By Dr. Al Townshend
Today, in North America, over half of the household dog and cat population is overweight, and a good portion is obese. Carrying excess weight is a significant stress on a pet’s body and encourages an increased risk of poor health, a lower quality of life, and even a shorter life span.
Arthritis, heart and kidney disease, diabetes, pancreatitis, and even cancer are more likely to occur in overweight animals. Studies have shown that dogs that maintain a slightly lean body condition over time will live a healthier and longer life.
As pets age, weight becomes increasingly more critical for their overall health. Arthritis progresses more quickly if the body has to carry excess weight. Increased fat around the heart and kidneys inhibits normal function. Some cancers are seen more frequently in overweight/ obese pets.
Data collected in 2014 by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention indicated that there is a “fat gap” in the minds of veterinary clients. Nearly all Guardians of overweight cats and dogs did not recognize their pets’ excess weight. Being able to identify that your dog or cat is overweight early in life is the first step in resolving the issue. The older the pet, the more important it is to correct the problem.
Recognizing a Pet is Overweight
Body Conditioning Charts for both dogs and cats are great ways to compare your pets with what veterinarians consider normal and abnormal body conditions.
The charts above are a scale of different body conditions that range from underweight to overweight body types.
Once the pet has been identified as overweight, understanding why they may be overweight is the next step in correcting the problem.
Overfeeding Provides too Many Calories
There are several reasons why older pets can get too many calories.
- As pet age, they become less active, and their metabolism slows down, so they require fewer calories. Continuing to feed the same food in the same amount can encourage weight gain.
- Making sure there is always food in the bowl or feeding free choice promotes excess weight gain.
- Feeding to satisfy appetite is a common reason why pets are overweight. Always strive to supply only enough food to maintain a slightly lean body condition, as shown on the Body Condition Chart.
Regular Exercise is Essential in Controlling Weight and Supporting Good Health
- Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous to be effective. Senior pets often have arthritis, and so, too much activity can inflame the joints and cause discomfort. A good walk or a few throws of the ball every day can be an effective exercise routine for dogs.
- Cats need exercise too. Regular playtime that provides challenges that stimulate the brain and body can keep older kitties fit and trim well into old age.
- Keeping senior pets active with exercise also conditions the heart and lungs.
It keeps the muscles that support the joints toned and in shape.
Exercise and the Right Diet are Keys to Maintaining the Health and Happiness of an Older Pet
Senior foods and treats for dogs and cats are designed to address the specific needs of older pets.
Lower in Calories
Diets and treats designed for senior pets have fewer calories than adult recipes. The best way to make food with lower levels of calories is to use less fat in the diet. An ounce of fat contains more than two times the calories of an ounce of protein or carbohydrates.
Help to Satisfy Appetite
Satisfying a pet’s appetite means filling the stomach without providing too many calories. More frequent, smaller meals is a good start. Diets and treats that provide added fiber can also be an advantage.
Fiber is not digestible by the dog, cat, or human. Therefore, fiber does not contain calories. It makes the pet feel full and reduces the pets urge to beg and the Guardians temptation to give too much food.
Maintaining a slightly lean body condition is one of the most significant things a Guardian can do to support their older pets and assure a healthier, happier, and longer life.