Thursday, February 9, 2012

Food is NOT Love: Half of All Pets Are Obese

Years ago, when my beloved bichon, Casey, was overweight, my vet said to me emphatically, “Food is NOT love. Her momma ain’t fat so why is she?”

It took a while for the meaning to sink all the way in, but when it did, there was no going back. I am not fat because it doesn’t work for me. I feel better when I am at what for me is a sensible weight. I think I look better and I know I feel better. Healthier. Like I can take things on. If I feel that way, why would I expect my dog to feel any different?

I cut back on the treats.

Now according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 55% of dogs and 54% of cats in North America are obese or overweight. From CNN:
"I didn't notice the weight creeping on -- it was like all of a sudden he was just this fat dog," Stevens said as she and Dodger visited Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park.

"His weight is about 82 pounds right now, and he should be 62 pounds." That means he needs to lose about a quarter of his weight -- equivalent to a 200-pound person needing to lose 50 pounds.

The reason is pretty simple: "Too much food and not enough exercise," Stevens said.

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention report shows not only that more pets are overweight, but also that those with the problem "are getting fatter," said Ernie Ward, the group's founder.
Being too fat isn’t good. It isn’t healthy for people and, as it turns out, it isn’t healthy for your pet, either:
A long list of health dangers comes with the excess weight. "It's not a matter of if, it's when" serious complications will strike, said Ward.

These can include high blood pressure, "crippling arthritis," diabetes and some cancers. "Their life is shortened by two or 2½ years," said Ward, a veterinarian in North Carolina.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine, which cites the association's annual study, said the diseases seen among obese pets "are eerily similar to those reported for people."
Distressingly, one of the problems might by the commercial pet food you’re feeding:
Pet foods these days are "more calorically dense" than they used to be, yet owners are feeding their pets more, he said.

If you're concerned your pet may be obese, it's important to work with a veterinarian, and not try to tackle the problem on your own, said Ward. "Diet is not about starvation or deprivation. It's about gradual weight loss."

In many cases, carefully measuring food and committing to exercise can do the trick. But more severe cases need more extensive work.
I would take things further still. Begin with a clear idea of what the perfect outline for your breed should be. How much should he weigh and how much fat covering should he have? If you don’t have a clear idea, your vet will.

Next, consider you dog food carefully. Many commercial brands are not good sources of nutrition, no matter what the package says. Make sure you’re feeding a good quality premium brand or, as an increasing number of owners are doing, take things further still and think about options to commercial pet foods.

Finally, make sure your dog has adequate exercise and if you don’t have time to walk your dog or throw a ball for him, consider hiring a service who will.

I know that sounds like a plug -- after all, that’s one of the things Love on a Leash does! But if you’re working so hard that you don’t have time to give your dog the exercise he needs, hiring someone else to do it for you will be a terrific investment in your dog’s health. Even so, if you can make the time to do it yourself, both you and your dog will gain from your new commitment to physical fitness. Don’t forget: dogs make the very best work out partners. They never beg off because of bad weather or because they’re too tired or hungover! You might start out trying to get your dog in better shape and end up with both of you feeling more fit and healthy. What could be better?

Though a rash of articles that have come out since this pet obesity report was released earlier this month make this sound like an almost hopeless problem, on a case-by-case basis, it is not. Diet and exercise really are the first step. If you feel overwhelmed, bring in some help. Your vet will be happy to offer advice on the topic. And make no mistake: so will your caregiver at Love on a Leash.

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