The obesity epidemic is not just a human problem but a pet problem, too. Yes, some cats and dogs are just naturally bigger and not fat. But, as with humans, if the animal follows a poor diet and doesn’t exercise regularly, it can be expected to gain weight.
Today I am talking with Darlene Geekie, a registered veterinary technician with the Veterinary Angels and the Little Angels project in Agoura Hills, about keeping pets at a healthy weight.
Q: We are seeing more stories in the news about obese cats and dogs. What causes our pets to get fat? Are foods too high in calories? Are pets not getting enough exercise?
A: Portion control is a big issue today. We tend to overfeed and under-exercise. We lead busy lives and forget that pets need interactive play, too. For dogs, a simple daily walk is all that’s required for them to stay at their ideal body weight. For cats, playing a game like chase the mouse or hiding a small portion of their food in a food puzzle or a food-dispensing toy will make them work on the prey play.
Q: How many times have we heard, “What is wrong with having a few extra pounds—just more of them to love.” But how do the extra pounds affect their bodies?
A: Just as we don’t gain weight overnight, our pets don’t either. Because weight gain is gradual, it might sometimes be difficult to notice when a pet has become overweight. Overweight and obese dogs and cats are more likely to develop arthritis earlier in life. And more of them, cats in particular, are developing diabetes. We’re also seeing more liver problems.
Q: When it comes to the right food to feed, is there a rule of thumb about quantity?
A: It is important to have regular vet visits so that your pet’s weight can be monitored. If your veterinarian notices it is increasing, they will ask about diet and also make sure there are no other contributing health issues.
Your veterinarian can provide guidance about the right diet for your pet, including the type of food, appropriate amount and the frequency of feedings depending on the breed and species. Exercise should also be discussed with your veterinarian.
Q: How about the myth of “I don’t want to get my pet neutered because he’ll get fat and lazy”?
A: Early spay or neuter is necessary for population control and for the long-term health of pets, but there are hormone changes associated with early spay and neuter that can lead to a need for fewer calories. Because of slower metabolic rates, animals that are spayed and neutered require less food to maintain a healthy weight. It isn’t about the animal getting “fixed” that is causing them to gain weight, it is still about giving the right quantity of food and exercise to your pet.
Q: What about people who say, “I feed my cat/dog only canned food or raw food because kibble has too many calories”? Or, “I want them to be vegan”?
A: Wet food is higher in water, oils and protein content and may help to reduce appetite. But dry food has a higher fiber content. A balance of both is important. Unless you are a nutritionist, I don’t recommend making your own food. Felines are obligate carnivores, and dogs, too, need meat in their diets. A lack of meat without proper vitamins or minerals causes them to go blind or have other health conditions.
Q: We see all these pet treats on the shelves. If we give our pet a few, that’s not bad is it?
A: Many treats are high in calories, and it’s often better to give some fruit or vegetables or even a toy that dispenses your pet’s own food than to add more calories with treats to their diet.
Yvette Berke is a local animal advocate with more than 30 years of experience in rescue, care and adoption. Email her at email@example.com.