This map details the increasing proportion of our own human population classified as overweight or obese. It’s a frightening statistic, given the knowledge we have that being overweight causes many, many dangerous diseases. Diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis… it’s not a pretty list! Even so, our public perception of what an acceptable body looks like has shifted toward being overweight. It’s beyond the scope of this blog to discuss the human portion of this problem in-depth. Suffice to say that I think it’s important not only for our own lives, but for those of our pets.
What does normal body weight look like on a dog or cat? Have a look at the chart below. We score body condition in dogs and cats on either a 5 or 9 point scale. Pet Authority uses a 5-point scale similar to the chart. The “3” is ideal. There is an hourglass-shaped figure at the waistline (between hips and last rib), you can feel the ribs when you rub back and forth on the chest, and the belly curves up toward the pelvis. Compared to the overweight and obese pets, many people feel that normal body condition is too skinny. Not the case!!
Studies have been done that describe the prevalence of overweight pets at about 50%. I believe that here in Michigan, it’s closer to 70%. Very few of the pets I see, dogs or cats, are a normal, healthy body weight. It’s just as important for pets to be a normal body weight as it is for people. We’ve proven that diabetes, arthritis, heart and lung disease, and liver problems in cats can all be tied to an above-normal body weight. The bottom line is this: overweight pets do not live as long as pets with normal body weight. One study showed that overweight Labrador Retrievers lived about 1.8 years less than their normal-weight counterparts.
Let me state that more clearly: You are taking almost 2 years off your pet’s life by allowing obesity!
Why are pets overweight? Because we, as humans, think that food is love. (These are my personal opinions, here; please feel free to debate or chime in with your own reasoning!) The simple truth is that we, as human caretakers, are the biggest factor in our pets’ body condition. WE control the amount of food and exercise they get. WE control our perception of what ‘fat’ and ‘ideal’ is. Pet obesity is, for the vast majority, our fault. We feel that dogs need to have lots of treats, a ‘little extra’ food, or to be rewarded with food items for good behavior. I’m not opposed to giving treats or rewards. I am opposed to giving so many that the dog is overweight. Dogs don’t seem to mind so much if it’s just one treat or twenty — they enjoy the interaction with the owner. They will also likely be just as excited to get a low-calorie treat as one of the high-calorie ones. I think there’s a big cultural influence at work in the Midwest, too. When we get together with family, friends, or coworkers, the events often center around food. Our weather is such that it’s hard to get enough exercise in the winter. These things contribute to difficulty keeping dogs skinny. However, we still control the food bowl! It’s one thing if we’re fatter in the winter. It’s a whole other thing if we allow our pets to eat the same amount when they’re not getting as much exercise. (Are you seeing a theme here? We’re the ones at fault.)
Please don’t get the idea that I’m immune to these problems. My own cat, when she was younger and healthy, got to be overweight. I ignored it for about six months before doing anything. I ended up having to buy her a low-calorie food to get her weight back to normal. I did it, though, and she’s now over 15 years old and doing remarkably well. I know for a fact that if I’d let her continue to get fatter and fatter, she wouldn’t be here today. This is something that *can* be fixed, that *is* a solvable problem.
I’ve stood on my soapbox plenty long, here. I’d like to finish out the post today by listing a few little tips on how you can reduce weight in your pets. They’re not meant to be condescending. Sometimes, the simple truth is quite hard for us to see until it’s pointed out.
A special note on cats: PLEASE come talk to us at an appointment or at least call to discuss weight reduction in cats. If it’s not done very very carefully, cats can become deathly ill with fatty liver disease. You need a careful plan for cat weight reduction!!!
•Increase exercise. Dogs and cats both need to have exercise daily. Running around on their own in the backyard isn’t usually enough. Walk dogs and get cats to play for 10-15 minutes a day, at least. Check out The Indoor Pet Initiative for great cat tips.
•Decrease treats. You don’t have to eliminate treats completely. Just realize that milk bones, pig ears, rawhides, jerky treats, etc. are all adding calories to the daily diet. Break treats up or buy really tiny ones. Use green beans or carrots (cut into tiny pieces!) for treats.
•See if your chosen food brand includes a “Low Calorie” or “Weight Loss” formula to help you reduce calories. If not, we have some prescription weight loss foods available to help. For dogs, you can reduce the daily feeding amount by 5-7% every month until the body condition is ideal.
•Use non-food toys to encourage chewing and other play activities.
Good luck! Don’t let your pet become a statistic!!