Overcoming Pet Obesity

Is your pet portly? Is your cat fat? According to a recently publicized study, about 25 percent of pets in the Westernized world are overweight, and Kansas State University veterinarian Dr. Susan Nelson, assistant professor at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, wants pet owners to be aware that obesity among pets is becoming more and more common.

Just like humans, pets have become lazy over time, she said; they don’t get adequate exercise and they overeat. This is partly due to the pet owner’s routine and lack of motivation to keep their pet lean. But a major problem is the pet foods on the market these days, Nelson said. While the food is quite tasty and extremely palatable, it is also calorie-packed.

“Pets tend to gobble these foods right up,” Nelson said. “It might taste good, and be nutritious, but the extra calories are not good for them.”

Nelson said many pet owners do free-choice feeding, rather than following the proper guidelines according to the pet’s size and weight. She advises pet owners to feed the correct amount for their pet’s ideal weight. She also says to watch for the “light” foods because they are not always truly “light.”

“Some of the pet foods are fairly liberal with their recommended feeding amounts,” Nelson said. “If problems arise with a pet’s weight, the owner should see their vet.”

Nelson doesn’t see the tendency toward obesity lessoning in the future despite the introduction of several weight-reducing diets, such as Hills MD (an Atkins-type diet for cats). She said another contribution to obesity is that pet owners give their pet treats too often.

“Everybody likes to give their pet a treat. It feels good,” she said. “It is important to restrict the amount of treats, though, and maybe give them vegetables instead, or split a treat in half.”

Another common problem leading to obesity is lack of exercise. Nelson sees more indoor pets that are obese than outdoor pets. She said some pet owners think that since they have a backyard, their pet is getting exercise, but that’s not usually the case. It is good to play fetch, take walks once or twice a day and provide several toys for the pet to occupy time with. Nelson said too many fatty foods and not enough exercise would no doubt cause obesity problems.

“I can’t overemphasize the importance of exercise. The pet cannot stay lean by a diet alone,” Nelson said. “Plus, exercising benefits both the owner and the dog.”

As animals get older they are often more prone to obesity due to medical reasons, such as low thyroid and Cushing’s disease, Nelson said. Being overweight is a risk factor for diabetes, heart disease, skin fold diseases, pancreatitis and the worsening of arthritis symptoms. Nelson said it’s important to look at your pet’s body condition and watch for signs of obesity.

“The sooner you nip it in the bud, the better,” she said. “Addressing the issue when they’ve gained only a couple of pounds is better than when they’ve become extremely obese.”

K-State veterinarians say that you can’t always tell by looking if your pet is too plump. But if you run your hands firmly along your pet’s sides, you should be able to feel the ribs easily. If you can’t — especially on a cat — the animal is probably overweight.

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