What do Cooper, a male yellow lab and Muffin, a female Siamese cat have in common? Their previous owners were killing them with kindness in the form of food. They both came to the shelter morbidly obese. Now some people see a chubby baby or rotund pet and think it’s cute and extra cuddly but what I see is a lifetime of struggle over weight, diminished physical ability, lots of vet bills and a shortened lifespan. Not kind at all and certainly not a sign of love!
Americans are facing an obesity epidemic and it’s no surprise that it’s spilling over to our pets. As we become more sedentary and into snacking, our dogs and cats are sitting right next to us on the sofa and enjoying extra treats too. As my father (who was the worst for constantly slipping the dog something from his plate) said “who can resist those pleading eyes!” Between our pets begging and the pet industry promoting a variety of treats and specialty foods, we are helping our pets overindulge to the detriment of their waistline.
According to the American Animal Hospital Association, in 2014, 58 percent of cats and 53 percent of dogs were obese. Obesity is defined as being 20 percent or more over the ideal weight for the size and breed of the animal. And it’s only become worse since then. Some of the health issues associated with obesity include arthritis and other skeletal disorders, diabetes (which has become rampant, especially in cats), respiratory and heart disorders, increased cancer risks and more with an overall reduced lifespan of over two years. Poor Cooper had an obvious limp in his front legs and poor Muffin struggled to even get up on a chair or couch.
The amazing part of the study is that 95 percent of the pet owners were completely unaware that their pets were overweight! So take a good look at your pet and don’t tell me he’s just fluffy! Get your dog or cats wet and really look at their shape. You should be able to feel the ribs without digging in and there should be an obvious waist indentation (as you look down on the pet). Just google ‘pet body shape’ and look at the charts that show you the difference between healthy weights and unhealthy ones. And then resolve to help your pet become the healthiest he or she can be.
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (isn’t that sad – we need an organization to study this issue) “Obesity is the number one health threat pets face and the most important pet health decision owners make each day is what and how much they feed.” We completely control our animals’ access to food so decreasing the amount should not be difficult. Know that it is much riskier for cats to go completely without eating for more than a day but there are ways to help our pets lose weight safely. As in humans the equation is simple: calories in – calories burned in activity = weight loss or gain.
Here are a few tips to help you get started. Instead of store bought treats, cut up carrots or apples to reward your pets. Use a measuring cup to get an accurate idea of how much they are being fed and to slowly cut back on the amount you are feeding. There are weight loss kibbles available that have added fiber so they are filling and your pet won’t always be hungry. You can also split up their food into two or three meals so they don’t have an empty tummy. Make them work for their food – there are a variety of slow feeder bowls available, or stuff a kong with their kibble, split up your kitty’s food into several small dishes and place them in various places around the house so they have to “hunt” for it. Then slowly increase their activity – start with short walks for your dog and fishing pole playtimes with your cat. Anything you can do to make them move more is a benefit.
It will be such a joy for both of you when they are fit and trim and able to play and move the way they should. Don’t take that away from them – even for the tastiest morsel!
“Get Them Back Home” Campaign – Every lost pet should have a way to get back home. FREE pet ID tag and a back-up microchip are available to all residents of Rohnert Park and Cotati. No appointment necessary, just come by the shelter during our regular open hours: Wed. 1-6:30; Thurs.-Fri.-Sat. 1-5:30; Sun. 1-4:30.
Fix-it Clinics – Free spay and neuters for cats; and $60 dog surgeries (up to 80 lbs.) 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.