last update:7 Aug 2012

Keeping pets healthy, not overfeed them

George Collings
Somewhere between 40% and 50% of pets are considered overweight and 15% to 25% are obese. This extra weight leads to many health complications (heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, etc). The extra weight on the hips can lead to bone and joint conditions.

Veterinarians advise their clients daily to reduce the intake of food, treats and scraps or ultimately they are treating the health issues. Clearly, pet owners do not know how to manage the weight of pets. Veterinarians are fortunate to see a pet once a year in many cases. We shouldn’t be surprised with these weight management concerns as the human population is equally effected with the same issues.

It is all about balance
It seems to be a simple solution to any nutritionist, veterinarian or medical doctor = reduce the calories eaten each day and increase the activity. Is it that simple? There is a law in physics that mass is conserved. This means that mass (weight) can not be destroyed. It must go somewhere. So, if your dog needs 1,200 kcal of food each day to maintain their weight, those calories are distributed to the body or exit as some sort of waste byproduct (urine, feces, heat). If more calories are given through more food, treats and table scraps, these calories do not just vanish. As an example, if just three treats and table scraps are fed each day on top of the food (~ 300 kcal), this represents 25% more calories. Moreover, these calories are not likely nutritionally balanced like the food. Whether it is adding treats/scraps onto of a balanced food or reducing some food calories to allow for treats/scraps, the overall calories consumed are less balanced nutritionally. Are treats harmful? No, if used along with exercise and activity, treats can be a useful tool to get both the pet and owners active. However, if they are rewards for no action, then ultimately we have an overweight pet.

What can we do? Packaging information is helpful, but not enough. Consumers must be educated and informed on what to do and how to do it. Some packages display comparative claims of ‘less active’, ‘less calories’ or ‘lean’. A pet food with the term ‘light’ must meet specific calorie levels which are more helpful, but still not enough. The pet owner must use the facts and become motivated to keep their pet at a healthy weight established by their veterinarian.

Recent studies have shown there is a connection between reducing weight and keeping your pet trim with an increased life span and a decrease in the onset of chronic disease. As an owner of a cat that lived to 21 years, I know her life was prolonged by this very fact. An old saying in the US states ‘what is good for the goose is good for the gander.’ Proper nutrition, weight management and activity are critical for us and our pets.

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