America is in the midst of an obesity epidemic, and the problem isn’t confined to humans. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 54 percent of dogs and 59 percent of cats in the U.S. are overweight or obese.
Some owners might look upon pet obesity as a harmless indulgence, but that’s far from the truth. Fat cats and dogs can suffer from a number of maladies, including:
- Cranial cruciate ligament injury
- Decreased life expectancy (up to 2.5 years)
- Heart and respiratory disease
- High blood pressure
- Insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes
- Kidney disease
- Many forms of cancer
Preventing pet obesity requires a proper diet and exercise regimen. Your pets need to be fed high-quality foods especially formulated for their breed and dietary needs, and to be fed the proper amount each day. Each dog and cat has its own nutritional requirements, best determined by your veterinarian, who often carries these foods for purchase.
It’s also important that your pet enjoys its food, so that it will gladly eat it and, as a result, get all the nutrients needed. Your vet made sure to take palatability and nutrition into account when selecting which pet foods to offer. Train your new kitten or puppy to eat your vet-recommended food right from the start. If your pet needs a change to a healthier diet, convert it over gradually, increasing the ratio of new food to old until the transformation is complete.
Naturally, it’s easiest to gauge your pet’s weight by putting it on a scale. But there are also visual cues. A healthy canine weight is indicated by easily felt ribs and a tucked abdomen, whereas obesity can be seen by a sagging stomach and lack of a waist when viewed from above. The same care should be taken with cats.
When feeding dogs and cats, measure out the amount of food you give your pet each day. Some cats self-regulate their weight and don’t overeat, but many others eat too much if given the opportunity.
It’s the responsibility of pet owners to help maintain our pets’ health, and that includes a healthful, appropriate diet with the right number of calories. Here are some rough guidelines:
- An average indoor cat weighing about 10 lbs. needs 180 to 200 calories daily.
- Dogs in the 10-lb. weight class need 200 to 275 calories.
- Dogs in the 20-lb class need 325 to 400 calories
- Dogs weighing in at 50 lbs. need 700 to 900 calories.
Different dog breeds have different ideal weights. For example, the range for bulldogs is 40 to 50 lbs., while German Shepherds should average 75 to 95 lbs. Great Danes might weigh as much as 180 lbs. without being overweight, and Saint Bernards can tip the scales at 200 lbs. Check with your vet for a recommendation on your pet’s ideal weight.
Here are some tips and tricks to help control how much your pet eats:
- Food puzzles: Substitute one daily food-bowl feeding with puzzles designed to capitalize on your pet’s natural hunting instincts. The puzzles hold a small amount of food that your pet retrieves by unraveling the puzzle. Your vet or your local pet supplies store can show you how these work.
- Divide and Conquer: If your pet wolf’s down its food (and ends up with a tummy ache), split their portion in two and give the second a few minutes after they finish the first. This will slow down your pet, giving it a chance to feel satiated.
- Scrap the scraps: Don’t be a softy. When pets beg for table scraps, just say no, unless you’ve figured the calorie content into their daily limit. The problem with table scraps is that they can be fattening, unhealthful or even toxic to your pet.
- Praise and massage: Replace extra treats with hands-on loving and attention. It will make your pet feel good and won’t add calories to its diet.
- Stick to high quality food: As mentioned, use the type and amount of food recommend by your vet.