By Michelle Sathe
Signal contributing author
Just like humans, American pets are grappling with a preventable epidemic: About 60 percent of cats and 56 of dogs are considered overweight to obese, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.
According to veterinarian Evelyn Vega, owner of the Happy Pets Veterinary Center in Valencia, that number sounds like her daily experience.
“About 50 percent of the dogs and cats I see are overweight,” she said.
As a result, diseases such as osteoarthritis, diabetes, heart disease, back pain, fatty liver and respiratory diseases are on the rise. That means a decrease in the quality of life for pets.
“A 2012 dog study found that obesity in general decreased pet vitality and exacerbated emotional disorders,” noted Vega. “Even slightly overweight cats and dogs are at risk of complications that shorten their lifespan. A recent study showed that Labradors with only 10 to 20 percent additional body fat lived a median of 1.8 years less. “
The most common reasons for pet obesity are many and varied, starting with pet owners not thinking that their dog or cat is overweight. Vega has to use a table in her examination room to show them what a normal waist looks like.
For example, according to the Nestle Purina Body Condition System, a well-proportioned pet has ribs that are easy to feel without excess fat, with a waist that can be observed from above behind the ribs.
Next comes the lack of knowledge about how many calories there are in pet foods, which can vary widely from brand to brand.
“One dry food can have 300 calories per cup and another can have 400 calories per cup,” explained Vega. “If a pet owner buys a new brand, they’ll still feed a cup.”
Add goodies to the mix and it’s a recipe for obesity. A small dog bone can and contains 45 calories
Ingredients that are not healthy for pets.
Ironically, many pet owners give extra treats to their pets because they feel guilty if the pet is left alone or not walking with them for long periods of time, creating an especially vicious cycle.
Dr. Put it this way, Ernie Ward, senior researcher for the National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Study 2009, “Today’s treats are so full of sugar and fat that I call them ‘nibblers.’ Modern treats arouse cravings that go far beyond what is normal for many pets. “
How do you combat obesity in your pets? Vega had the following suggestions:
- Work with your veterinarian to determine your pet’s daily caloric intake
- If this doesn’t result in weight loss, reduce food intake by 25 percent
- Try giving your dog veggies like peas, carrots, green beans, or canned pumpkin instead of processed, high-calorie treats
- Strive for regular daily exercise. For dogs, this can mean long walks, hikes and / or a fetch game in the yard. Dogs require half an hour to two hours of activity every day, depending on age, breed, size, and general health.
- Cats also need exercise. Try using wand toys, laser pointers, scratching posts, and rolling, jingling balls to get your cat moving.
- If you are unsure how much exercise is appropriate for your pet, contact your veterinarian.
- On days when you cannot move your pet, reduce the amount of food you are feeding
- Take your pet for an annual or biannual veterinary check-up to track their weight and rule out any underlying medical causes of obesity
The results of such efforts lead to great results, as Dr. Vega illustrated.
“By keeping your pet at an ideal weight,” she said, “they will have a long, happy life and you will have your best friend by your side for as long as possible.”
Misty, a blue mastiff, lies between an island in PetSmart on Stevenson Ranch on Saturday. Samie Gebers / The Signal