Is Your Pet Overweight? Diet and Exercise Can Help Animals, Too
All animals, from cows to corn snakes, and everything in between, can suffer from obesity. It is a fact of physiology. Calories go in and energy comes out. If the calorie input is greater than the energy output, then the body stores the excess energy as fat. When we keep animals as pets, we remove a majority of the factors that burn calories in their day to day lives. They don’t hunt or forage for food for survival. They do not have to keep warm because we provide them cozy homes. They do not have to avoid predators because we protect them. As a result, the average pet’s calorie input greatly outweighs their calorie output. Just like in people, this input-output imbalance results in a build-up of fat and eventually leads to obesity.
Obesity can have a serious effect on your animal’s health and happiness. Overweight animals are more prone to a wide variety of diseases including joint disease, diabetes, hypothyroidism, allergies, urinary tract infections and immune-mediated disease. It has been shown in several peer-reviewed scientific studies that ideal weight animals live longer than overweight animals. It is for these reasons that I put such an emphasis on the importance of weight control in our pets.
As with every other part of caring for your pet, it is your responsibility to make sure they stay a healthy weight. For the most part, everything our pets eat is given to them by a human being. This fact is our one advantage when fighting animal obesity. However, we cannot and should not strive to replicate the struggles of life in the wild for our animal companions. Instead, we should control the input of the calories we give them. If your animal suffers from obesity, the first thing you should do is remove the calorie dense human foods from its diet. We often forget calorie requirements are related to the size of an animal. An average 50 pound dog only needs 750 calories a day. This means that giving your dog the gristle from an 8 oz steak (150-300 calories) can give them between 20% to 40% of their entire calorie requirement for the day. We also tend to forget that calories from treats are still calories. Giving your dog a dog biscuit once or twice a day is often the equivalent of feeding your child one or two candy bars a day. It is just unneeded calories piled on top of the calories that they are already given.
If your animal is overweight or obese, the first place to start managing their weight is with the diet. After removing treats and human foods from the diet, one should begin measuring the portion size. Bags of pet food will have feeding recommendations printed on them with the portion size recommended to keep your animal at an ideal weight. This means if your dog weighs 40 pounds and your veterinarian says that it should weigh 30 pounds then you should feed what is recommended on the bag for a 30-pound dog. If diet changes and portion control alone do not work for your animal, then increased exercise may be recommended. If you make these changes in your pet’s lifestyle and it continues to gain weight, you may need to speak to your veterinarian about testing for certain diseases that could affect your animal’s metabolism and make if more difficult to lose weight. Each animal is unique and major diet or lifestyle changes should be made only under the supervision of a veterinarian or licensed pet nutritionist.
As many human beings know, the journey towards weight loss is never easy. However, it is an important journey that many of our pets may have to take in order to live long/healthy lives as our companions. If you believe your animal is overweight, perhaps this is your opportunity to bring your pet to the veterinarian for an evaluation and begin taking the necessary measures to improve its overall health and happiness.
If your pet is overweight, call CEDARCREST Animal Clinic at 540-943-7577 to schedule a nutrition consultation.
CEDARCREST Animal Clinic provides medical and surgical care for every stage of your pet's life including preventive wellness care exams and vaccines, spays/neuters, and a variety of specialized care for your dog, cat, avian, or exotic. We are home to the only veterinarian practitioner in Virginia to be double Boarded in Avian and Canine/Feline care and provide care for birds, small mammals, and reptiles of all sorts! Plus, we are home to Virginia's most exclusive dog boarding resort that includes heated floors, an expansive play area, and even webcams so you can watch your pet while you're away. We're located in Fishersville, Virginia, and serve Augusta County and surrounding areas including Waynesboro, Staunton, Harrisonburg, and Charlottesville.