The biggest losers are the biggest winners

By Randall Felts DVM
Marine View Veterinary Hospital


Is your dog or cat overweight? It is estimated that up to 75 percent of all pets in the United States have been swept up in what is an epidemic of obesity.

A recent study involving 26 different breeds of dog suggested that patients who were kept at their ideal weight lived, on average, 2 years longer than littermates who were allowed to self regulate their food intake without any intervention from their owners.

And from a feline perspective, the traditional image of the content, fat cat is being challenged by what is witnessed in veterinary clinics across the country, as these obese patients present for treatment of potentially preventable diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, heart disease or constipation.

Why does this happen? Fat cells produce pro-inflammatory chemicals (think of the chemicals that destroy the joints of individuals with arthritis.) These damaging chemicals circulate through every tissue in our pet’s bodies including the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, brain, muscles, and joints. Over time these tissues are slowly broken down. More fat cells=more damaging chemicals=shorter life.

Avoiding the aforementioned pitfalls is easier than one might think and does not involve starving your pet to accomplish your goals. There are a few basic principles surrounding diet that can greatly enhance a pet owner’s chance of being able to enjoy more time with their furry “kids.”

Look for diets with less than 15 percent fat for dogs or 20 percent for cats consuming dry food.

Alternatively many cats do better on a diet based partially or exclusively on canned food. The generally higher protein, lower carbohydrate, and higher moisture content of canned food fits better with a cats natural carnivorous nature.

In the most troublesome of weight loss cases, often it is the introduction of canned food, which tips the scales in the right direction.

With the help of your veterinarian, determine a goal weight to be reached over the next 6 months. An ideal body condition would be one where the last two ribs can be easily felt with gentle pressure and the waist can be visualized when the patient is viewed from above.

There should be no fat pad at the base of the tail and the body when viewed from the side should exhibit a slight upward slope from chest to groin.

Let your veterinarian know the specific brand and type of food you are feeding. Calories per serving can vary significantly from one food type to the next and with this information a proper daily ration can be determined. A patient on a diet should strive to lose weight at an average rate of 1 to 2 percent per week. Dramatic drops in weight are to be avoided.

Treats or handouts given outside of normal feeding times should comprise no more than 10 percent of a pet’s daily calorie intake meaning that the average 20 pound dog (who requires 350-400 calories a day depending on age and lifestyle) should only get 35 to 40 calories a day. This represents one to three treats depending on which brands or flavors are used.

A regular exercise program is the other essential element in the weight loss equation. A 15 to 20 minute exercise session per day should be considered as a minimum requirement for dogs and indoor cats. For those looking to do more, walks or play sessions should be increased in duration by five minutes per week.

An excellent resource for cat owners who are looking for information regarding exercise and environmental enrichment for their feline friends is found at www.indoorpet.osu.

It is tremendously rewarding for all involved when owners and veterinarians can work together to help a pet successfully lose weight. Also, in an increasingly cost conscious environment, the measures discussed here cost virtually nothing!

So give your veterinarian a call today and put your pet on the path towards a longer, healthier life.

(Truth about Cats & Dogs is a monthly column written by local veterinarians. Participating hospitals are Marine View Veterinary Hospital in Des Moines, Des Moines Veterinary Hospital and Burien Veterinary Hospital.)

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