By Dr. Kevin Erickson, DVM
Contrary to popular belief, treats are not the best way to love a pet or to help it live a long healthy life. In fact, with recent studies showing that thirty to forty percent of U.S. pets are overweight and twenty-five percent are obese, that extra treat may be condemning a pet to a shorter life filled with a multitude of health issues.
Similar to people, excess weight predisposes pets to several health challenges. These include respiratory difficulties, cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. Overweight pets are also more prone to torn ligaments, corrective surgery and painful arthritis that can seriously affect their ability to move around and interact with the family.
Pets weigh much less than people, so an extra pound or two makes a big difference. Consider the typical cat. It should weigh between eight and ten pounds. This means a twelve pound cat is twenty percent overweight and a fifteen pound cat is fifty percent overweight. The same is true for dogs, but given the wide ranges of shapes and sizes, a typical weight is not as easily stated.
Regularly monitoring a pet’s weight is important in preventing obesity. For smaller pets, placing them on the bathroom scale works well. For larger pets feeling their ribs can be an adequate alternative between regular weigh-ins. A pet’s weight is typically appropriate if you can easily feel the pet’s ribs when rubbing a hand gently across the chest. Having to press in to feel the ribs is a sign the pet is overweight. Pet should also have a “waist” when viewed from the side or top.
Consulting with a veterinarian is also an important part of maintaining an appropriate weight. He or she can assess for medical conditions that impact weight gain, make dietary and exercise recommendations aimed at achieving an ideal weight, and give advice and input when weight loss is hard to achieve. For mixed breed dogs, a veterinarian can also provide input as to an ideal weight.
Maintaining an ideal weight is achieved through a balance of calorie intake and exercise. For pets that need to lose weight, it should be done gradually with a goal of losing one to two percent per week. This can be obtained by giving less food, feeding a special weight loss food and/or increasing activity through more walks or play time.
For those pets that know how to turn on the charm when it comes to requesting additional treats, consider using low calorie treats, smaller sized treats or breaking treats in half. Other alternatives that can be used include feeding raw fruits and vegetables such as apples, carrots, beans and broccoli. During the summer, ice cubes are a calorie-free treat that many pets enjoy.
Every pet owner loves to give their pet treats. Because of this, it’s important to consider treat calories when evaluating your pet’s overall daily caloric intake. When treat calories are added, regular food calories need to be decreased in order to avoid weight gain. It’s also important to remember that treats are typically not balanced nutritionally so treats should be a small part of a pet’s diet, not the majority. Overall, pets fed a well-balanced, good quality pet food get the appropriate amount of fat, protein and other nutrients in their diet so treats should be an occasional indulgence.
Table scraps are another problem when waging a war on pet fat. These tempting morsels are usually high in fat, salt and other ingredients that pets don’t need, cause health issues and contribute to weight gain. While it may seem cruel to deprive a pet of table scraps, a truly loved pet does not eat from the family table.
Controlling a pet’s weight through proper nutrition and regular exercise is vital to maintaining optimal health. While treats are an easy way to tell a pet it’s loved, taking it for a walk or playing a game of fetch is definitely a healthier choice. As the weather warms and daylight hours grow, take your pet for a walk. No matter how many legs are involved, all will be healthier for it.