Help your Pet be Happy, Starting with Healthy Weight

Obesity is the number one problem vets see in practice….bar none. It causes so many problems in our pets and can lead to a significant decrease in quality of life. It has been estimated that a lean dog can live 30% longer than his overweight counterpart, with up to 30% less orthopedic issues. But it’s not our pets’ fault if they gain a few extra pounds, it’s ours. With the immense marketing of pet foods in the US, the pet parent can feel pressured to buy foods they know nothing about. Pet food manufacturers and employees in pet stores will tell you anything to sell you the food du jour. There is so much misinformation and pseudo-science about pet food out there. Buyer beware when you are purchasing your next bag of dog or cat food.

The pet obesity epidemic starts with us, the pet parents. Obesity in humans, and our pets, is a huge problem in the developed world, with the United States having the highest percentage of both. But it’s not just that we overfeed out of guilt or love. Simply, it’s often that we don’t see ourselves, nor our pets, as fat. We have an inaccurate perception about our weight in this country, and the same can be true of pet parents. People think their cute little round companions are “adorable!” They don’t recognize them as overweight, and the potential problems that obesity brings. That is why I use a body condition score chart to show people what a dog’s frame really should look like. These charts are wonderful, because the clients can see in pictures what their pet should look like, rather than guessing at an ideal weight for the animal. (Hint: Your pet really should have a waist!)

We also tend to view our pets as our “mini-me” so we want to share our food with them. I often hear, “it is only a little piece, that can’t possibly cause any problems!” Well…yes, it can. Much of today’s “designer” foods are energy dense, so you need to feed them in small amounts. It’s easy to overestimate how many calories our pets need in a day. The following is an excellent chart provided by The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention that shows the number of calories different-sized dogs and cats needs daily to maintain their weight:

10 lbs. 180-200 calories
10 lbs. 200-275 calories
20 lbs. 325-400 calories
50 lbs. 700-900 calories

As a reference, an average-sized human cookie is 140 calories. That is 75% of a small dog’s daily calorie need.

I often remind clients, when a 10 pound animal gains 1 pound, that is 10% of their body weight, which is like a 150 pound person packing on 15 pounds! That is significant. Think before giving pets people food and extra treats, because you are killing them with your kindness.

And it’s not just meals and snacks, but also the use of treats to train dogs. Those treats are packed with a boatload of calories, so go with a low calorie option or use pieces of their kibble, and don’t feel bad about cutting back a bit from their next meal.

Sometimes it’s a weight-related illness that serves as a wakeup call, because if a pet parent does not perceive their cat or dog as overweight, they won’t be motivated to reduce their pet’s weight and improve their health. Ultimately, we pet parents are responsible for our pets’ healthy weight and happiness.

Dr_RiggsDr. Rex Riggs grew up in Wadsworth, Ohio, near Akron. Dr Riggs is co-owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is also on the board of the North Central Region of Canine Companions of Independence, a board member of The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Society and Small Animal Practitioner Advancement Board at The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Riggs lives in Lewis Center, OH with his wife Nancy, their dogs Maggie and Ossa, and cat Franklin. Outside of work, Dr. Riggs is an avid golfer and cyclist, and enjoys travel and photography.

While you can't predict when your pet is going to get sick or injured, you can protect yourself from expensive veterinary bills. Embrace Pet Insurance gives you the freedom to do what’s best for your pet without stressing over the cost. Easily personalize your coverage to fit your budget and your pet’s needs, then visit any vet for nose-to-tail coverage. Check out what the Embrace plan covers or compare pet insurance providers to learn more.

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