If you’re like thousands of other people at the beginning of this year, you made the same resolution – lose weight and get fit. With all the accessibility to information, good nutrition and techno-gadgets, it should be easy, a piece of cake (sorry). But it’s not. It’s really, really hard.
We already know maintaining a healthy weight for our body shape and height is important for our health. We’re flooded with information about the health threats that come with being overweight. But we seem to ignore, even enable, our pets who keep getting fatter and fatter each year. Obesity, along with dental disease, are epidemics in veterinary medicine.
We offer food as a way of giving love, but the result is that many of our beloved pets are in pain, at risk for disease and being cheated out of extra years of life.
The proof of this came from a nutrition study of several groups of related Labrador retrievers. One group was allowed to eat all they wanted. You can imagine what this portly pack looked like. The second group was given three-quarters of what the fat group ate, and they were lean machines.
The purpose of the study was to correlate weight and hip dysplasia (an abnormal formation of the hip that causes crippling lameness). It was found that overweight dogs had a much higher incidence of dysplasia than lean dogs. But an astounding secondary finding was obesity’s effect on longevity. Restricting food meant an extra two years tacked onto their lives. Who doesn’t want that?
Not only does restricting food mean a longer life, but it also means the absence of crippling arthritis, cancer risk, catastrophic kidney and heart disease, high blood pressure and Diabetes (want to give insulin injections twice daily). A healthy weight is a no-brainer to me.
We veterinarians use a system called a “body-condition-score” (we like numbers!) to identify whether your pet is too thin (1) or obese (5). A perfect score is 3 which means the ribs and spine are easily felt but not seen. We can feel a waistline behind the ribs and see an abdominal tuck. It’s time for action if your pet looks like a meatloaf or an ottoman!
So, where to start? Basically, start at the same place as we humans do i.e., count calories. Do not trust the suggested amount to feed on bags of food. This is for a healthy, active, un-spayed or un-neutered pet. That means if you have an older, spayed or neutered indoor lap potato you’re feeding 20-30 percent too much if you follow their instructions. Go to petobesityprevention.org to figure out your pet’s caloric needs.
The single greatest tool in the fight against excess weight is a measuring cup. Don’t guesstimate. Cats particularly suffer from the “all day buffet” concept because they are hardly the athletes that dogs are. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found that feeding as few as 10 extra tiny kibbles of food per day adds an additional pound of weight gain per year in indoor cats and small dogs. Have one person in your family be the feeder and use the same measuring cup each and every time.
I’m not anti-treats. I am anti-junk treats. Too many pet treats are “calorie grenades”, laden with sugar and fat or slipped from your dinner plate. It’s hard to believe, but one medium sized Milk bone carries 120 calories. Treat healthy with low-calorie veggies of carrots, green beans, cucumbers, apples and even ice cubes. Also, none of our pets do math division. Break treats into peewee pieces and divvy them out whenever your pet earns it. Of course, don’t forget to add these treat calories into their daily calorie count.
The most powerful partner in weight loss is daily exercise. Anyone with a dog has a built-in, no-excuse exercise buddy for daily walks. For dogs, as little as 20 to 30 minutes of brisk walking is all it takes to boost immune function, improve cardiovascular health and reduce behavioral problems (the health benefits of walking extend to both ends of the leash!). For cats, try playing with a laser pointer, remote-controlled toys or tossing paper balls for 5 to 15 minutes each day.
While you’re trimming calories to make your best friend healthier, consider a couple of supplements to keep your pet (and you) fit and trim. We all can benefit from taking a daily omega-3 and 6 fatty acid supplement. These powerful fish oils pack a potent anti-oxidant punch that helps skin, joints and heart. L-carnitine has been shown to aid weight loss and promote lean muscle mass in some studies. Ask your veterinarian if these supplements make sense for your pet’s condition.
Just as you’d never walk your dog without a collar and leash or allow your kitty to eat only pizza and ice cream, it’s up to you to feed healthy and exercise daily. Pull out the measuring cup, get your leash. Follow these suggestions and you’ll be on your way to your pet’s best and healthiest year ever!
Dr. Holly Woltz (Doc Holly, Chief of Staff at Veterinary Services, has practiced veterinary medicine for 30 years and specializes in senior care. A former teacher and writer, she enjoys talking and writing about the human-companion animal bond and its importance. Visit her at www.aikenpetvet.com.
Photo source: pexels
source: Aiken Standard
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