We are being bombarded with facts about our couch potato lifestyle and the resulting problem of obesity.
"Couch potato people tend to have couch potato pets." says Denver Veterinarian Robert Taylor. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 64 percent of Americans weigh more than they should, and veterinary sources agree that at least half of all dogs and cats are overweight. Overweight means at least 10 percent over their ideal weight.
Obesity has become a national epidemic. We are eager to blame our condition on the fast food industry or anyone else available, but in fact, we need to take the responsibility of eating less and exercising more, and sharing this good health with our pets.
Just like with people, pets who are obese are more likely to have arthritis, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, respiratory problems, pancreatitis, weakened immunity, anesthesia and surgical complications and most importantly, a shorter life. Disorders related to obesity are the fourth-leading cause of death for dogs according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
In a study of Labrador Retrievers, dogs fed 25 percent fewer calories lived an average of two years longer than their littermates. According to a recent article in USA Today, the leaner dogs were friskier, looked younger and had less cancer, osteoarthritis and liver disease. The dogs fed more showed earlier signs of disease and aging: graying muzzle, impaired gait and reduced activity.
In that same article, a study reported that pet owners are the last to admit that their pets are obese. In a group of 200 dogs, 80 percent were judged obese by professionals. But 72 percent of the owners insisted that their dog was just the right weight or even underweight. I do wonder how the response would be to a similar test of these pet's owners. Pets include dogs, cats, birds, hamsters and reptiles, all of whom are suffering from this overweight epidemic.
There are two ways to control and reduce weight in people and their pets -- increase exercise and reduce food intake. This is not rocket science nor is it a closely guarded secret. All of us are aware of this remedy, but we would rather put the responsibility on something else such as a diet program. Millions are spent by Americans each year for fancy weight loss programs and special diet foods for pets, and most of these are not successful.
Studies indicate that people lose weight more effectively when exercising with a friend. Dogs are very willing friends and partners. PPET (People and Pets Exercising Together) program overseer, Kimberly Rudloff, DVM, says "Dogs are the perfect exercise partner. They're always there, they care about us, but they're never critical."
A brisk daily walk is undoubtedly the best form of exercise for both dogs and their owners. With any exercise program, it is important to start slow and work up to longer and faster walks. Starting slowly, one is more likely to continue the program rather than get discouraged and quit.
Too often, a pet owner starts off with a rigorous exercise program with his pet, whether jogging or bicycling, without proper conditioning. Too much too fast can result in a blown out cruciate ligament. This is the most common injury seen in dogs today, according to Dianne Dunning, DVM, American College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois, and it can be easily prevented. Most dogs sit around the house all week. A once a week semi-strenuous exercise program often leads to injury, particularly if the dog is overweight. A regular regime of exercise 20 minutes a day will help to reduce incidences of obesity and lead to less joint disease and other chronic diseases like diabetes.
The best plan is to start out with young dogs enjoying regular exercise. Walking is the best way to begin. As the dog matures, the walking speed and distance can increase. If the dog walks daily out on sidewalks and roads, the pads of his feet toughen up so that he can handle both hot and cold surfaces quite well. However, we must be aware of how our pets are handling the exercise. A dog will seldom say, "I quit."
As summer approaches, for any extended walks, we should carry water and a small bowl. There are folding fabric bowls with plastic liners that tuck into a fanny pack. Be aware of hot road surfaces. If the dog is panting and slowing, stop and rest. Chances are, you will be ready for a rest as well.
Dogs are willing exercise partners. Together, a daily walk will improve the health and weight for both of you.
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.