Does This Human Make Me Look Fat?
Approximately 2 out of 3 American pets are considered overweight or obese. According to a 2017 study from the Association of Pet Obesity Prevention, 56% of cats and 60% of dogs are overweight due to poor diet and lack of exercise. Despite the recent push toward healthy, balanced eating for humans, there has been significantly less information about how to improve the diet and lifestyle of some of our most beloved family members, our pets. Without nutritious food and exercise, animals can easily develop costly and even life-threatening health problems such as diabetes, kidney dysfunction, respiratory disorders, or worse.
How to Know Your Pet is Overweight
The first step to solving pet obesity is identifying pet obesity. Your dog’s pot-belly might be kind of adorable, but could it also be a sign of poor health. Sometimes, it can be difficult to differentiate between a little puppy fat and a serious underlying problem. Here are a few symptoms of pet obesity you can keep an eye out for:
- No palpable rib cage
- Shortness of breath
- Weight gain
Like humans, all animal body types are different, so make sure to do your research on the healthy size for your pet’s breed. Some dogs are naturally lean and others are perfectly healthy couch potatoes. If you’re still not sure, you can always take your pet to a veterinarian for a professional evaluation.
What to Feed Your Pet
Unfortunately, there are few regulations on pet food to ensure animals are receiving the nutrients and vitamins they need. A lot of products in the market are low-quality and unhealthy for animals. Many owners are unaware that their cat or dog’s favorite food is the animal equivalent of eating junk food with little nutritional content. Check the ingredients before you purchase any pet food.
Avoid the following:
- BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), and ethoxyquin are artificial preservatives commonly used in items like chips, cereal, gum, fast food, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics. While these preservatives can be harmless in small doses, experts recommend limiting the consumption of them because they might have low doses of potentially toxic content. It’s better to stay on the safe side and opt for a brand with minimal or no synthetic preservatives, especially if you’re feeding your pet the same thing every day.
- Simple carbohydrates such as white flours, corn flour, and corn syrup can be unhealthy for humans and animals alike when consumed in excess. They cause a quick spike in blood sugar and don’t fill the stomach for long, which may lead to overeating. For animals like dogs and cats, who are primarily carnivores, it’s unhealthy to be eating more filler carbs than healthy protein. When these animals have too much sugar, it can have harmful effects in the long run.
- Meat, meat-product, rendered fat, or meat byproduct are seemingly harmless, but these names typically indicate low-grade processed meat. These vague terms could mean anything from expired meat and sick animals to unwanted parts such as hooves, organs, or intestines.
Ingredients to look for:
- Easily identifiable sources of protein such as lamb, chicken, beef, and fish are optimal for cats and dogs who need a protein-based diet. These should be the first few ingredients listed in the food. A meat source followed by the word “meal” is also a sign of quality protein.
- Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, and oats can be healthy for dogs and cats. The complex carbs in whole grains are a soluble fiber that keeps your pet full and help with digestion. They can be really healthy in moderation.
- Vegetables such as carrots, green beans, and broccoli provide nutritious vitamins and minerals that can boost the immune system. While they’re not necessary, they have many health benefits and add flavor to pet food.
To improve your pet’s diet, take a second to read the ingredients label on pet food and treats the next time you go shopping. You can also get some fresh ingredients to cook for your dogs and/or cats! It’s not
as expensive and time-consuming as it seems and it can definitely benefit your pet to have some variety in their diet. Lastly, stop feeding your animals table scraps! The extra calories add up and more often than not, human food isn’t healthy for dogs and cats.
How to Feed Your Pet
How you feed your pet is almost as important as what you feed your pet. Portion control is really important to regulating diet. Overeating can result in digestive problems, choking, or bloating. When dogs or cats eat t
oo fast, they ingest large amounts of air, resulting in discomfort and even vomiting. In the worst case scenario, they may develop Gastric Dilation Volvulus, which is when air expands in the stomach and ruptures.
Luckily, there are many ways to avoid this problem. If your pet eats dry food, you can scatter food on the floor, so your pet has to eat each piece separately. This method is only viable, however, on clean hardwood floor or concrete. You don’t want your pet ingesting any harmful chemicals, dirt, or other objects.
There are also plenty of slow feeder bowls that are designed with obstructions in the bowl your dog will have to eat around, slowing them down. For cats, puzzle balls are a great option for both mental stimulation and controlled eating. The food is placed in a ball with food inside that the cat must move around for the food to fall out of the holes. A simple way to slow down your pet’s eating is to feed them more meals in smaller quantities throughout the day.
How to Exercise Your Pet
The exercise required to maintain a healthy lifestyle depends on your dog or cat’s breed and age. Ask your local veterinarian to assess just how much is appropriate for your pet. For obese animals, so much exercise all at once can be laborious, so owners may have to slowly incorporate more and more exercise into their pets’ daily routines with time.
Typically, 30 minutes to two hours a day is a good amount of exercise for dogs. Take your dog for a walk, play a game of fetch, or go swim! It’ll be good for both you and your pup to head outside for some fresh air and outdoor activity. If you’re located around Anaheim like us, we have a list of fun things to do for you and your dog to do right here in Orange County.
Unlike dogs, cats have extremely high metabolisms that allow them to lounge about without too much consequence. Nevertheless, you should still consult your veterinarian about a fitness plan for your cat, especially if they’ve been getting a little pudgier than usual. For most cats, aim for around 15 minutes of exercise. Get some toys like yarn, a laser light, a wand, or a ball. Kittens can actually be trained to go on walks similar to dogs, but that does require proper training and equipment. Cats like to climb, so getting a cat tree could encourage your cat to exercise more.
Pet obesity is no joke! It can lead to tons of expensive, painful health issues later down the road such as liver disease or osteoarthritis. Just because your little buddy is somewhat fluffier than normal, that doesn’t necessarily make you a bad owner. Now that you know, there are numerous ways to prevent and treat obesity for pets, so they can live the long, healthy lives they deserve. If you’re worried about your pet, it’s never too late to ask your veterinarian for a checkup, pet food recommendations, and an exercise plan. If you have more questions about pet obesity, Dr. Lopez is an experienced veterinarian in Orange County who can answer your questions and help your furry friend.