Obesity in Dogs & Cats: What You Need to Know
It's tempting to give our dogs or cats a few extra treats, a snack from the dinner table or a little bit more food at meal time. After all, you love your pets and you want to show that by providing something they'll enjoy. But just like with humans, too many calories in and not enough exercise can lead to your pet packing on a few extra pounds.
Pet obesity is a bigger problem than you might think. It's a problem for a lot of domestic animals. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, a group founded by concerned veterinarians and vet techs, estimates that in the U.S., 60 percent of cats and 56 percent of dogs are overweight or obese. That's a lot of pudgy pets!
Carrying extra pounds is hard on your pet's body in several ways. More weight:
- Puts more stress on joints and cartilage, leading to osteoarthritis
- Leads to Type 2 diabetes (and insulin dependency in dogs) as excess glucose in food damages the pancreas
- Can cause secondary hypertension, or high blood pressure, and heart disease as the circulatory system struggles to work
- Pressure the lungs and respiratory system, leading to breathing problems
- Damages the kidneys
- Increases the risk of benign fatty tumors, known as lipomas, and some types of breast and bladder cancer
- Reduces life expectancy by as much as 2 years
In effect, your desire to pamper your pet with additional treats actually backfires, reducing your pet's health and quality of life as his or her weight increases. Here's how to evaluate the problem and improve your pet's health.
How Can I Tell if My Pet is Overweight or Obese?
First, you need to know if your pet has a problem. Some dogs and cats have a lot of fur, and it can actually be a challenge to see if some of that fluff is actually fat. But you can do a quick physical evaluation of your pet's condition to see whether you've got a problem.
First off, can you feel your pet's ribs? You should be able to. In fact, you should be able to count ribs without too much trouble as you run your hand gently over your pet's side.
In addition, you should check your pet from above. The area where your pet's "waist" would be should be indented. An overweight or obese pet's middle puffs out like a balloon.
Finally, look from below as your pet stands quietly. The stomach should be flat or slope slightly upward. If the abdomen hangs toward the ground, that could be a sign of extra pounds.
Your veterinarian is the best source of determining if your pet is overweight and what his or her ideal weight should be. If you suspect your pet is not at an ideal weight, schedule a check-up to get expert medical advice.
How Much Should My Pet Be Eating?
Many pet owners don't actually know what amount of food their pet should consume. Maybe you started with the amount of food recommended on the bag of kibble but, over time, have started to eyeball it and add a bit extra. Maybe you just top off the bowl, figuring your pet will only eat what he or she needs.
Start with reviewing instructions on your pet food bag or container. Based on the label, you can estimate the calories in each scoop of kibble or spoon of canned food. An average 10-pound adult cat should consume between 180 and 200 calories a day depending on activity level. A similarly sized 10-pound dog can eat between 200 and 275 calories, while a 50-pound dog can eat between 700 and 900 calories.
If you need to, get a measuring cup or scoop to ensure you're providing exactly the right amount of food, perhaps divided over 2 or 3 meals, to satisfy your pet's caloric requirements.
Is Exercise Important for My Pet?
Moving and activity will definitely burn calories, but the truth is that pets should be active in order to be at optimum physical and mental health. If your pet is not currently active, start small. Play with your cat for at least 15 minutes a day or take your dog for a brief walk a couple times a day. You can increase activity as your pet slims down and gets fit.
Don't Spayed or Neutered Pets Get Fat, Anyway?
While it's true that the hormonal changes brought on by spaying or neutering can reduce caloric needs, no pet should be overweight. Make sure you're feeding the proper amount of calories for an altered adult animal and engage in physical activity daily. Talk to your vet if you have questions.
Your pet will be happiest, healthiest and able to live a full life if you make sure he or she is at an optimal weight. We can help answer your questions and set up a diet that can help your pet get to that proper weight. Call our office today to schedule an appointment.
About Dr. Natalie Waggener
Dr. Natalie Waggener has 17 years of experience in emergency work and general practice in Rhode Island, Florida and Massachusetts. She has a special interest in dentistry, wellness care and rehabilitation therapy. She is currently licensed in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island.