Obesity in dogs and cats is of epidemic proportions, according to a new study just released and reported in the Sept. 9 issue of the Wall Street Journal. The headline reads "Much like their owners, cats, dogs eat too much, don't get enough exercise." This new study released by the National Research Council of the National Academies reports that a quarter of all cats and dogs are overweight.
Fat pets are at much higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses, as well as hip and joint problems.
The last studies of pet nutrition and health were conducted 20 years ago. There have been tremendous strides in the knowledge of pet nutritional needs and the quality of pet food, as well as advances in veterinary medicine in those 20 years. But there are more couch potatoes today, and that includes pets and their people.
Generally, the feeding guidelines on the bag of dog or cat food suggest that we feed way too much food. Just as people vary in the way they burn calories, so do dogs and cats. It is impossible to say that a particular size dog or cat requires a certain amount of food. As with ourselves, we can check the ribs and waistline and know when we need to cut back.
The study report states, "Your dog is too plump if you can't feel its ribs, it has fat deposits on its back and tail and it shows no discernible waist when viewed from above. If you cat looks fat -- in the back, the face and the abdomen -- it is. A cat near its ideal weight is well-proportioned, has a moderate waistline behind its ribs and has a thin cover of fat over its abdomen."
The remedy for the problem of obesity, according to the study, "cutting calories, avoiding snacks and table scraps, and more time out and about." Not exactly rocket science. It is just plain common sense. But then why are so many dogs and cats overweight?
Many people do not see that their pets are overweight. Some say the dog is not fat but has a lot of hair. The "fingers on the ribs" test tells all. If you have trouble feeling the ribs and a slight indentation between them, your pet is obese and you need to cut back on the quantity of food and the type and amount of treats.
Between 30 to 40 percent of cats will overeat if owners give them as much food as they want. Cats do best, according to the study, on small meals several times a day. Dogs do better with two meals a day. Cats are carnivores, meat eaters. Dogs are omnivores, which means that they get most of their energy from carbohydrates and can survive on a vegetarian diet if the proper nutrients are there, but they do best on a balanced diet of meat, vegetables and carbohydrates.
There are about 77 million cats and 60 million dogs in the US today. How do they count them for a study such as this is anyone's guess, but surely they miss a few here and there.
Americans are spending more on their pets and many are buying better food.
But if our pet is overweight, we are doing him/her no favors by overfeeding. Obesity is unhealthy. Eat less -- exercise more. That's the only solution.
Christy Wrather is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by snail-mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.