Is my Pet Overweight? If so, what can I do about it?
A recent study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found that nearly 54% of all pet dogs and cats in the US were either overweight or obese. Overweight pets are more likely to suffer from
arthritis and degenerative joint disease
They are also more likely to be aggressive.
How can I find out if my pet is overweight?
If you suspect your pet is a “round hound” or a “curvy kitty”, you are not alone. The number of American pets who are overweight or obese has reached an all-time high. When determining whether or not a pet is overweight, veterinarians refer to the Body Conditioning Scale. This allows both doctors and pet parents to quickly assess a pet’s weight loss needs, while factoring in body shape, breed, muscle tone, and size.
Another useful exercise is to try and feel your pet’s ribs. If you can feel them easily, chances are good that your pet’s weight is ideal. If you cannot feel them at all, or have to dig through squishy layers, it’s time to make some changes in their diet and lifestyle.
Why is my pet overweight?
The following are some reasons why America’s pet population is one of increasingly round hounds.
Our pets do not get enough exercise
As Americans become more enamoured of television, video games, Facebook , and online shopping, we have become more sedentary. Since our dogs follow our lead, they have done the same. Greater dependence on cars, means fewer dogs being walked. First time homeowners tend to gravitate towards apartments, condominiums, and smaller houses with smaller yards. As our living spaces contract, our dogs become less active.
Dog owners with large, fenced in properties assume that their dogs get adequate exercise by running around in the yard. In reality, most dogs will bolt out the door, check the perimeter of the yard, then settle down. Since dogs are pack animals, running around by themselves is not a fun activity for them. Ultimately, they give in to their natural instinct to lie around and conserve their energy.
Our Pets are Bored
Dogs and cats are the genetic descendants of wolves, coyotes, and big cats. In our world, they do not have to travel, hunt or fight for their survival. While their lives with humans are certainly easier and safer, they are also boring. And like us, our pets will often seek out food as a way to relieve boredom.
Nature Works Against Us
Our pet’s genetic ancestors lived in a world where daily feedings were not the norm. It is common for wolves and big cats to go days, or even weeks between kills. In our world, dogs and cats eat every day, but their bodies missed the memo. They have still retained the instinct to eat as much as possible whenever possible because they don’t know when they will eat again. They are opportunistic feeders that will never pass up an opportunity to eat.
Our clinic once treated a 12 pound miniature dachshund that had raided a ten pound bag of cat food. She consumed so much food that the stomach was pushing against her heart and emergency surgery had to be performed to remove the food. She did not continue eating after the first pound because she was still hungry, but rather because her instincts were telling her to prepare for lean times that would never come.Combine this with the instinct to conserve calories rather than burn them, and you have a recipe for a paunchy pet.
Hunger vs. Food Drive
Many pet parents object to reductions in portion size, insisting that their pets are always hungry. Cats and dogs descended from wild animals whose every thought revolved around food. The desire to seek out and obtain food, or food drive, was vital for their survival.
While our modern day house pets will never need to track and kill a wildebeest, most of them have retained that primal urge to obtain food. This does not mean your pet is hungry, or underfed. She is simply being an animal. If she knows food is kept in the pantry, she will camp near the pantry. If she knows treats come from Abuela, she will harass Abuela. Fortunately, our pets have other drives that can often take the place of obsessive food drive. A food-driven dog will usually enjoy a brisk walk. Food-driven cats are often content to "kill" a crinkly toy. But food drive can work FOR you, rather than against you.
High Five for Food Drive!
While food drive can cause some annoying behaviors, it can also be your friend. The desire for a food reward can help your dog learn new behaviors to replace unwanted ones. A pet that begs for food is saying "This is what motivates me". Food rewards can be used to teach tricks and games that relieve boredom, increase confidence, and burn calories. Food driven dogs are often eager pupils and quick studies.
Grendel's food drive is off the charts. Her favorite game is to wait patiently while we hide a scented treat. She must then use her nose to find it. This game satisfies the need in her dachshund DNA to track a scent. Additionally, she learns that she does not get treats by demanding them, but rather, by working for them. It solidifies our position as pack leaders by re-enforcing our roles as providers of food, and forces her to burn a lot of calories searching for a low calorie treat. Most importantly - IT'S FUN!
Our Pets are Overfed
The feeding recommendations given dog and cat food companies are ALWAYS too high. It is simply not in a pet food company’s best interest to tell consumers to use less of their products. Clients are always horrified by the feeding amounts recommended in our office, but a general rule of thumb is to reduce the manufacturer’s recommendations by AT LEAST 25%.
