Obesity and Pets: Four Ways To Help Them Stay Lean and Healthy

The weight problem has increased dramatically over the past 20 years–for animals, as well as humans.

In fact, says the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, over half of U.S. dogs and cats–that’s 93 million — are now considered to be overweight or obese. Extra weight on your pet can cause a variety of often preventable, but costly, diseases, including high blood pressure, arthritis, heart and respiratory problems, kidney failure, diabetes, and many forms of cancer. In the most severe circumstance, it can decrease the life of your pet by as much as 2-1/2 years.

Pet obesity also hurts your wallet: Earlier this year, Wall Street Journal.Com reported that Americans spent $25 million on veterinary bills in 2010 for obesity-related problems.

How can you help your pet maintain a healthy weight?

First, educate yourself. “Many times, what we think is too skinny, is actually lean, muscular and healthy,” says Dr. Catherine Reid, DVM, acting director of the Vet Tech Program at New York’s LaGuardia Community College. Dr. Reid also works weekends at New York’s East Side Animal Hospital.

“A good tool is the Body Condition System at Purina.Com,” she added. “It’s what a lot of vets use.”

Know what a healthy pet looks like, and then really look at yours. The pet should have a waistline, where the abdomen tucks, and you should be able to feel the ribs. Run your hand over the animal’s back and you should feel the spine.

Second, consult with your veterinarian. He or she will make sure your pet is in good health and then will give you plenty of advice for keeping it that way.

“I always recommend that people consult first with their vet if I suspect a problem,” said Katina Alton, proprietor of the Hells Kitchen Groom Room in New York City. “It’s important to have your vet examine the animal to be sure there are no health problems either caused, or causing, the overweight problem. Only after they’ve seen a veterinarian will I give my opinion on feeding or exercise.”

Third, remember animals eat for different reasons than us. Humans often eat for emotional reasons, and then project it on the animal. “But animals only eat for survival,” said Dr. Reid. “They only care about being rewarded, and we can do that without food or treats.” An extra hug, some play, or other attention may be warranted.

Four, make sure your pet gets the appropriate amount of exercise for his breed, personality, and health. Just as people should check with their doctors before embarking on an exercise program, so, too, should you with your pet’s vet.

When Lauren Moore of Canine Styles needed to help her dog, who did require a lot of exercise, lose five pounds they walked and walked “usually about two miles every other day.” She added that she was extra cautious about food, reading labels carefully for crude-fat content, and trying to stick to organic and high-fiber.

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