Reduce Food For Overweight Pets

FOCUS ON PETS

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In keeping with the discussion about overweight dogs, we all know that eating less and exercising more is the solution. But in feeding fewer calories, there are many options. There are diet foods for dogs and cats. Is this the way to go?

If an animal is overweight, he is eating too much. That means we need to cut back the quantity. Switching to a diet food cuts back on calories, but we tend to feed the same quantity. In my opinion, gained from several years of working in the pet food industry, the solution for an overweight dog is staying with the same food, but feeding less. If the dog is seriously overweight, older than eight and not very active, a senior, reduced calorie high quality food might be recommended. But for a younger dog, simply cut back the quantity of a quality dog food.

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This much-loved dog, Leo, has been pictured in this column before. He died recently due to complications resulting from obesity. This is a hard reality to face, but true.

Many follow the recommended guidelines on the back of the dog food bag, regardless of the condition of the dog. This does not work. My three dogs are all the same size. One gains weight easily, one maintains a good weight, but would eat anything I put in front of him and one is lean and not that interested in food. They all get fed different amounts.

Just like with overweight people, it is important to reduce the intake, but cut down slowly. By doing this, the stomach shrinks and the feeling of hunger diminishes. In order to reduce the quantity, you must know how much you are feeding. A measuring cup is essential. Figure out exactly what you are feeding now and cut back slowly, but consistently.

Many leave food out for their pets. This is OK for cats as they tend to do better eating a little at a time, unless they are obese. If the cats are overweight, put out less food. If you are feeding multiple cats, have a dish for each.

With dogs, free feeding seldom works. Most often, the dogs are overweight. But equally important, the quality of the food diminishes as it sits out in the open. That is why it is so important to keep dry food sealed in an airtight container until it is used. Think of potato chips that sit out on the counter all day. They get rather awful. It is the same with dry dog food.

If we are cutting back on the quantity that we feed, we want the food that we feed to be the best and freshest possible. All dog food bags are dated. Get in the habit of checking this date when buying food. Most pet food has a shelf life of at least a year. The bag will say, "best if used by...". If it is good until April of 2005, it is pretty fresh. If it is good until April 2004, it has been sitting around for quite a while and I will not buy it.

It is best to feed dogs twice a day, particularly with an overweight dog. Twice a day feeding causes the metabolism to work faster and burn up more calories. If you are feeding once a day now, measure what you are feeding, cut that amount in half and feed twice a day. If you are feeding two cups in the evening, feed one cup in the morning and one cup in the evening. Stay with that amount for a while and then gradually begin reducing the quantity. Feed at approximately the same time each day, preferably when the family is eating. Each dog should have his own dish. Some dogs will not eat in the morning, or in the evening. Put the food down. Set the timer for 10 or 15 minutes and then pick it up. Normally, the dog realizes that if he does not eat when the dish is put down, he will miss out all together and he will begin to eat. Even if he does not eat, keep putting the dish down with a small amount of food. Do not increase the quantity of the other meal.

With a dog that is very obese, it is important to get that weight down as quickly as possible before excessive damage is done to joints and organs. Cut the quantity by as much as 25 percent, but add some green beans so he does not feel that you are starving him.

Green beans, carrots and other vegetables are great for overweight dogs. They do not add calories, but they do add bulk. The dog feels full while getting used to eating less dog food. Obviously, you want to avoid fattening treats. Fresh vegetables make great treats and most dogs love them. Frozen vegetables work well because you can easily keep them on hand.It is best to avoid canned vegetables due to the amount of salt.

A dog should have a waistline when seen from above. There should be an indentation immediately behind the rib cage. To check the condition of your dog, place your thumbs on his backbone and run your fingers over the rib cage. You should be able to feel the backbone and the ribs. If you cannot, your dog has a serious weight problem that needs immediate attention. If you can feel the ribs but there is a layer of fat over them, you need to begin feeding less.

Remember, eating less and exercising more is the best solution for obesity.

Christy Wrather is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at cpwrather@earthlink.net or by snail mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry AZ 85544.

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