It’s a brand new year and time for all those New Year’s Resolutions. Everybody makes them, and some of the most common ones involve promises to get in shape and lose weight. Those are good resolutions to make for yourself (and even better ones to keep!), and they are also good for your pets.
One of the biggest problems we see in our pets is obesity. Recent data reveals that almost 50% of American pets are overweight. Too much food and too little activity, just like for us, can cause many issues in our four-legged family members. Arthritis, heart disease, respiratory issues, urinary problems and diabetes are just some of the things that excess weight can cause. The mantra for us of “eat less, exercise more” is just as applicable to pets.
There is a plethora of foods available today at supermarkets, big-box chains and specialty stores as well as from your veterinarian. Many of these are advertised as being “lite” or “less active” formulas. The important thing to remember is that in and of itself, those designations mean very little. They only imply that there is less fat and/or calories than their regular formulas. Comparing different brands is like comparing apples to oranges. Unfortunately, at this time, calorie content is not required to be printed on pet food packaging, although that information is available from the pet food manufacturer. There is a movement to change this, but for now it can be hard to decide what foods are truly low-calorie. In general, however, it is true that if you read the recommended amounts to feed on the bag, you will end up overfeeding your pet. It is also important to remember that dog and cat treats can be very high in calories (they are treats, after all) and factor into the daily calorie intake. A single large dog cookie can pack anywhere from 150-400 calories (and there are a few that come in at a whopping 650 calories). When you consider that the average cup of adult maintenance dog food contains around 420-450 calories, you can see that a few treats can add up quickly. There really is no hard and fast rule about how much to feed as it varies considerably between pets. In general, you want to feed enough to have your pet stay in good body condition. You should be able to feel your pet’s ribs but not see them. One of things we do during your pet’s annual or biannual exam is to evaluate his body condition and advise you about changing his diet if necessary. We can calculate the calories needed to lose weight and can help you choose an appropriate diet.
It is also important to remember to keep your pets active. Inactivity, just like in people, can lead to excess weight gain and decreased muscle mass. Particularly if your pet is stiff from arthritis, mild to moderate exercise such as walking (forgiving surfaces such as grass are best) and swimming help to limit muscle atrophy and keep your pet physically as well as mentally fit. While exercising cats is difficult, you can sometimes entice them to play with a laser light, feather toy or other captivating moving object.
It is important to have your pet get his physical exam every year. When you consider that each year of their life is equivalent to 4-8 of ours (depending on his age), you can see that once a year is the minimum. When pets get older — over seven or so — twice yearly exams can uncover age-related problems early so they can be managed. At that age, we recommend having a basic bloodwork panel and urinalysis done to look for subtle changes that can start occurring with advancing age.