Is it just one of those rare coincidences that this month’s Weight Watcher’s magazine has an article on overweight pets and we recently got in our fattest cat ever, or does it prove the point? We have an epidemic happening of overweight animals. It’s sad. It’s unhealthy. It’s expensive. And it’s preventable.
Who knew there was an Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) in the United States? They estimated that in 2015, 53.8 percent (more than 41 million dogs) and 58.2 percent (more than 49 million cats) were overweight or obese, and those are just the ones they know about. The fact that we need an association to tell us how to keep our pets from becoming overweight is sad.
After all, it should be relatively simple because we, their parents, control their food. They don’t have the problems people have of trying to make good food choices, being bombarded with advertising of fattening and unhealthy choices, going to a grocery store and facing the gauntlet of tempting treats, etc. They eat what we give them. Period. Unless of course you have a cunning food thief in your home, but even then we control, or at least attempt to, their access to food.
The problem for our pets is we hate to eat alone and who can resist the big brown eyes staring at you while you guiltily eat a snack? Some people equate love with food and they do love their pets – to death.
Literally. We also use treats as rewards and, especially with a new or young dog, we want them to learn to be good. Hence, frequent rewards. The trick is to calculate the treats into the daily food calorie total – not add it on top of their daily quota. So if you use a quarter cup of food/treats as rewards during the day, you need to subtract a quarter cup of food from their food dish. Yes, treats have calories. So does rawhide and basically anything else that is ingested. Unless you use carrots and apples as treats (try them, some dogs love them) you have to count it as part of their intake. Not only is being overweight uncomfortable for the pet, it is unhealthy. The excess weight puts a strain on their hearts and their bone structure, causing heart disease, arthritis and lameness. Cats, especially, are prone to diabetes, an expensive and difficult disease to manage. The cost of the tests plus the insulin quickly adds up. Cha-ching! So who wants to go there?
Rotund animals have a difficult time adequately grooming themselves. They can’t reach all the way to their back end to clean up, so help is needed in that area as well. Most cats don’t really appreciate butt baths, so it becomes a challenge and not something that enhances your bond with your pet. But lack of cleanliness leads to other problems, urine stains and burns on their legs, feces caught in the fur, mats and tangles if the animal is long-haired, and more. Some animals need what is called a sanitary clip to keep their back end clean, which is another expense. All because you are just too generous with the tasty tuna treats!
Which brings me to Boon, the sweet but very rotund calico that was recently surrendered to the shelter. She weighed almost 19 pounds.
We had to clip her back end and do daily sanitary baths to help keep her clean and started her on a diet regiment. You can’t be too drastic, especially with cats because they are also prone to hepatic lipidosis (a liver disease) if they stop eating for any reason (they don’t like the diet food for example). Dogs you can wait out a couple days but not cats! Veterinarians are now recommending canned food for weight loss because it contains so much water. A high fiber diet can also help them feel full even with less quantity.
And, of course, any extra movement can help burn calories. (Haven’t we all heard that before?). So Boon is being tossed her limited kibble so she has to chase it to eat and given her wet food in small amounts put in multiple dishes around her enclosure so she has to find it. She loves to follow, so we walk back and forth in her room to get her to move more. We are looking for a home for Boon that is committed to helping her lose the five extra pounds she needs to be healthy. Need a workout partner? Someone to help keep you eating healthier? We should promote her for adoption to Weight Watchers members; maybe she can help someone reach their weight loss goal, too.
• “Get Them Back Home” campaign: Every lost pet should have a way to get back home. Free pet ID tags and backup microchips are available to all residents of Rohnert Park and Cotati. No appointment necessary, just come by the shelter during our regular open hours: Wednesday 1-6:30 p.m.; Thursday, Friday and Saturday 1-5:30 p.m.; and Sunday 1-4:30 p.m.
• Fix-it clinics: Free spay and neuters for cats and $60 dog surgeries (up to 80 pounds) are available for low-income Rohnert Park and Cotati residents. Call 588-3531 for an appointment.
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.