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Around the New Year, it is common for people to make dieting and exercising some of their main goals. You hear people talk about losing weight and getting healthy, but what about our furry companions? Should your pet have diet and exercise as part of their New Year’s Resolution?

The Truth About Pet Obesity

Human obesity has been on the rise for years. So much so, that in 2013, the American Medical Association classified obesity as a disease. While obesity in pets is not considered a disease, the number of obese pets continues to grow yearly. Data reported by Nationwide, the country’s largest provider of pet health insurance, indicated that pet obesity is on the rise for the seventh consecutive year. In 2018, an estimated 60% of cats and 56% of dogs in the United States were overweight or obese. That’s nearly 100 million pets, making weight the leading health threat to our nation’s pets today.

Some Serious Health Risks

Most pets are significantly smaller than their human parent, and therefore, just a few extra pounds above their ideal weight can put them at risk for developing serious medical conditions and a shorter life expectancy. Overweight dogs are more likely to suffer from joint disease and respiratory problems, while cats are at a higher risk for diabetes and liver disease. These conditions can have devastating consequences and become financially challenging for the owner.

The most common obesity-related conditions in dogs are:

  • Arthritis
  • Bladder/Urinary Tract Disease
  • Liver Disease
  • Low Thyroid Hormone Production
  • Torn Knee Ligaments
  • Diabetes
  • Diseased Disc in the Spine
  • Chronic Kidney Disease
  • Heart Failure
  • High Blood Pressure

The most common obesity-related conditions in cats are:

  • Bladder/Urinary Tract Disease
  • Chronic Kidney Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Liver Disease
  • Arthritis
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Heart Failure
  • Gall Bladder Disorder
  • Immobility of Spine

Obesity poses a serious health risk to animals. Many of our companions that are overweight suffer from chronic pain and loss of energy and are more prone to diabetes. Pet obesity has been linked with chronic inflammation and many forms of cancer.

Not only does obesity have severe medical risks, it is also a financial burden on pet owners. In 2016, Nationwide reported that there were 1.4 million claims for obesity-related conditions. More than $62 million were spent in veterinary expenses for these claims, which was a 24% increase from the previous 4 years. 51,000 claims were made for Arthritis in dogs, costing owners an average of $310 per treatment. Cats clocked in with 5,000 claims of Bladder or Urinary Tract Disease, costing owners an average of $443 per treatment. Trupanion, a medical insurance company for pets, revealed that policyholders with overweight dogs or cats spend as much as five times more than policyholders with average weight pets, especially on musculoskeletal ailments such as cruciate ruptures, lameness, and limping.

Causes of Pet Obesity

Pet obesity has many different causes, and in many cases, can be a combination of many different things. One of the causes is a lack of awareness. More than 90% of owners did not recognize that their obese pets weighed more than they should. As a result, steps to help reduce weight can be delayed, further increasing the problem. Once the problem is identified, it can be difficult for pet parents to comply with weight maintenance programs, especially in multi-pet homes. A survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) found that pet owners were confused by conflicting nutritional advice and pet food, furthering the struggle to help pets achieve safe and ideal weights.

Pet owners also contribute to their pet’s obesity through overfeeding; feeding of high-calorie foods, such as treats and table scraps; feeding treats as frequent rewards or as a show of love; and lack of adequate exercise.

In some cases, pets may have genetic components that prevent them from losing weight or encourage them to gain excess weight. Some breeds have certain susceptibilities with food and weight gain. Single-gene mutations and neuroendocrine pathways in response to food may also be a problem for your pet.

How to Prevent Obesity in Your Best Furry Friend, or, Help Them Lose Weight

Schedule annual pet wellness exams with your veterinarian to assess your pet’s overall health, monitor weight, and establish optimal dietary programs to maintain or reduce weight. It is imperative that you discuss your pet’s health with a veterinarian. Every animal is a little different, and you want to make sure that you have a food and exercise plan that benefits your pet’s age, weight, and breed. Your veterinarian can also ensure that your pet loses weight safely, and that excess weight is not a side effect of medication or an underlying medical condition.

It’s easier to maintain a healthy weight than it is to lose excess weight. The key is to remain committed to healthy eating with regular physical exercise. Make sure to begin healthy weight maintenance when you spay/neuter your pet. Maintain a consistent diet by controlling the amount of food given to each pet and establish an exercise routine that you and your pet will enjoy and stick to.

If your pet is overweight, and you have discussed a plan with your veterinarian, it’s time to stick to it. Portion control your pet’s meals as part of the veterinarian-prescribed diet. Don’t “eye-ball” how much food to give them, and make sure that everyone in the family who feeds your pet is using the same scoop. Avoid feeding your pet table scraps, and regulate treats given. Pet parents can always replace treats with more interactive activities, such as extra play time, or more cuddle time. If you want to give your pet a treat, consider animal-safe fruits and vegetables, like apples, carrots, and bananas. Not only do they provide nutrition, they can also help your pet feel full without all of the extra calories.

If your veterinarian recommends that you change your pet’s food, change it gradually. Don’t make quick, drastic changes, as your pet may reject the food entirely. Combine your pet’s current food with their diet food and over the course of a week or two, slowly transition them to their new food. Diet food doesn’t always have to be boring! Try warming up your pet’s food or adding some healthy add-ins such as mashed pumpkin, sweet potato, chicken broth, or salmon juice.

Those cute eyes can be difficult to dissuade, so if your pet is begging, try distracting them (and yourself) with something else they enjoy, like their favorite toy or some extra love and cuddles. There are several toys that you can fill with kibble and treats that will make your pet put in a little extra effort for their meal. These toys will keep them busy and prevent them from gobbling up their dinner in record time. Another way to get your pets moving for their food is to place their food and water bowl far away from where they sleep and lounge. This will make them get up and move throughout the day.

Get into a routine that works for you and your pet. If you feed your pet at the same time every day, they will learn to expect food at that time and be less likely to beg throughout the day. This works the same for exercise as well. For example, if you and your dog go for a walk at the same time every day, that gives your dog something to look forward to and it will start expecting that exercise, holding both of you accountable.

Los Angeles veterinarian Dr. Jeff Webber reminds us that regular exercise is just as important as a proper diet. He suggested walking more with your dog or throwing their favorite ball or frisbee. Cats can get exercise by chasing around a toy or a laser pointer. “Any activity that you can devise is better than none,” Dr. Webber insists.

Healthy Pets, Longer Life

Dogs and cats come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, so coming up with an ideal weight in pounds is not always practical. Your veterinarian can provide guidance on the ideal body weight for your pet.

Los Angeles veterinarian Dr. Jeff Webber said that the “problem stems from pet owners who are uninformed about proper health and nutrition for their furry friends.” You don’t need to be uninformed about your pet’s health and what’s best for them! Lazy 5 Vets is a full-service veterinarian clinic that supports the whole health of your pet. We can help you create a health and wellness plan that’s right for your pet to ensure that they are healthy, and will live their fullest life. “Not only are you going to add years to your pet’s life,” Webber assures us, “but it’s good for the emotional health and physical health of both parents and pets.”