You’ve seen the headlines – as a population, we are getting fatter. Close to 40% of adults are obese and that number continues to grow. But you may not know that this same epidemic is effecting our pets. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, an estimated 52.7% of dogs and 57.9% of cats are overweight or obese. Now consider that more than 60% of the owners of overweight dogs don’t think their dogs are obese, and you can understand why this situation is not improving.
How did this happen? Most experts blame rising pet obesity on the shift in pet diets toward highly processed, grain and carb heavy foods, and less and less exercise (incidentally, some of the same factors that drive human obesity). No matter the cause, the results of pet obesity are clear – osteoarthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, ligament injuries, kidney disease, cancer, and an overall decreased life expectancy of more than two years.
As pet owners who believe in natural nutrition, we are not immune to this issue. As a result, here is a five step plan for recognizing and tackling pet obesity.
- Look and feel – Real scientific measurements such as the body condition score (BCS) is a great diagnostic tool, but you can start by doing a quick assessment at home using your eyes and hands. Start by feeling your pet’s ribs. You should be able to feel each individual rib with a slight layer of fat over them. You should not need to work at finding those ribs. Then look at your dog or cat from above. You should see a waist behind the rib cage of a cat or dog in the healthy weight range.
- Talk to your vet – a trip to the vet will obviously give you a very clear picture of your pet’s ideal weight, but with blood and urine tests you can also rule out other factors that may be causing weight gain, including issues related to the thyroid, metabolism or hormonal problems.
- Tackle the nutrition issue – A highly processed, grain-based diet of carbohydrates fed to animals designed to thrive on a meat-based, fresh food diet is very likely to produce overweight pets. Talk to your vet about switching to a diet consisting of more meat and nutrient rich fruits and veggies, or consider dehydrated raw pet food which is high in protein, digestive enzymes, amino acids and essential fatty acids.
- Meal timing and portions – The next step is to look at how often and how much your pet eats. It’s a myth that pets can always self-regulate their diets, so no more free feeding. Also, you’ll want to limit the amount of treats and no more table scraps for Fido.
- Get moving – Taking your pet out for a short walk to do his or her “business” is not enough. Exercise needs vary based on a dog’s age, breed and size, but in general, dogs should be active between 30 minutes to 2 hours every day. It’s a great opportunity to engage with your pet, introduce some fun new fetch toys and get moving yourself.
Finally, be patient. If you go through these steps you should see results. But remember that healthy weight loss takes time. As long as your dog is continually losing weight – even very small amounts per week – you are on the right track.