Obesity is a rising concern in the United States, not just in humans, but in our animal companions as well. About a third of our pets are now obese and, in addition to shortening their lifespan, obesity also predisposes our beloved pets to several other health risks such as:
- Arthritis: Extra weight exacerbates arthritis and makes your pet even less willing to exercise.
- Diabetes: Extra fat leads to insulin resistance in dogs and cats.
- Hepatic Lipidosis: When overweight cats go off of their food for any reason, body fat is mobilized to provide calories. The liver, which becomes inundated with fat, can begin to fail.
- Increased anesthetic risk
- Respiratory compromise
- Heart disease
- Decreased immune function
Some breeds are predisposed to obesity, such as Labrador Retrievers, Miniature Schnauzers, Dachshunds, Shelties, Cocker Spaniels, Beagles, Basset Hounds and Cairn Terriers. Females are more likely to become overweight, especially if they are spayed, so it is especially important to be vigilant if your dog has these risk factors.
Sometimes, medical conditions like hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease are to blame for obesity, but by far the biggest risk factor for obesity is overeating and a lack of exercise. There are a few common behaviors I have noticed regarding overfeeding:
- When feeding your dog or cat, remember that the guidelines on the bag are just that--guidelines. Each dog and cat is an individual and may require more or less food than the bag suggests.
- Use an actual measuring cup when portioning out your pet’s food. I find that one of the reasons owners accidentally overfeed is because they underestimate the amount of food they put in the bowl. By using a measuring cup, you can be sure to not overfeed.
- The calories in treats and table scraps easily add up and contribute to obesity. Avoid table scraps all together and limit treats. Consider low calorie treats like baby carrots.
While Petplan pet insurance can help you cope with your pet’s vet bills if obesity takes a toll on his health, by far the best way to keep your vet bills down is to keep your pet healthy. Just like in humans, the best way to decrease your pet’s weight is to decrease the number of calories consumed and increase the number of calories burned. If your pet is overweight, consult your veterinarian about how to safely help him or her lose weight. Your vet may suggest a special prescription diet for efficient weight loss, or may develop a feeding program based on the food you are already feeding.
Regular weigh-ins are one of the most important parts of the weight loss program. Schedule time once or twice a month to stop by your vet’s office to have your pet weighed. Seeing the weight come off is a good motivator, and if for some reason the weight is not decreasing, your pet’s weight loss plan can be altered.