Pet food advertisements routinely show small dogs and cats galloping toward giant bowls that are overflowing with food. The marketing machine is teaching pet parents that these are normal and appropriate portions for our pets, when in fact, these portions are putting our pets’ lives at risk.
Overweight is the New Normal Because of the widespread nature of pet obesity, our paradigm has shifted towards the acceptance of extra pounds. Many of my clients are surprised to learn that their pets are overweight. Similarly, I am often asked by clients with lean, muscular, perfectly conditioned pets if their pet is too skinny. Overweight has become the new normal, while healthy is the new anorexic.
The Pet Food Industry Has Changed
In response to rising food prices, many pet food companies have opted for cheap “filler” ingredients with little or no nutritional value. These include, but are not limited to, corn, wheat, soy, by-products, and animal fats. Additionally, many foods are loaded with sugar, salt, and corn syrup. These products make the food very palatable, without adding to the cost of production. But the added profits come with added calories.
On the positive flip side, there are also many wonderful diets on the market that use quality ingredients and limit or eliminate the use of fillers and grains. However it is important to note that these are very nutritionally dense diets designed for active pets and working dogs.Large portions do not need to be fed. Remember to compare the calories being eaten to the calories being burned. An older, sedentary dog does not need the same portion of nutritionally dense food as a dog that works cattle or does police work.
How to Feed your pet a Quality Diet
While this may sound like common sense, pet parents are often at the mercy of the media when trying to ascertain food quality. There are MANY low quality pet foods with high dollar marketing budgets being pushed to an increasingly frustrated public. Since pet food companies are not required to display the same nutritional information we are used to seeing on our own packaged foods, reading labels often leads to further confusion.
When searching for a quality diet, look for a food that is high in protein (over 20%), low in fat (7%or less) and has limited ingredients. Avoid foods that contain corn, wheat, soy, seed hulls or by-products. These are cheap "filler foods" used to boost the profits of the pet food producer, and have no nutritional value whatsoever.
Nutritionally dense foods make our pets feel fuller for longer periods of time by satisfying their bodies' needs for fuel, rather than just filling their stomachs. While they are often more expensive, it is not necessary to feed large amounts, and many pet parents find that their pet food dollars stretch further.
Sabal Chase Animal Clinic recommends and sells California Natural Diets. This high quality, limited ingredient diet is available in low fat and senior versions, and comes in a variety of flavors. Stop by the clinic for some free samples, and stay tuned for tips on HOW MUCH we should be feeding our paunchy pets!
Feeding Appropriately Sized Portions - how much do I feed my pet?
Now that you've read about all of the quality ingredients in your pet's new food, you should follow the instructions on how much to give your pet. Right? WRONG! The sad truth of the matter is that even the most conscientious pet food producers will never ask you to use less of their product. It is simply not in their best interests. As a general rule, feeding instructions should be reduced by at least 20%. If your pet has not lost weight after about four weeks, please call our office to see if further reductions are advisable. Bear in mind that a cup equals eight ounces. Many of the drinking cups we find in our kitchens hold between 12 and 16 onces. Stop by Sabal Chase Animal Clinic for a free measuring cup to ensure you are measuring your pet's portions correctly.
If reductions are in order, make them gradually. If your pet is still hungry, try adding chopped, cooked green beans to her diet. They are inexpensive, palatable, high in fiber, and can add lots of volume for about ten calories. This can help your round hound feel fuller and happier. Never add butter, salt, or seasonings. Does that mean "people food" is okay? Not really. Read the shocking statistics on just how the calories contained in our food are processed by our furry friends below:
Small Meals, More Often One of the most common weight loss tips humans receive is to eat between 5-6 small meals each day to help increase the body's metabolism. While most pet parents' schedules do not allow for this number of feedings, the principle remains the same. Many dogs and cats are fed once per day.
This causes the metabolism to slow down, store food as fat, and preserve energy. Divide your pet's food into two portions and feed one in the morning and one in the evening. It' likely that your pet will have more energy for walks, playtime, and other calorie burning activities. You may also notice a reduction in unwanted behaviors such as begging and food stealing.
Pet Treats Are Like Snickers Bars
Pet treats are absolutely loaded with sugar and salt. They provide maximum calorie load with no nutritional value.
The following statistics are taken with permission from the book “Chow Hounds” by veterinarian Dr. Ernie Ward:
-One Milk Bone Gravy Bone for Small and Medium Dogs = 45 calories.
