Ask the Vet: About Pet Obesity
Written By: Dr. Brian J. Bourquin, Founder, Boston Veterinary Clinic www.bostonveterinary.com
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Much like America itself, our pets have a BIG problem and it is their weight! Just over half of the dogs and cats in the United States are overweight and almost 5% are considered obese! By definition, overweight refers to a medical condition whereby the pet is 10 percent overweight and obesity is when the percentage goes over twenty percent. In fact so many of our dogs are overweight that clients with proper weight dimensions are sometimes shamed and told their dogs are too skinny as we do not have realistic images of what a dog is supposed to look like. Notice I use medical terms to discuss weight issues. Saying a dog is “just fluffy” or “big-boned” are all ways to get around the harsh truth our pets are too fat! Weight issues are not just a cosmetic issue, but can actually lead to heart and joint issues, increased risk of cancer, and of course diabetes as well as a number of other conditions.
Determining what your dog should weigh is not always easy.
The rule-of-thumb I use is to look at what their weight was at a year of age. Most puppies are growing so fast that it is difficult for them to become overweight as their calories are going right to making a puppy grow into a dog. For dogs that can be held I recommend getting an electronic scale that is used by parents to weigh their infants by both getting on the scale together, then just the parent They are accurate to the 0.00 and the scale does the math for you. Now that you know approximately what your dog should weigh and have a way to track it, it is time to discuss weight loss strategies. The easiest thing to do is to take the daily rations and decrease it by at least 10 percent; however, daily rations can be anything from a measured cup of kibble to a cornucopia of snacks, treats, bones, et cetera. This is why a food journal is helpful. Basically you journal anything your pet is fed that day. If it goes in their mouth and is not spit out, it is considered food. There are commercially available pet foods that are manufactured just for our overweight pets, but like most diets, it does not do you good to eat a salad for lunch, then have cookies in the break room! I often advise my clients hold the treat or snack up to the light and if your doctor would not want you eating it, then neither should your pup, especially when on a special diet.
No discussion about weight issues would be complete without also discussing the burning of calories, otherwise know as activity and exercise. The more calories your pet burns, the less there is sitting around to become excess poundage. A few things to remember when introducing exercise: start slow and add duration and intensity over time. Avoid high impact exercise in favor of more joint-friendly activity. Lastly, there are a few medical conditions that can lead to weight gain, so if your weight loss regimen is not as successful as you had hoped, there may be a medical reason for this.
This has been: Ask Dr B. Remember to wag more and bark less!