When Love Kills: Obesity and Your Pet

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Source: University of Michigan

It is easy to overfeed your pets when they show such appreciation for the food and treats that you give them, but overindulging your pet’s appetite often leads to obesity.  An extra daily treat really adds up, especially if your pet is not getting regular exercise.

Scientific studies show that dogs kept on a lean diet live on average almost two years longer than littermates who were fed a typical diet.  Considering an average life expectancy of 12 years, that’s about a 16% increase in lifespan, just by staying lean! Obesity is a disease in which owners are literally killing their pets with love.  Around 35% percent of dogs and cats are considered overweight or obese, yet a good number of their owners are aware of their pet’s weight problem.

As in people, being overweight is not merely a cosmetic issue – it significantly affects your pet’s quality of life and life expectancy.

Excessive weight can exacerbate arthritis, joint problems, or back problems or may lead to health conditions such as diabetes mellitus, high cholesterol, and/or hypertension. This condition can affect your pet’s daily health on other levels as well, for instance, overweight cats are unable to groom themselves thoroughly and may be prone to urinary tract infections.

Obesity occurs when the caloric intake exceeds the caloric requirement.  The extra calories are stored as fat. Owners can easily prevent this disease by monitoring their pet’s caloric intake and adjusting it to suite his/her pet’s system.

The amount of food each pet needs for maintenance varies. One dog may gain weight and another may lose weight consuming the same amount of calories, so you cannot determine your pet’s needs purely by using a calculated formula.  This is why veterinary assistance is useful in modifying your pet’s diet to suit his/her needs.  Also, it is important to consider that some pets can be overweight due to underlying endocrine deficiencies that can be diagnosed with a simple blood test and diagnosed with a supplement.

How can you determine if your pet is overweight?   When you look at  your pet from above, he/she should have an easily discernible waist.   Also, when you run your hands along his/her sides,  you should be able to feel the ribs fairly easily without having to press in.

Some helpful tips in monitoring your pet’s diet go as follows:

  • Use a measuring device to determine how much food to give your pet. Your Cocker Spaniel may only be getting one Big Gulp sized-cup full a day, but when you consider that it is a 32 ounce cup (4 cups), that is quite a bit more than his daily requirement of calories.
  • Keep a diary of what your pet is eating.  This should include exact measured quantities, the type of food and all treats.  From that information, your veterinarian can determine the amount of food necessary to lose weight.

In the meantime, find other ways to express love for your pet such as extra brushing, walks, and playtime.  Not only will these activities be more enjoyable for your pet, but they, along with maintaining a healthy weight, will help your pet live a longer, better quality life.

Dr. Deirdre Brandes is a veterinarian at the Rancho Santa Fe Veterinary Hospital, now open at the Helen Woodward Animal Center.  She can be reached at www.rsfvets.com, or 858-759-8797.