Maintaining healthy weight helps pets avoid litany of health issues

Animal Connections
Published by the Virginian Pilot on 8-5-2021
Written by Lacy S. Shirey, Chesapeake Humane Society Executive Director

An essential part of your pet’s health and well-being is diet and maintaining ideal body weight. Obesity puts your pet at a greater risk for developing certain diseases and can shorten their life or, at the very least, lessen their quality of life.

Mrs. Patmore

The 2018 Association for Pet Obesity Prevention survey estimates that 60% of cats and 56% of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese. These pets are at greater risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, orthopedic diseases such as osteoarthritis and cranial cruciate tears (dogs), and high blood pressure.

Overweight cats are more likely to suffer from dermatological issues if they cannot properly groom themselves. Obesity also puts pets at greater risk for surgical and anesthetic complications should they need routine or emergency surgery.

For many people, it’s difficult to hear your pet is overweight. Some folks deny it, become offended, or even upset and argumentative when a veterinarian addresses their pet’s weight and how much they need to lose to be at their ideal body weight.

Pet owners need to remember that this is a health issue, not a cosmetic issue. Your pet cannot make lifestyle decisions for themselves — that’s your responsibility as a pet owner.

You may think your pet is always hungry outside of mealtime, looking at you with those pleading eyes that are just so hard to resist. Each time you give in and give them a treat or table food, you are reinforcing this behavior and potentially doing a disservice to your beloved pet. Essentially, they are training YOU to feed them at their insistence.

Instead of rewarding with food, focus on redirecting and engaging your pet with activities that they find rewarding such as a walk, playing with their favorite squeaky toy, nose games or a quick game of fetch.

Some pets are truly finicky eaters, and if they have trouble maintaining a proper weight, it might be necessary to entice them with something special like boiled chicken or wet food.

However, suppose your pet is an ideal weight or overweight, and they don’t finish all their food or seem uninterested in a single meal. In that case, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is something wrong with them, so don’t immediately reach for the extra enticements.

If they skip a couple of meals and this is out of character for them, then it’s a good idea to talk to your veterinarian about your concerns, as a sudden change in appetite could indicate underlying health issues.

If you are giving treats throughout the day, you should reduce the amount of food you offer at mealtime to offset their calorie intake. If your pet seems unsatiated throughout the day, you can try healthy but filling treats like green beans or carrots.

You can also make a meal last longer by feeding with a slow-feeder bowl or putting their dry food in a puzzle toy to make them work for it and provide mental enrichment.

Table food is frowned upon by most, if not all, veterinary professionals and trainers. Human food isn’t a nutritionally balanced diet for pets. It is often high in sodium or might contain an ingredient that is toxic to pets, leading to pancreatitis and other health issues. Feeding table scraps can also reinforce unwanted begging behaviors, so it’s good to avoid it altogether.

When we talk about pet obesity, we often think about cats and dogs; however, healthy weight is vital for our small animals and livestock pets, too. Rabbits are prone to being overweight, especially if their diet consists of an improper ratio of pellet food to hay.

The Chesapeake Humane Society is currently caring for a 4-year-old severely obese cat, Mrs. Patmore. She was adopted from the shelter eight months ago and was already overweight at 18 pounds. She was surrendered back to the shelter recently and weighed in at an alarming 27 pounds. Our animal care team put her on a weight loss prescription diet canned food along with the amount of kibble appropriate for her ideal weight.

CHS’ shelter manager, Cat Daniels, states that in addition to her diet, “she’s also on a daily exercise plan that includes incentives to get her moving such as play, catnip and other enrichment activities.”

In her four weeks back with us, she has already lost 3 pounds under her new daily regimen. She is available for adoption, and the shelter team will ensure her new home is committed to her weight loss program so she can live a long healthy life.

If your pet is severely obese like Mrs. Patmore, you may want to involve a health professional such as your veterinarian. Losing weight too quickly can be dangerous for your pet’s health, so creating a health plan and tracking progress is essential.

Being active with your pet can have the added benefit of living a healthier lifestyle for yourself, too, so get out and walk your dog or have a vigorous play session with your cat!