Friday, May 25, 2012

More Than 50% of Cats and Dogs are Overweight

A survey shows that 53 percent of adult dogs and 55 percent of cats are overweight or obese, which could lead to a variety of health problems.

When we see our pets' adorable faces, we often want to reward them with treats, especially since food makes them happy.

Then there are times when our lives become busier, and our dogs don't get the walks or games of fetch they need. And it's simply easier for us to use a food dispenser for our cats than to feed them at certain times every day.

Unfortunately, these habits and other contributing factors are causing an obesity problem for our beloved pets.

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, or APOP, pet obesity is an expanding epidemic. APOP's fifth annual veterinary survey, taken in 2011, shows 53 percent of adult dogs and 55 percent of cats were overweight or obese. This means that about 88.4 million dogs and cats need to lose weight.

So why be concerned about your dog or cat's extra pounds? There are many reasons, according to local veterinarians.

"Obesity carries a large number of health risks," said Geoff DeWire, D.V.M., Douglassville Veterinary Hospital, Amity Township.

They include arthritis due to increased stress on limbs and joints, diabetes mellitus (type 2 diabetes) caused by peripheral insulin resistance from high levels of body fat, cardiac and respiratory disease from increased fat surrounding the chest wall and airways, early mortality, skin infections due to increased skin folds and hair matting due to the inability to properly groom, increased anesthesia and surgical risks, exercise intolerance and the inability to dissipate heat predisposing the pet to heat stroke, he said.

The most startling of these health risks is the decreased life expectancy, the time that you will lose with your pet.

According to a Purina study conducted from 1987 through 2001 involving Labrador retrievers, the dogs that maintained a lean body weight lived 1.8 years longer than those who were overweight or obese. Losing almost two years is a significant amount of time, considering the average age of a Labrador is 12 to 14 years.

Obese cats face a similar threat to their life expectancy, which Dr. Michael Comalli of the Conrad Weiser Animal Hospital, Womelsdorf, sees with his patients.

"When I started my practice 20 years ago, the average life for a cat was about 12 years," he said. "As better care and food became available, that age increased to about 17 years. Now it's about 15 years. It is a rarity to see a 20-year-old cat."

Since we want our furry companions to live as long as possible, we need to take measures to prevent or address obesity.

Our first step is to acknowledge that our pets are overweight. While many of us do not know what the ideal weight is for our pet, our veterinarians do and can help us.

"Because there is such a size variation in dog and cat breeds, we use a parameter called a body condition score (BSC) to evaluate a pet's body weight," DeWire said. "The body condition score is based on our physical exam findings. For example, a pet with an ideal body condition score has a tapered waistline and their ribs are easily felt during palpation of their chest. It is always a good idea to have your veterinarian evaluate your pet's body condition score and make dietary/medical recommendations based on that score."

After realizing our pets are overweight or obese, our next step would be to limit the amount of food and/or gradually decrease it. Food should be measured, not scooped, and we should not allow our pets to graze all day.

With cats, it is particularly important to decrease food gradually, Comalli said, and not more than 10 percent at one time, or cats could develop feline hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver syndrome.

Food needs vary, too, based upon our pets' body conditions and activity.

"When my Labrador hiked with me for three hours, I fed him an extra meal, because I knew he burned it off," Comalli said. "However, during the winter months, when he is less active, I decrease the food."

Of course, when we limit the amount of food, we need to limit treats, including human food snacks, and use other ways to reward the animals.

"A common pitfall is when owners use treats to show affection toward their pets," DeWire said. "We love our pets, and we know food and treats make them happy, so we fall into the trap of providing too many calories. Try to resist this temptation and find alternative ways of showing affection, such as play time."

More play time will help our cats and dogs lose weight and stay in shape, too.

For dogs, schedule daily walks, games of fetch and visits to the park. If your daily schedule is too demanding, try a doggy day care.
 While we can't take our cats for a walk, we can play chase games with toys, lights or even with their food. Try keeping their food on a different floor of the house from where they spend most of their time. 
For more information about cats' diets, visit

Selecting the best food for our pets is a challenging decision with the myriad choices and varying ingredients, nutrients and calories.

"When purchasing pet food, one of the most salient criteria is whether the food has been tested by the Association of American Feed Control Officials," DeWire said. "That is an agency that regulates the sale and distribution of animal food. Basically, AAFCO ensures that the food you choose is safe and balanced." Check for the AAFCO label when you purchase you pet food.

Contact Diane VanDyke:


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