Pet Obesity Awareness Day, October 14th
There has been a lot of media coverage about the fact that the U.S. obesity rate continues to climb. What many don’t hear is the fact that it is not only people that are battling the bulge, but pets as well. October 14, known as Pet Obesity Awareness Day, aims to help people understand that pet obesity is a growing problem that impacts the health of pets. When a pet is obese, not only is their health at risk, but their overall quality of life is reduced. Their weight can interfere with many important daily activities, such as self-grooming, playing, and walking.
Founded in 2006 by veterinarian Dr. Ernie Ward, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) consists of dedicated veterinarians who are committed to making the lives of pets healthier by educating pet parents on the dangers of pet obesity. According to APOP, 58% of cats and 53% of dogs living in the U.S. were overweight in 2014. In the same study, research found a “fat pet gap,” in which 90% of owners of overweight cats and 95% of owners of overweight dogs incorrectly identified their pet as a normal weight. Another study, conducted by the American Pet Products Organization, found that estimated extra annual food and medical costs for dog owners with overweight or obese dogs equaled $8 billion. And that’s just the dogs.
Obesity in pets is associated with a number of medical issues. Overly burdened joints develop arthritis, which increases the pet’s risk of torn ligaments; diabetes, back problems, cardiac issues, skin problems, liver problems, urinary tract infections, breathing problems, and an increased risk for some cancers are also much more likely in an obese pet.
There are many tools available to pet parents who want to help their pets lose a few pounds or to keep their weight at a steady level. However, the first and most important resource for pet parents is their trusted veterinarian, who can assist them and give the best advice on how to help a pet lose weight safely. Never put a pet on a diet or an exercise plan without first consulting with their veterinarian.
It is important for pet parents to know that not all pet food is the same, so research will need to be done to find the food best suited for a pet. Your veterinarian can give you guidelines to look for when choosing a pet food.
After finding the proper food, feeding a consistent amount of food each day will ensure that the pet doesn't get overfed. Treats will also need to be limited, but pet parents can look for healthy treat alternatives such as carrots, apples, green beans and broccoli.
And don't forget exercise! Dogs and cats are active by nature. They are genetically programmed for a high activity level, as their wild ancestors covered many miles each day in search of food. Lack of exercise can not only contribute to obesity, but results in boredom and frustration in the pet, which for dogs may mean hyperactivity, barking, digging, and destruction, along with behavioral issues. In cats, it manifests in scratching, aggression, inappropriate elimination (not in litterbox), and destructiveness.
To exercise your cat, remember cats are predators and motivated to catch prey; try interactive toys such as “fishing poles" with feathers or toys on the end of a string; laser tag toys; or drag a string around on the floor to simulate a bug or mouse. Or, try putting pieces of dry kibble or treats in one of the many interactive toys on the market today. These toys are designed to make the cat roll and manipulate them to get at the food. You can hide the food around the house for them to hunt for, or even toss it piece by piece for your cat to “chase and kill.” Also, consider getting a toy that the cat can play with when you’re away.
For dogs, there are many choices for exercise depending on the dog’s age, breed, and individual needs. A short walk around the block might do for an older dog; or, if the dog is younger and more active, a swim, a run around the park, or a game of laser tag will let them get out some energy. Puppies only need short spurts of exercise. Do not take your puppy jogging until he's fully grown; but do let him run and play at his own speed. With an adult dog who is unaccustomed to exercise, don’t rush it; it's better and safer to exercise your dog at a slow, steady pace every day than to try to jump right into 5K runs. Work up gradually from shorter walks to longer walks, and/or shorter runs to longer runs. Pay attention to your dog while out walking or jogging; if he or she is lagging behind you, panting, stop right away. Allow the dog to rest, offer water, and plan to scale back the intensity of future workouts to better match the dog’s safe range of activity. Also, take care to avoid hot pavement!
With your dedication and the help of a trusted vet or pet sitter, an obese pet can soon be on their way to a healthier, longer life. To learn more about the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention or the 2014 study, go to their website at www.petobesityprevention.org.