Facing Up To Pet Obesity

FOCUS ON PETS

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It has been almost two years since I last addressed the problem of obesity in this column. However, the problem certainly has not gone away.

The facts remain that 64 percent of Americans weigh more than they should and veterinary sources agree that at least half of all dogs and cats are also overweight.

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Nick Kern is doing the rib check on Icy. If he cannot easily feel her ribs, it should lead to a reduction in food and treats.

Obesity has become a national epidemic.

Just like with people, overweight pets 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.

Pet owners are the last to admit that their pet might be overweight. So often we hear them say, "She just has a lot of hair," or "It's all muscle."

In fact, it is very easy to see if your pet is overweight. Generally, a good look will tell you all you need to know.

For further evaluation, do the finger test.

Stand over your dog and look down on him. You should be able to see a noticeable indentation behind the rib cage. This is the dog's waist and we should all have one.

Next, put your thumbs on the backbone, hopefully you can find it, and wrap your fingers around each side. Run your fingertips over the rib cage. If you cannot find the ribs, you know right away there is a problem. You should be able to feel the ribs and a slight indentation between the ribs. If there are big crevices between the ribs, your pet could be underweight, but that is unlikely.

Discovering that your pet is overweight calls for a commitment to a change in habits. The pet needs to eat less and he needs more exercise.

A friend whose dog is overweight told me she only feeds her retriever one cup of dog food twice a day. But, alas, I was at her house for a mealtime and, yes, she only fed a cup of dry dog food but then there was rice and canned food and some nice sauce over it all. That did not include the frequent snacks.

When figuring out how much your pet consumes in a day, you have to put all the days' intake -- dry dog food, canned food, treats and extra stuff -- into a container and measure it. Chances are it will be way more than you thought.

People have the most trouble with treats. They don't think they should count. But naturally they do. A few small treats in a day are OK if they are healthy treats. Stick with dog biscuits. Avoid treats that have artificial color, flavoring, calories and preservatives. Read the label carefully. If it looks like an Oreo cookie, it is artificial.

Once you realize you are feeding too much, you have made an important first step. Make a plan for reducing the amount, but do it gradually.

Dogs and cats need dry dog food. It is good for their teeth and digestive system. A little canned food is OK but a spoonful is enough. If you make soup, you can add a little of that but avoid cream sauces and gravy. Always consider the total volume.

If you are feeding a cup and a half of dry food, cut back first to a cup and a quarter. Stay with that for a few days or a week and then, depending on the amount of weight your pet needs to lose, cut back a little more.

You do not need to feel sorry for your pet when he looks at you with those very sad and hungry looking eyes. You are doing this for his own good. However, you can add vegetables to make up for some of the reduction in volume. Dogs generally love green beans and carrots and these have virtually no calories and satisfy hunger. Buy them in the bag, frozen, and take out what you need each day. Microwave them a bit to thaw them. But remember that you are trying to reduce the total volume that your pet is eating. That is the only way he will lose weight.

A reduction in diet must be accompanied with an increase in exercise. That will be covered in next week's column. Remember that a slim and trim pet is healthier, more active and will live a longer life.

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