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Keeping Pets Healthy

Kathleen Godfrey

           Obesity in American pets is on the rise. It is estimated that more than half of all pet dogs and cats in America are overweight or obese. Excess weight in pets causes many of the same health problems as it does in humans.

            There are many health problems that stem from a pet being overweight or obese. Osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart and respiratory disease, kidney disease, and cancer are a few of the risks overweight pets face. Overweight pets also have shorter life expectancies and a decreased quality of life.

            There are some signs that your pet may be overweight or obese. Your pet should have a tapered (think hourglass) look at the waist if you are looking at them from above and an area that looks tucked up behind the ribs and before the hind legs. Their ribs should be easy to feel without applying too much pressure. Look at the area at the base of your pet’s tail, if there is extra padding and folds your pet could be overweight or obese.

A lack of appropriate exercise is a major culprit of obesity in pets. As our culture becomes more and more sedentary, so do our pets. Coupled with a lack of exercise, far too many treats and extra calories in general are to blame for excess weight. It may feel good to “treat” your pet, but it is simply not a treat if it happens all the time for no reason. Think of it this way: excess calories = excess weight, made worse without adequate exercise.

Some owners love their pets with food, but this is a slippery slope. Your pet simply does not need to sample everything that you eat.  There are some fruits vegetables that are healthy for pets, but in general people food is a major no-no. Green beans, broccoli, carrots, and sweet potatoes are a few examples of safe veggies for dogs in small quantities. Always slowly transition new things into your pet’s diet, one at time. This will help determine if your pet’s stomach can handle it as well as help you determine if they are allergic.

            Of course, not all pets are the same in terms of dietary and exercise needs. Age, breed, spayed/neutered, and other factors should be taken into account when finding the right balance to keep your pet healthy and happy. A senior dog may not need to eat as much as a two-year old dog, much like a very active intact dog may need to eat more than a fixed dog.

Self-education is important but it is also important to have a candid talk with your veterinarian. Ask about how much and how often you should be feeding your pet. Be honest with your vet about what and how often you are feeding your pet, as well as how much exercise they really get. This will help your vet give you the best information and recommendations possible.

If your pet is overweight or obese there are things that can be done to help. Contact your vet to assess your pet’s health and determine what a safe plan of action would be. Begin cutting back on the amount of treats you give your pet, an ear or belly rub is just as good as a food reward. Create a safe exercise plan that gradually increases the amount of exercise your pet receives. Keep track of your pet’s weight loss and be patient. It took time for your pet to pack on the extra pounds, so it will take time for them to safely lose them.

featured in the Athletic issue/April 2016 of Unleash Jax