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Is Your Dog Overweight?

By: Ed Kane

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In the United States, pets and their owners have one thing in common: too much food and too little exercise.

With nutritious pet food abundant and palatable, a common cause of pet obesity isn't the food itself but the feeding. Many pet owners are too eager to please. They don't carefully monitor their pets' weight and succumb too often to animals that beg and whimper for more.

The solution is to control your pet's insatiable appetite and thereby control his expanding girth. While a balanced diet and treats in proper amounts are fine, overindulgence leads to a "couch pet-tato." At this point, a change in eating habits is in order along with increased exercise and play to help work off excess calories.

More Dogs Than Cats Are Overweight

Historically, dogs have been affected by obesity more than cats. Studies have shown that 40 to 50 percent of dogs are overweight, compared to only about 25 percent of cats. Obesity is an important health issue because it may contribute to shorter lifespan and increased risk of arthritis, cancer, diabetes and a need for surgery.

The causes of obesity are really simple: increased energy intake compared to decreased energy output. Typically, your pet is particularly effective at persuading you to indulge his bad habits. Designed to be highly palatable, pet treats are usually high in fat and calories. In households where there may be several pets, food competition increases the potential for becoming overweight. The overweight dog steals from his rival, exacerbating the problem.

Watch Your Pet's Weight

Monitor your pet's body weight, especially if you own an older dog. A healthy pet's body is proportional - his ribs can be felt and folds of fat aren't easily seen. An overweight pet has a noticeable paunch, a broader conformation and ribs cannot be seen or felt easily. Fat dogs don't have the "tuck" normally seen in front of the hindquarters.

No matter what food you give your pet, don't overfeed and make sure your pet receives sufficient exercise to prevent obesity. Some foods are very high in fat and calories. If your pet's becoming too fat, cut down total intake and don't feed high-fat foods. There are special foods available both by prescription and over-the-counter that are higher in fiber and lower in caloric density.

Proper feeding is important. In general, a small six-pound dog requires 50 calories per pound, a 50-pound dog requires 30 calories per pound and a 100-pound dog requires 23 kilocalories per pound. However, there are no hard and fast rules; your pet may need less food if he's less active or more if he's very active.

Put Your Pet on a Diet

If your pet is overweight, work with your veterinarian to decide on and stick to a proper weight-reduction plan. Your veterinarian can help assess your pet's obesity and weight reduction plan and determine whether there are any complicating disease concerns, such as diabetes. In some cases, a prescription type of diet may be recommended.

Weight should be lost gradually, about 15 percent over a two- to three-month period for dogs. At maximum, weight loss should occur at a rate of 1 to 1½ pounds per week for dogs. In addition to a restricted diet, you need to provide your pet with gradual increased play and exercise. Make exercise fun, not strict or stressful.

It's important to realize that a healthier body weight for your pet is important, so don't give in to your pet's begging. To reduce your pet's food intake, feed his normal diet in reduced amounts or a diet of reduced calories in prescribed amounts. Approximately one pound of fat is lost for every 3,500 calories expended. Feed smaller portions more often so that your pet doesn't feel that he's eating less. Praise and affection are important to offset your pet's feeling of "punishment." Don't feed treats as rewards; use praise instead. Chart your pet's progress on a weekly basis.

Dieting Tips

  • A drastic reduction isn't necessary; only a moderate reduction plan is recommended by most veterinarians, except in special cases.

  • Make sure that all family members stick to the plan. One person can spoil the results.

  • If excessive food intake was the source of your pet's obesity, plan on feeding the proper maintenance amount.

  • Feed his daily portion in three or more meals, so he doesn't feel slighted.

  • Eliminate all treats, especially from the table. These are typically high in fat and calories.

  • If dry food had previously been fed ad lib (left out free-choice), leave food out in portions instead of in unlimited quantities.

  • Feed some canned food to replace some of the dry food. It will be more palatable and is lower in caloric density (since it's over 75 percent moisture).

  • There are many foods lower in calories. These are especially good since you can feed your pet the same "bulk amount," while cutting back calories.

  • Fun, play and games help reduce weight while keeping your pet happy. They will keep his mind off the loss of food.

    By keeping your pet's weight at a normal level, he'll be happier and healthier in a svelte condition. He'll also run, romp and enjoy life more.

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