Fat is not fun. It’s not even cute. Obesity in cats and dogs is a lingering malady that makes your pet feel lousy, decreases lifespan, and complicates the treatment of other illnesses. If you have a fat dog or cat, here’s what you can do about it.
Don’t Get Fat
Well ‘Duh’, but it’s true. The best way to keep your dog or cat slim is to develop great eating and exercise habits from the outset of your relationship. If you are a new pet owner, here’s a big tip: never feed table scraps. Just don’t do it. Table scraps, whether they are delivered directly into his or her food bowl or slipped under the table, instantly train your pet that something better than the stuff in their food bowl is available if only he or she waits. Additionally, your guests don’t feel like eating with a dog’s head on their knee (unless you’re a lousy cook). Introduce your pet to one quality food and then feed it on a regular schedule.
An Enormous Impact on Health
Studies repeatedly show that obesity decreases a pet’s life expectancy. Excess weight can lead to diabetes, osteoarthritis, respiratory disease, hypertension, and cancers. In a study of Labradors, researchers fed half the dogs whenever they indicated that they were hungry and restricted the calories for the other half. Results showed that the restricted group lived almost 2 years longer than the free fed group and had fewer chronic diseases such as osteoarthritis. The take home message from this study? Pets may live longer, and more comfortable lives if kept closer to their optimal weight.
Did You Know that Fat Makes Fat?
Evolutionarily it makes sense for the body to want to retain fat in case there’s a food shortage. But without a food shortage (and most of our pets have ready access to food), it’s easy to gain excess weight and difficult to lose it again. So how does our body try to retain fat?
Well, fat wants to promote more fat by secreting various substances that make more fat cells and slow down metabolism (causing the plateau in weight loss that many of us experience when we diet). These substances also cause inflammation- overweight pets are in a state of chronic inflammation, including joint inflammation known as osteoarthritis. Arthritic pets are less active which also promotes weight gain. May non-arthritic pets also don’t get enough exercise. In addition, as pets age, they have less lean body mass lowering their total energy needs. A 7 year old dog needs about 20% less calories than a young adult dog. All these factors contribute to the pet obesity problem.
Feed once daily.
What??? Yes. Sounds cruel, but your pet will be fine with a once-a-day feeding schedule provided he or she is an adult (we make exceptions to this rule…reach out to us for more information). Your dog or cat is probably not running a marathon every day (and if it is, we can talk about calorie intake at your next visit). Most pets sleep 16 or more hours a day and they’re not burning up calories dreaming. Food left in the bowl after eating time is a sign that you may be feeding too much. Also, look at your pet from above and ensure that it’s maintaining an hourglass shape: a bulge around the chest, a narrowing at the waste, and a widening again in the hips.
Feeding a Puppy and Kitten
Since puppies and kittens grow faster than adult animals, they need greater amounts of nutrients and proteins. Typically this problem is solved by purchasing a food designed for juvenile animals, but double check with Brookfield before making your selection. If you own a large or small breed dog, note that both have specific puppy nutritional requirements. Call Brookfield and we’ll help you figure out a healthy and safe feeding schedule
Wet versus Dry
Each type of food has its ups and downs. In general, a wet diet is better for cats. It keeps them hydrated and is more in line with what they would eat if they were in the wild. It’s also less-calorie dense because a good portion of what’s in the can is water. Dogs too like a wet diet, but keep in mind that gooey gravies and sauces are often comprised of corn-based starches that are a source of empty calories.
Dry food is richer in calories and helps to keep pets’ teeth cleaner, but avoid the practice of free feeding where a bowl is mounded with dry food and available to the pet 24-7.
Look for the Right Percentage of Protein and Fat
In general, puppies should be fed a diet comprised of 28% protein and 17% fat by weight. For very active dogs, you can change things up to be 25% protein and 20% fat, while regular adult dogs can be fed a food comprised of 18% protein and 13% fat. Please remember that these are only general guidelines. Please contact Brookfield Animal Hospital about feeding instructions for your specific breed and age group.
Learn to Read the Pet Food Label
Limited guidelines and an urge by manufacturers to sell their product lead to many deceptive pet food labeling practices. Be sure to check out our Brookfield Animal Hospital Post, “How To Read a Pet Food Label’ for the right way to read a pet food label.
You got the pet, now interact with it. A long walk with your dog is good for the dog, your own health and, if you bring your significant other along, a great way to catch up and grow your own personal relationship. Drag one of your kids along and see what’s doing in their world. While text messages and Facebook feeds have a magnetic pull on our attention spans, they’re still empty calories for the mind. Nothing beats time in this great world of ours directly interacting with the people and sights in it or taking time to be alone with one’s thoughts.
If your dog or cat is already overweight, give us a call so we can walk you through a weight management program. Fast, drastic weight reduction, especially in cats can be fatal. Really!
We Just Couldn’t Resist