Healthy Habits For the New Year
The third week of January is Healthy Weight Week. Many of us have already resolved to get into some good diet and exercise habits for 2020. But this would also be a perfect occasion to take a closer look at our pets and make sure they are at a healthy weight. In a 2018 clinical survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 55.8% of dogs and 59.5% of cats were classified as clinically overweight. Carrying extra fat can be dangerous for your pets and may lead to significant medical issues including diabetes mellitus, cardiorespiratory problems, osteoarthritis, constipation, dermatitis and lower life expectancy.
Overeating and Overfeeding
Giving pets access to too much food is one of the biggest contributing factors to obesity. Many pet owners make subjective or emotional decisions when it comes to how much or how often to feed their fur kids. Some people also like to free-feed their pets using a large bowl or auto-feeder to provide food throughout the day. While this works great for some households it is not an ideal solution for all animals. Those who are free-feeding should closely monitor all of their animals to be sure they are eating in moderation and that there is no noticeable weight gain.
The best approach for those worried about their pet's weight is to have scheduled feeding times. Be sure to choose a food that is made for their weight and size and make sure you follow instructions on recommended portions. Sometimes your veterinarian may suggest a specific diet for them as well. Also try feeding them foods with healthy ingredients and limit their treats as they can be fattening if given in excess.
Lack of Exercise
Low activity levels also have a direct link to pet obesity, Regular exercise or play sessions can be very helpful in preventing loss of lean body mass while keeping your pet's weight down. It is best to start with small changes in their activity level at first and build up from there.
For dogs, it is recommended that you give them at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day. Regular walks or tossing a ball or Frisbee in the back yard are great ways to keep your dog active and healthy. With cats, it is suggested that you give them three 5-minute sessions of intense play per day. Wands, string toys or motorized toys are good options. Special feeding trays that make them "work" for their food will keep them moving even while they eat.
Keep in mind that any exercise program must be tailored to your individual pets so age, physical limitations or medical conditions must be taken into account.
Evaluating Your Pet
Here are some tips for examining your pet's weight at home:
- Run your fingers lightly on the side of their chest area. You should be able to feel their ribs but not see them.
- Stand directly above their body and examine the shape. Look for an hourglass shape with indentation toward the midsection. A blimp or football shape is a sign of obesity.
- Examine them from the side. The tummy should slope upward. An abdomen that hangs low to the ground is an indication of abdominal fat which is considered the most dangerous kind to have.
If unsure, you can always schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Some vet offices are equipped with a special instrument called a body condition scale which able to measure your pet's mass. They also have a lot of experience with overweight animals and will be happy to give you advice and guidance and answer any questions you might have.
When it comes to keeping your pet fit and healthy, knowledge is power. Careful research, watchfulness and adherence to a regular diet and exercise routine are the keys to keeping your pet's weight in check and ensuring many more happy years with them!