Treating the Overweight Pet

Most people know that obesity is a problem for the human race, but what about our pets? The fact is recent research indicates at least 40 percent of the American pet population is overweight. Dogs and cats could be following the poor exercise and eating habits of their owners.

Obesity is just as much a problem for pets as it is for people, only it can be harder to detect in animals. Extra pounds strain organs and put pressure on joints and ligaments. Discomfort could cause a pet to become even more inactive -- simply perpetuating the problem and perhaps causing more weight to pile on.

Here are just some of the problems that can be attributed to an overweight pet.

* Diabetes

* Joint and other skeletal stress

* Respiratory problems

* Poor stamina

* Digestive problems

* Compromised liver function

* Urinary tract infections

* Poor quality of life and decreased longevity

* Skin and fur problems

* Intolerance to heat

Oftentimes people treat their pets as members of the family, and push poor habits on to the animals. A dog or a cat in the wild would know to eat when hungry. However, in the climate-controlled world of the home, they can quickly become accustomed to feeding on demand, especially if their diet is supplemented with a lot of treats.

Treats should make up no more than 10 percent of a pet's diet say veterinarians. They should be given sparingly, and can even be eliminated if they're high in calories. Try substituting raw carrots or apple slices instead of calorie-laden biscuits.

Simply cutting back on the amount of food your pet eats may not be the answer. He or she may be missing out on essential nutrients this way. Rather, consult with your vet to find out what type of diet would be best for your pet. A recommended food could be the key.

Exercise is important for pets. Playing with your dog or cat and taking dogs for walks is key.

Remember, just as in humans, weight gain may not be just a side-effect of poor eating and exercise habits. It could be a signal of an underlying medical issue. Therefore, if you are concerned about your pet's weight, consult with a veterinarian first. He or she can run blood work and other tests to determine if there is a health condition contributing to the obesity.

Recognizing an Overweight Pet

Experts look at particular areas of the body to determine if a pet is packing on extra pounds. They'll use a scoring system to rate the obesity of the animal. Remember, weight varies among breeds, so these are just a guideline. A dalmatian that scores one way will always be skinnier than a bull mastiff who scores similarly. This system is used in dogs:

1. Feel the ribs. There should be a slight amount of fat over the ribs, but each should be distinct.

2. Check the area near the base of the tail. This area should feel smooth, but you should also be able to feel the bones.

3. Feel other bony prominences, such as the hips or shoulders. Too much fat is not a good thing.

4. Look at the pet from above. He should have a distinct waist.

5. Look at the pet from the side. Dogs and cats should have an abdominal tuck, i.e., the area behind the ribs should be smaller in diameter than the chest. An animal who is too thin will have a very severe abdominal tuck. Overweight animals will have no abdominal tuck.

If you've determined your pet is overweight, bring him or her to the vet for a second opinion and testing. Talk about your concerns and develop a program that will help get your pet back on a healthy path.

There are many strategies, including medication, that can assist a pet in losing extra pounds.

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