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Lean means longer life for pudgy pets

petnews
December 2nd, 2003, 09:53 AM
Lean means longer life for pudgy pets

By Deanna Larson

A couple of large Milk Bones, a slice of leftover pizza, a few vanilla sandwich cookies: These “treats” almost equal a 20-pound dog’s calorie needs for the entire day.

Obese pets are prone to a number of diseases, as well as a shorter lifespan, and surveys show that anywhere between 25-40 percent of American dogs and cats are overweight.

If you can’t feel your pet’s ribs with a gentle palpation of his sides, and if you can’t find his “waist,” an indentation between the end of his ribs and hips when looking down at his back, he’s probably overweight.

Visit your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical conditions that can cause obesity or complicate weight loss. If your pet is otherwise healthy, then fewer calories and more exercise are the answer. (Where have we heard that before?)

Both human and pet metabolisms slow as we age. And body type can play a part. One golden retriever may be in great shape at 85 pounds and another overweight at 75 pounds. Some cats should weigh 7 pounds, while others are optimal at 14 pounds, according to veterinarian Holly Frisby at peteducation.com.

That said, pets often don’t need as much food and treats as we give them.

“People get hung up on ‘I eat three times a day, so should my pet,’” said veterinarian Craig Prior of Murphy Road Animal Hospital. “It doesn’t take much to reward them, and yet people want to feed their pets big treats.”

What you feed has an effect on how often your pet seems hungry. Cats are carnivores, and dogs are omnivores, and both depend on protein for energy.

Feeding a dry carbohydrate-based food, especially the “diet” kibbles, can stimulate insulin secretion, which tells the body to store unused calories as fat. People can feel hungry and gain weight on non-fat foods, and some pets gain weight on special diet foods, according to thepetcenter.com.

Just as Atkins can be the answer for some humans, the “Catkins” diet of high protein, high fat and low carbs is appropriate for carnivores and makes cats feel satiated on less food, Prior said.

Overweight pets tend to have a slow metabolism, according to thepetcenter.com.They don’t burn off calories fast and therefore, don’t require as much food. Nutritional supplements such as carnitine can help pets with slower metabolisms lose weight if they don’t respond to a simple reduction in food, said veterinarian Kim Brasher of Belle Forest Animal Hospital.

But, the first route to take to reduce the waistline of your pet is increasing exercise, eliminating fatty table scraps and switching to low-cal treats such as plain air-popped popcorn, cooked green beans, Cheerios, carrots or low-fat biscuits. Keep your pet out of the kitchen during mealtimes to reduce begging, and if they’re allowed to roam, ask neighbors not to feed them.

Give your dog an extra walk each day, or play vigorous interactive games with your cat such as chase the laser beam or fishing pole. Play and grooming can substitute for treats, and your pet might enjoy your attention even more than food.

Keeping a food log has been shown to be a key factor in successful long-term weight loss for humans, according to Dr. Mary Alice Harbison of St. Thomas Hospital. A daily food log for your pet can also track those little extras that add up to pounds very quickly.

Pet weight loss should be as gradual as healthy human weight loss. Make appointments with your veterinarian every 2-4 weeks to monitor progress and make adjustments. And keep at it: Your pet’s longer, healthier life is worth the effort.