Obesity epidemic spreads to our pets
Even though her owner, Susan Neumann, has tried to keep Dixie slim, the 12-year-old black Labrador retriever weighs 110 pounds. She should be closer to 75.
Dixie swims at an indoor dog facility and is on a strict diet: one cup of dry dog food and a few healthy treats a day.
But the dog’s limited mobility works against her.
“Her arthritis is never going away, and the cold weather just adds to it,’’ Neumann said.
Dixie is not alone.
More than half of U.S. dogs and cats—an estimated 93 million—are overweight, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.
Janesville veterinarian Maria Keppel said she sees overweight pets several times a day at the Mt. Zion Small Animal Clinic, 3513 Mt. Zion Ave.
Pet obesity parallels the trend in humans, she said.
“As we have become more sedentary, dogs and cats have, too,” she said.
Part of the problem, Keppel said, is that people are no longer able to identify how a pet should look at a healthy weight.
“Our perception of normal is skewed by the pets we’re surrounded with,” she said.
Risks of obesity in pets, just as in humans, include arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart and respiratory disease, ligament injury, kidney disease, cancer and a shortened life span. Extra weight makes it more difficult for pets to exercise, resulting in more health problems, Keppel said.
“Being overweight puts excess weight on bones and joints that almost guarantees arthritis. So with a large-breed dog, it’s better to have them 2 pounds underweight than 1 pound overweight because in the long run you will have a healthier dog,” she said.
Advice for owners
Keppel offered the following advice for the owners of overweight pets:
-- Adjust feeding—Most pet owners follow the feeding guidelines printed on bagged food, Keppel said. Those are intended for young, active pets with high metabolism. Those feeding guidelines recommend too much food for house pets, Keppel said.
“So if you have questions, consult with your vet,” she said.
“Most people don’t measure food, fill up their pets’ bowls and when they are empty fill them back up,” she said.
To help pets lose weight, she recommends reducing serving portions by 10 percent per week.
-- Increase exercise—Most people don’t realize their pets aren’t getting enough exercise, Keppel said.
“When energy intake exceeds caloric output, obesity is the next logical step,’’ she said.
Visit a pet store and find toys for you and your pet to enjoy together.
“Anything that gets animals moving provides environmental enrichment,’’ she said.
-- Limit treats—Most dog owners aren’t aware rawhide treats contain an average of 1,000 calories—more calories than a dog needs all day, Keppel said.
“Treats are OK for training purposes, but pets will be just as happy with a small treat as a reward as with a higher-calorie treat,’’ she said
Keppel recommends fresh green beans, carrots, apple slices and sweet potatoes as healthier, low-calorie treat alternatives.
-- Change your attitude—Too many people equate food with love, she said.
“Instead of giving treats, take the leash and go for a walk around the block. Your dog will be just as excited plus it builds a good routine for both you and your dog for exercising,” she said.
“A pet with restricted caloric intake will live 2.5 years longer than an obese or overweight pet,” Keppel said.
-- Stay on top of it—It’s important to decrease a pet’s calorie intake after the pet reaches puberty and after sterilization, Keppel said. Many make the mistake of feeding puppy food for too long.
When pets reach 6 or 7 years old, they should be switched from adult to senior food.
“Work with your vet on weight loss to make sure it is a gradual, slow process,” she said, “because you want the weight loss to last.”