The Capital Area Humane Society in central Ohio just announced that they’re having a sale on their fat cats this summer. Overweight cats will go for $15 each or two for $20, instead of the usual $70 adoption price. According to staff at the shelter, nine out of the shelter’s 55 cats are overweight, with the largest weighing in at 23 pounds! That’s how much my 12-month-old son weighs. While I can’t pretend that my own animals are svelte, I couldn’t imagine letting my cat get as big as a small child. Unfortunately, this is the case with many pet owners who are contributing to their pets’ obesity.
The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that out of 54 million dogs and cats in the United States, more than one out of three is overweight. Compare that with the early 1970s, when less than one out of eight had a weight problem. Obesity can lead to such diseases as: osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and many forms of cancer. Fat in the abdomen can cause labored breathing that leads pets to have increased anesthetic complications. Activity can be difficult for very overweight pets and you will very often see a decrease in heat tolerance and stamina. In addition, studies show that lean pets have an increased life span of up to two years.
The first step in controlling pet obesity is identifying that it exists in your pet. Experts say that it is better to look at the appearance of each animal rather than at the weight of the animal. Dogs tend to carry their fat behind their front legs, along their back and at the base of their tail. Cats carry their fat along their lower abdomen.
Why are pets overweight? The answer is the same for pets as well as for people: too many calories and not enough exercise. If you determine that your pet is overweight, your veterinarian can work with you to develop a weight loss plan for your pet. The first obvious step is to eliminate table scraps and limit the treats. A high-quality pet food is essential, so be sure to read the ingredients. “By-products” are not as good as the real thing. Some experts believe a wet food only diet is the way to go as dry food has a higher fat and calorie content. Dr. Ward, author of Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs Are Getting Fatter — A Vet’s Plan to Save Their Lives, says that the most important stat on a dog-food label is the calorie count and suggests pet owners lay off the treats. Dr. Ward states that some treats contain as much as 10 percent of a pet’s calories. It’s like drinking a 200-calorie milkshake as a snack (which, unfortunately, some people do). As always, talk to your veterinarian before switching your pet’s food.
Aside from watching what your pet eats, you should also be concerned about exercise. Your dog should be getting at least 45 minutes of exercise each day. Cat owners aren’t off the hook; cats need 20 minutes of daily activity.
Tips for Exercising Your Cat
• Move the food bowl so it’s farther away from your cat’s normal hangout spots.
• Get your cat to chase feather toys, Ping-Pong balls, or a balled up piece of wax paper.
• Buy a remote-controlled toy mouse and get your cat to chase it around the house.
• If your cat is an only cat, consider adopting another kitty for companionship as well as to keep your cat moving.
Tips for Exercising Your Dog
• Run or rollerblade with your dog.
• Play fetch or Frisbee in the park.
• Take your dog to the beach and let him swim.
• Buy a Buster Cube to feed your dog. You place your dog’s kibble inside the cube and your dog must roll the cube to get his food out. For more information, visit www.dogtoys.com/bustercube.html.
When dealing with pet obesity, prevention is key. It can be hard to get pets to lose weight, especially if it is an arthritic pet that cannot exercise. Keeping animals at a steady weight is a much easier task. If pet owners follow the same advice their doctors give them, there would be fewer 23-pound cats on clearance at animal shelters. And that would be a good thing.
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