweight. This condition also can occur as a component of triaditis a disease condition that affects the pancreas, intestinal tract and the liver simultaneously.
For our canine companions osteoarthritis is perhaps the most common result of being overweight. In a study of black Labrador retrievers the finding was dramatic; participants that were the appropriate weight lived an average of 1.4 years longer than obese subjects. Other diseases such as neoplasia or cancer, liver disease, kidney disease, hypertension and respiratory problems have all been implicated in being higher incidence in dogs that are overweight.
So what do we do? First have a very detailed discussion regarding your pet’s activity, eating habits and dietary profile. Your local vet can calculate the calories required in order to keep your dog or cat the optimum weight. Next calculate if your pet’s normal diet satisfies or exceeds the required intake. Most pet food companies can provide you with the calorie content of the particular diet you are feeding. Remember to factor in treats, table food and any other extras. The key to success is in being able to vary the amount of food depending on what extras are given on a particular day or week. For example if your pet loves chicken and you always oblige when you are dining on that treat, just reduce the regular diet on that day or days in an effort to not exceed the necessary calories. It is much like Weight Watchers. If you give in on one side of the coin you have to take from the other. There are many low calorie treats you can offer instead of biscuits. Baby carrots (not too many), fresh green beans, red peppers are all foods that many dogs will eat. In the case of cats baking small biscuits out of low calorie canned food can also be helpful in reducing continual feeding of higher calorie treats. One thing worthy of note. If you calculate the required amount of food for your small pet and it is only 1/4 cup twice daily…no you did not necessarily calculate wrongly. As mentioned earlier, given the nature of pet foods it has become very difficult to provide a filling meal without piling on extra calories.
A weight control program for your pet is essential in promoting a healthy lifestyle. Exercise, calorie counting, consulting with your veterinarian and using common sense are all components of the task. Not two pets are alike. Minute adjustments will be necessary along the way to account for the individual differences among pets. Obesity leads to illness and illness may lead to premature loss of your best friend. That in itself is the best reason to get serious about this problem.