Is my pet overweight?
Did you know that in America, more than 1 in 2 pets is obese?
IS MY PET OVERWEIGHT?
Many of us kick off the new year with a list of resolutions including taking better care of our health. After all, we all know that good health is at the foundation of everything else. But what about the health and weight of your furry companion?
Is my pet too fat?
Positioning yourself above your pet, look at your dog or cat while they are standing up and check if you can see their waist. Does their belly give them a pear shape? Some clients will tell me that their pet’s head is too small compared to their body. As you probably guessed, it’s actually the other way around: it’s the body that’s disproportionally big!
Next, with your pet still standing, feel their ribs, and then compare the sensation to that of a closed fist. If feeling the ribs is similar to feeling your knuckles, that means that your pet is too thin (which would be very surprising unless your pet is sick or has been deprived of food for a long time). A sensation similar to feeling your metacarpal bones (the bones on the back of your hand) is desirable. Now, open your hand and turn your palm up. If feeling your pet’s ribs is similar to the sensation of touching the root of your fingers in your palm, that means that the layer of fat covering the ribs is too thick, and thus your pet is overweight. Pets weighing 5 to 19% more than their normal weight are overweight. Obesity occurs at an excess body weight of 20% or more.
Health risks of obesity
There are several health issues related to obesity. Cats will frequently be brought to the veterinarian for dandruffs at the base of the tail or because they are not grooming themselves properly, and owners do not want to be stuck cleaning their anal area. This happens often when excess weight hinders body movements. Cats can’t reach their back with their tongue, so they stop grooming—something that goes against their feline nature. Several constipation issues are also related to excess weight, not to mention more serious disorders such as hypertension, type II diabetes, heart diseases, osteoarthritis, and so on. Moreover, on the matter of osteoarthritis, it had long been assumed that excess weight worsened pain by adding more pressure on fragile joints, but that’s not the only issue. We now know that fat cells play a more active role in inflammation and can amplify pain.
What to do?
I am listing all the health issues related to obesity to show you how much you will do your companions a favour by helping them to maintain a healthy weight. You will also improve their life expectancy and quality of life. If your pet is overweight, I urge you to visit your veterinary clinic where a program tailored to your companion’s lifestyle, current and ideal weight, and age will be devised. Your pet’s measurements will be taken, and follow-ups will be scheduled. There are foods available to increase the sensation of fullness or to stimulate the metabolism. As is the case with humans, a customized diet plan ensures a greater chance of success.
Cats are nibblers: they prefer to eat up to 10 small meals a day rather than 2 large ones. In the wild, this species spends a lot of time working for its food. By feeding cats in a bowl, we deprive them of a great deal of stimulation. It is preferable to keep them mentally active by making them work a little for their food. Several food dispensers are especially made to meet this need: some have to be rolled around to release kibbles, while others have cats reaching out with their paws, etc. Most of the quality dispensers are scalable, meaning that they can be adjusted to the pet’s dexterity. If you have the time or inclination, you could also hide food around the house, and watch your cat become a highly skilled Sherlock Holmes!
Avoid feeding dogs only once a day. This overloads the stomach and can contribute to gastric problems, including acid reflux and gastric torsion. Two meals a day is a better option. I also encourage you to measure serving sizes. Many people are surprised to find out that what they thought was a 1-cup serving size ends being a much bigger serving depending on their dog’s bowl. You could weight the food for even greater precision.
Go easy on treats!
Be careful with treats. Some have a very high caloric content and will not satisfy your pet more than a healthier food option. Treats should not represent more than 10% of the daily caloric intake. Table scraps can also be very deceptive. Did you know that for cats, eating an ounce of cheese is the human equivalent of eating two and a half burgers? So, it should not be treated as a snack.
It can be hard to resist pets begging for food or scraps: they have the knack to convey so much with their eyes! You could keep low-calorie treats on hand, break biscuits or other snacks into small pieces (your furry companion won’t know the difference), or try distraction by petting or playing with your pets when they beg for food. Often enough, the relationship between humans and pets is enhanced by food. In short, we feed our pets because we love them.
However, by feeding your furry companions appropriately, you ensure that they stay healthy and you show them how much you value the friendship you share. After a successful pet weight loss, so many people tell me that they feel like they gained back the pet they knew five years ago. I never heard one pet owner express regrets for the efforts they invested.