Archive for Monday, September 25, 2006

Too many table scraps?

Pampered pets face trials of obesity just like other Americans

September 25, 2006


It seems nothing - not even the family pet - is immune from the nation's obesity epidemic.

"I think the pet trends are reflecting human trends," says Susan Nelson, an assistant professor of pet health at Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine. "I read different statistics, but most say about 30 percent of pets are overweight, and some are obese. We do see more off it than we used to."

Yes, Fido is fat, Poochie is pudgy, and Whiskers is weighty.

The pet problem traces its roots to the same problems that get humans in trouble - overeating, eating too many snacks and not exercising enough.

"I think people do think about it, but some don't want to," Nelson says of pet obesity. "Some know it, but like ourselves, they just ignore it."

A simple way to tell if your dog or cat is obese, she says, is to feel its rib section.

"There should be a thin layer of fat," she says. "If you have a hard time feeling the ribs, they're probably a little chubby."

Also, she says, dogs should have an hourglass figure. She says many pet Web sites have diagrams of what a healthy dog or cat should look like.

Like in humans, overweight pets can have stressed cardiovascular systems and are more likely to get arthritis. Overweight cats, in particular, are more likely to develop diabetes and have a difficult time grooming themselves, which can lead to dermatological and other hygiene problems.

Pet obesity also can be a sign of more serious problems, such as a malfunctioning thyroid.

Food options

Dr. Tamara Oesterling, a veterinarian and partner with Lawrence Veterinary Hospital, 3210 Clinton Parkway, says losing a few pounds might be as simple as cutting down on the treats.

"People will spoil their dogs, giving them treats or table scraps that make them put on weight," Oesterling says.

And, she says, the recommended "serving size" for some pet foods might be for active animals. It could be too much for your dog or cat if it doesn't get as much exercise.

"Regular dogs and cats don't need as much pet food," Oesterling says. "In reality, they don't need that much because they're not athletic animals."

Other options, she says, are to replace fatty scraps with vegetables like carrots or green beans, or trying a "light" brand of pet food.

But Oesterling cautions against drastic dietary changes. A "crash diet" is harmful to pets and can cause liver problems for cats.

Nelson says simply measuring out food - and not automatically filling up the bowl when it's empty - often leads pet owners to realize they're feeding their animals too much.

"Unfortunately for a lot of the time, they meow or bark whenever that bowl's empty," Nelson says. "They don't have that stopping point, and it's hard to ignore that meowing or barking."

Pet SupplementsS

Though it might be tempting to treat weight or other health issues in pets with supplements, Dr. Tamara Oesterling of Lawrence Veterinary Hospital cautions against buying supplements or vitamins without checking with a veterinarian. "People need to know that pet foods today are very nutritionally complete," Oesterling says. "If they're feeding store-brand dog food, they don't need to add vitamins and supplements." St. John's Wort and vitamin C are two such supplements, she says, that can adversely affect animals.

Mutt movements

Exercise is another piece of the equation. Nelson says most of today's pets are more sedentary than they were in previous generations, sitting indoors all day instead of being outside running in a yard or chasing birds.

For dogs, the simple walk or game of fetch will suffice, or put them on a treadmill, though Nelson says dogs should never be left unattended on the treadmill. For cats, toys will do the trick.

Or, Oesterling suggests associating more activity with eating. First, put small amounts of food out in various parts of the house, to make your pet walk around to get to them.

"If you have a multi-level house and your pet grazes, put food in different parts of the house so the cat has to move around to get the food," she says.

The bottom line is, just like humans, pets have to burn more calories than they take in to lose weight.

"The message is you can address it," Nelson says. "Many diligent owners are making progress on it."


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