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Archive for Saturday, February 9, 2002

More pets face weighty issue

February 9, 2002

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A number of recent studies show that more and more Americans are overweight these days.

So are their pets.

"Obesity is very common. We see it daily in cats and dogs," said Melissa Young, a veterinarian at Lawrence Veterinary Hospital, 3210 Clinton Parkway Court.

It seems that pets are mirroring their owners' sedentary lifestyles. Many people these days eat too much and exercise too little, and that behavior tends to carry over to Fluffy and Fido.

"I would say anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of the pets we see are overweight. I think a lot of people just overfeed them with dog and cat food," said William Bayouth, a veterinarian with the Animal Hospital of Lawrence, 701 Mich. "Most of our pets spend the majority of the day sleeping and lying around. They're pretty inactive, especially house cats and older dogs. It doesn't take that many calories to sustain them."

The result: lots of flabby tabbies and dumpy dogs.

Don't blame the animals. Treats and table scraps are tasty, and begging is often persuasive to humans.

"We're softies. We think we're being cruel if we feed them less," Bayouth said. "Actually, we're doing more harm than good by overfeeding."

He realizes it can be hard to ignore those big puppy-dog eyes or plaintive meows from under the table.

"I think it's an accomplishment if you can get weight off your dog or cat," he said. "Dogs hound you until you feed them, and cats pester you until you fill the food bowl."

But there are compelling reasons to resist overfeeding pets.

"Obesity in animals is pretty comparable to obesity in humans," Young said. "It factors into the health of pets so much. In large dogs, it causes strain on the joints and adds to the discomfort of arthritis. It can cause heart disease, pancreatitis and, in cats, diabetes."

Ultimately, obesity detracts from an animal's overall health and can decrease their lifespan, according to Bayouth.

So what can an owner do to slim down a pudgy pet?

It's simple: Cut calories and increase activity levels. There are plenty of low-calorie, high-fiber pet foods that are effective, Young and Bayouth said.

For dogs, make walks a regular part of the day. For cats, encourage active playtime with fun toys.

"Get tough  you have to," Bayouth said. "If they're overweight, they're not healthy. Cut back on what you're feeding them or go to one of the diet foods."

The result will be a happier pet.

"They feel so much better, and they're more active," Young said.

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