When given to a 10 lb dog needing 220 calories per day, it is equivalent to a human eating 2 Krispy Kreme Chocolate Iced Glazed Donuts
-One Purina Beggin’ Strip for a 10lb dog = one McDonalds Cheeseburger for us.
-One Small Pedigree Denta-bone for a 20lb dog = one Denny’s Buttermilk Pancake Platter for us.
-One Premium Pig Ear for a 40lb dog = six 12oz Coke Classics for us
-One Milk Bone Large Biscuit for a 60lb dog = one large Snickers bar for us
-One Good Life Wholesome Bone for a 60lb dog = FOUR KFC Origional Recipe chicken breasts for us.
Many of my patients get SEVERAL of these treats EVERY SINGLE DAY! Substitute treats for healthy choices like vegetables, fruit (never grapes or raisins) or rice cakes. Treats should only be given as a reward for genuine accomplishments. Pets should have to work for them. Pet owners should also use praise, affection, toys and play as rewards. If you must give treats, break them up into tiny pieces. Our pets are not nearly as excited about the treat as they are about the treat event. We can use this to our advantage.
Trim the Treats
Better yet, trash the treats. IF and only if your pet does something to earn a food reward, a SMALL treat can be given. How small? About the size of a pencil eraser, regardless of the size of the pet. Remember, it’s not the treat, it’s the treat event. Supplement the treat with lots of praise for a job well done so that her focus shifts from acquiring food to making you happy. Treats should not be given as “dessert” or as part of a daily routine. Resist the temptation to give in to a pet that is begging for treats. This teaches our pet’s that we are not really in charge, and leads to annoying behaviors that can make them difficult to live with
Trading the Treats
Since many pet parents cringe at the thought of cutting treats out of their pet' diet completely, focus on trading them rather than trashing them. Start by replacing commercial pet treats with healthy alternatives like fruit (never grapes or raisins), vegetables or rice cakes. A large, plain rice cake consists of only ten calories. By comparison, one Good Life Recipe Wholesome Mini Bone contains 62 calories. When fed to a 10 pound dog, it's like a human eating THREE Hershey's Chocolate Bars! Give that same dog a Snausage, and it's the same as us eating a McDonald's hamburger. Many of my patients get several of these treats every single day. Imagine how miserably unhealthy we would be if we ate four McDonald's hamburgers every day. If you must give treats, use something natural and healthy as an alternative.
Our Pets Eat Our Food The foods we eat (especially processed foods) are very calorically dense, and when we consider the fact that dogs and cats do not need nearly the amount of calories we do, it is easy to see how sharing our food can lead to portly pets. A 10lb dog needs no more than 220 calories per day. A 40lb dog needs no more than 650 calories a day. Even an 80lb dog needs only 1500 calories per day.
Here are some people food facts, courtesy of Dr. Ward:
-If a 10lb dog eats ½ of an Oscar Meyer Beef Hot Dog, it is the equivalent of us eating THREE hot dogs with ketchup and mustard (no bread).
Give that same dog an animal cracker for dessert, and its like us eating an entire box of animal crackers.
-A 20lb dog eating ½ slice of white bread = us eating a Subway 6-inch Turkey Breast Sandwich.
For that same sized dog, ¼ of a plain bagel = us eating four brownies.
-If a 40lb do eats ½ Tablespoon of Jif Creamy Peanut Butter, it’s like us eating a Mcdonald’s Sausage Patty
-A 60lb dog eating ½ of a burger patty = us eating a McDonald’s Cheesburger.
-An 80lb dog eating a cup of cooked pasta = us eating a Burger King Origional Whopper Junior with cheese.
Again, many of my patients enjoy these handouts on a daily basis.
Some Pets Have Underlying Medical Conditions
If your pet is receiving proper nutrition, portions and exercise, yet is gaining or unable to lose weight, he or she may have an underlying medical condition. Cushing’s disease,diabetes and hypothyroidismare just a few of the medical conditions that could be causing your pet to pack on the pounds. It is important to make sure your pet is getting annual wellness bloodwork to catch these problems in their earliest stages, while they are still easy and inexpensive to treat.
It is important to have routine bloodwork done on your pet to check for signs of these and other ailments, especially as our pets get older. Simple blood tests can help us to detect these problems while they are still easy and inexpensive to treat. Of your pet has not had wellness bloodwork performed in the past 12 months, feel free to give us a call to make an appointment!