Thanksgiving is a day of overindulgence where we often eat way too much, and frequently our pets are right there beside us. Something you may not know: Dogs, like people, are getting heavier than ever. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention an estimated 54 percent of dogs and cats in the United States are overweight or obese, and the trend continues to worsen. This epidemic is taking its toll on the health and well-being of man’s best friend.
Dr. Pam Nichols, a veterinarian, shared some obvious reasons for this epidemic: “I think people think food is love so they feed their dogs their snacks; they feed their dogs their people food. I see clients that literally will finish their dinner and scape their plates into their dog food bowl. We should know that’s not the best thing to do anymore.”
Our pets are part of our family. We care for them and love them, but our good intentions may be harming them. And it’s not just the extra treats that are making them chubby. The fact is, many of us are unknowingly giving them too much dog food, too.
“If you read the bag of dog food, think about Marketing 101," Nichols says. "The company wants to sell more dog food, so their recommendations are significantly higher than your dog needs. Its wrong information. It’s going to make your dog fat, and ultimately, obesity will kill a dog.”
It's all the added calories that are adding pounds to our pooches. Before settling on how much food to feed your pet, Nichols says to call your vet and find out how many calories it really needs.
There's an old saying that goes, "If your dog is overweight, you’re not getting enough exercise." According to Nichols,“Pet owners are in denial about pet weight and how serious and important it is. When I tell a pet owner their pet needs to lose weight, the No. 1 thing I usually hear is that, 'He already gets a ton of exercise.' The reality is, the owner’s perception (of how much) their dog is exercising is generally incorrect.”
Nichols went on to say, “So getting them out and getting them for a walk and measuring the time of the walk or the distance of the walk is really, really important.”
Even when a pet is diagnosably fat, most owners don’t realize there is a problem. In a study done by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 93 percent of dog owners and 88 percent of cat owners thought their pet was in the normal weight range despite being classified as obese.
Just like for us, diet and exercise make a huge difference for our pets. So what does a healthy-weight hound look like? Experts say you should be able to feel and see their rib cage, feel the bones in the top of their heads and along their shoulders, and they should have a definable waist from both the side and back. When dogs carry extra weight, experts say various forms of cancer, osteoarthritis, joint problems, and a shortened life expectancy can frequently be linked back to the weight problem. But, just as with people, when an obese pet loses weight, its health and mobility are significantly improved.
Pet owner Drew Eastman saw drastic improvement is his newly adopted German Shepard named Diesel after he and his family recently helped him lose more than 70 pounds. When they first adopted the dog, Diesel weighed nearly 200 pounds and could hardly move. With the help of their vet, the Eastman family worked on altering Diesel's diet and added exercise into the mix. Eastman said the family took the dog on a walk once or twice a day. He said, “It just took more activity and less food, and now Diesel can run and play like a healthy dog should.”
Experts say keeping your pet in a healthy weight range and exercising them regularly can add years to their life. Contact your veterinarian to see if your dog or cat is within a healthy range.