If you read a lot of pet health articles, you are probably sick and tired of hearing about American pets being fat.
The titles might read:
- “The Obesity Pet Crisis in America!”
- “Health Risks Associated With Obese Pets!”
- “Ways to Make Your Pets Lose Weight!”
“Enough, already,” you might say. Or, “If my veterinarian tells me one more time my cat is overweight, I swear I’ll change vets.”
Is Everyone Overweight?
A recent survey revealed that 53 percent of dogs and 58 percent of cats are overweight. And yet 90 to 95 percent of people believe their pets are at normal weights.
So our job is not just telling clients about their pets’ weight and the consequences but also convincing them that their 15-pound cat, Mr. Puff-N-Stuff, is not at a normal weight. Or that a normal beagle does not weigh 50 pounds. Biscuit the beagle needs fewer biscuits.
Our pets are overweight and, yes, lots of us are, too. In fact, about 69 percent of American adults are overweight or obese.
That means, in my typical day, I am ethically charged to address obesity in more than half of my wellness exams. But 9 out of 10 of these clients don’t believe me, and maybe 2/3 of those people are overweight themselves.
So I like to take it kind of slow and get a feel for how the person identifies with food, not only for themselves but also for their pet. No insults, but calm truth. But I have to be careful — one of my veterinary journals recently reported that calling a client’s pet fat was like telling them they had an ugly baby. Ouch.
Food Means More Than Nourishment
Feeding your pets nourishes them, but it also nourishes you.
Americans have such a strong human–animal bond, and feeding that pet signifies much more than a daily calorie count. Preparing a meal or offering snacks to your pet translates as love for many people.
We treat our pets like family. Case in point: Why else would we knock ourselves out on holidays or family get-togethers making too much food? I’m usually too full at Thanksgiving for turkey because I eat pigs in blankets and ravioli as hors d’oeuvres and gab with my loved ones for 3 hours before our sit-down meal.
My typical pet weight loss talk addresses amounts of food, types of food, canned food for cats and no grazing as well as beginning mild-to-moderate exercise programs, prescription diets, “weigh-in” appointments, computer-generated weight loss programs and more.
Veterinary nutritional counseling is a specialty now. But now that we know more about correct nutrition, why are we still killing our pets with too much food?
Don’t Super-Size Your Pet’s Life Away
Americans have been taught to super-size their meals, and they are now doing that for their pets.
When I talk honestly with clients, we find out together that they are overfeeding. A 15-pound dog gets enough for a 40-pound dog. Cats are often eating 4 to 5 times their daily requirement. “Snacks” are an ice cream dish or a McDonald’s hamburger.
So is the junk food phenomenon that’s hurting human health now affecting how we feed our pets? I think so, and I tell my clients about it.
They seem to listen to me. Some smile, go home and do whatever they want, but we have some decent results with many of our overweight pets.
And the really dedicated clients see amazing results. One person rescued a 26-pound chihuahua who now weighs 14 pounds, his ideal weight. Losing half a dog’s body weight is no easy task, but it can be done.
This overweight dachshund had his work cut out for him — but his human’s encouragement has helped:
Millennials Are Way Ahead of the Game
Millennials are a breath of fresh air, as far as pet feeding is concerned. As a group, they seem to be more food conscious, more exercise conscious and more understanding of wellness medicine — and, on the whole, they don’t let their younger pets get obese. Weight management is a heck of a lot easier if you don’t have to return to normalcy from obesity.
My advice? Eat well, eat healthy and move yourself and your pets.
And the hardest lesson for some of us? Love need not always be given as a form of food. In other words, a way to a dog’s healthy heart is decidedly not through his stomach.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed Aug. 17, 2016.