A very charming yet pudgy cat named Meow died recently after developing respiratory difficulties. At first glance, this announcement may not seem to be newsworthy, as many pets die each day. What may raise a few eyebrows is the fact that Meow was a 2-year-old cat that tipped the scales at over 39 pounds.

Meow was turned into an animal shelter in New Mexico, when his owner, an elderly woman, could no longer care for him. The shelter immediately put Meow on a high-protein, low-carb diet, hoping to bring him down by about 10 pounds before placing him into a new home. Unfortunately, the best efforts of several specialists came a bit too late. Mary Martin, executive director of the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society, which was caring for the orange-and-white kitty, said, “We were in a race against time to get the weight off Meow before he developed complications from his obesity, and we lost.”

The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that out of 54 million dogs and cats in the United States, more than one out of three are 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. Ernie 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. 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 hang-out 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, check out www.dogtoys.com/bustercube

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. Just as it is with people, staying at a steady weight is a much easier task. Luckily, even if your pet is overweight, it’s not too late. Mary Martin, executive director of the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society, hopes Meow will not have died in vain. “We hope his fight will encourage other people to help their pets maintain the best health possible,” she said. “Obesity is not something to be ignored.”


ASAP Needs Volunteers

Animal Shelter Assistance Program (ASAP) is looking for new volunteers. ASAP is a volunteer-based, nonprofit organization that takes care of the cats and kittens at the Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter. ASAP provides humane care for these animals and works to eliminate the practice of euthanizing them for reasons other than serious health or behavior problems.

Volunteer orientations are scheduled twice a month at ASAP. To sign up for an orientation, send your name, email address, and phone number to info@asapcats.org. Or you may leave a message with your contact information at (805) 699-6853.

ASAP is located at the Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter, 5473 Overpass Road. For more information, visit www.asapcats.org

Volunteers must be at least 12 years of age to be eligible for the Volunteer Program. A parent/adult partner volunteer must accompany any volunteer under the age of 16 at all times during their time at the shelter. Volunteers are needed every day of the year at ASAP between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Volunteers are asked to schedule a minimum of two hours per week at the shelter for at least a six-month period.

Adoptable Pet of the Week


Calm, sweet Ruby will make someone a very nice and easy companion, and will transition into a new home with little effort. At 9 years and 47 pounds, she’s very attentive and obedient. Ruby knows “sit,” “down,” and “shake/give paw.”

She has been in a foster home and demonstrated that she has very good manners, including being house-trained. She loves to play ball, especially with the squeaky ones. Ruby has been on a few off-sites with volunteers and enjoys all the extra attention. She gets along well with other dogs, but does not do well with cats.

Recently, we learned that Ruby loves the beach. She loves being in the water. We also heard that she makes a nice “pillow” in the sand when playtime is over.

If Ruby sounds like the perfect dog for you, stop by the Santa Barbara County Animal Shelter, 5473 Overpass Road, and complete a no-obligation adoption application and get it approved. Read more about Ruby and view photos at www.K-9PALS.org.

Do you love dogs, but can’t have a pet? Volunteer at the shelter or for K-9 PALS or make a donation to K-9 PALS to help pay for the medical expenses and prescription foods for the homeless dogs of Santa Barbara County.


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