Today’s expanding waistlines are not limited to people. Many pets are also packing on the pounds. According to a recent survey reported on petMD.com, more than 50 percent of America’s pet population is either overweight or obese.
The study, conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) and Banfield Pet Hospital, found that approximately 53 percent of cats and 55 percent of dogs weighed more than recommended.
One of the challenges of combating pet obesity is that owners are often the last to recognize that their pet is getting too heavy.
Kate Buckley could attest to that. She didn’t realize that her 4-year-old golden retriever, Bailey, had gained too much weight. “My in-laws visited and noticed that he was getting a bit large,” recalled the Decatur resident. “I didn’t notice because I see him every day.”
Buckley’s vet recommended an ideal weight of 85 pounds for Bailey, who had ballooned to 102 pound. Reflecting, she noted that Bailey started gaining weight after the birth of her daughter, when Bailey no longer received as much attention in the home.
Pet obesity could lead to serious health problems, said Dr. Will Draper, the veterinary health care expert featured on WSB radio’s Weekly Check Up show. Large dogs such as Bailey often develop joint problems from carrying too much weight. And obesity in cats (more so than dogs) frequently leads to diabetes. Other weight-related problems include arthritis, kidney failure and high blood pressure.
Draper is the owner of The Village Vets in Decatur. Unlike the national trend, his practice has not seen a spike in overweight pets. “In fact, I’ve seen a decrease,” he observed. “People are becoming more aware and better educated.”
Still, while some owners may notice their pets getting a little pudgy, it is easy to dismiss the extra pounds. But that is a mistake. According to experts at APOP, a few extra pounds make a huge difference. For example, a 19-pound cat (whose ideal weight is 10 pounds) is the equivalent of a 5-foot-4 inch woman weighing 276 pounds. And a 48-pound dog (whose ideal weight is 22 pounds) is the same as that same woman weighing 317 pounds.
It is probably rare that owners intentionally over-feed their pet and push them to the point of obesity. So, how do pets wind up overweight? Some of them nibble all day. This is often the case with pet owners—especially of outside dogs—who overfill the feeding bowl daily. In other cases, pets learn that begging to their owner gets rewarded with an assortment of treats intended for human consumption, such as cookies, ice cream or other tasty morsels.
After acknowledging that their pets are overweight, owners must take steps to break bad habits and get the problem under control. Feeding pets a low-fat diet is important, but exercise is the key, according to vets.
Draper noted: “Overweight dogs tend to have overweight owners.” In his practice, he tactfully suggests to owners that they get off the couch and take their dogs out for a long walk. “They will both be healthier and happier,” he said.
Cat owners have to be more creative. He recommends giving them toys to play with, such as a ball of yarn. “Cats have good metabolism, so a little exercise goes a long way,” the doctor advised.
Draper emphasized that a poor diet and lack of exercise are not always the cause of pet obesity. Hyporthyroidism could be the problem. “Make sure your vet checks your pet’s thyroid level, especially in older dogs,” he said.
It is often a challenge to know how much to feed a pet. Some will eat as much as the owner puts out. Draper said owners should follow the guidelines printed on the pet food package.
“As a rule of thumb, feed dogs one cup per 20 pounds,” he said. “And split in half if you’re feeding twice a day.”
Buckley said she used to feed Bailey a 16-ounce cup of feed two times a day, but her vet recommended two 12-ounce cups per day. “We also made a conscious effort to make sure he exercised every day by taking him for long walks,” she said.
It worked. At his last vet visit, Bailey had slimmed down to 87 pounds and has the energy and enthusiasm of a puppy.