Monday, January 24, 2011

Pet Points: Hefty pets need resolutions on diet and exercise, too

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Here we are, the beginning of the New Year. Many of us are joining the gym, returning to yoga class and cutting back the calories after the gluttony of the holiday season.

We are not the only ones who have gained some weight over the holidays -- our pets have most likely overindulged, too. Pet owners tend to spoil their pets over the holidays by allowing more table scraps and by purchasing gifts for them, often in the form of treats.

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, nearly 50 percent of the nation's cats and dogs are overweight, driven by the same factors that cause their human counterparts to put on weight. To prevent pets from developing obesity-related diseases, experts recommend maintaining pets' healthy weight during the holidays by providing them with regular exercise and proper diet, among other measures.

I believe the percentage of obesity is much higher. Many times a day, as a practicing veterinarian, I have to tell owners that their pet is morbidly overweight but otherwise healthy. It is very common for a Labrador or a golden retriever to be more than 20 pounds overweight, or a cat to weigh 18 instead of 10 pounds.

Obese dogs are at increased risk for having excruciating pain from arthritis/degenerative joint disease, which can lead owners to euthanize their beloved pets earlier than they otherwise would because the animals can no longer walk. They are also more predisposed to tearing their cranial cruciate ligament in their knee, or stifle joint. This injury can cause much pain and lameness and sometimes requires expensive surgery.

Also, pets, much like humans, can have difficulty breathing with all the extra weight, especially the "pushed-in-face" breeds, such as pugs, Boston terriers and English bulldogs.

Overweight cats are at huge risk for developing diabetes mellitus, which requires treatment with insulin injections and dietary modification. This can be costly and inconvenient for an owner.

Here are some "Pet Points" that will help you to know if your pet is getting a little pudgy, and ways to help Fluffy or Fido shed some of the extra holiday cheer:

  • You should always be able to feel your pet's ribs without pushing too hard. If you can see the ribs, your pet may be slightly too thin.
  • When you stand above your pet, you should be able to see a "waist" behind the ribs, with a "cinched" appearance, as if it is wearing a belt.
  • Your pet should have a "tucked-up" appearance when you look underneath it. The abdomen should follow the contour of the ribs as it extends back toward the hip.
  • Always use a measuring cup to determine the amount you are feeding your pet in a day. The recommendations on the back of the pet food bag are based on active dogs and do not take in to account the amount of treats and "people food" that pets receive. I always tell people to use the recommended serving size for the weight a pet should be, not what they actually weigh. Also, cut down by about 20 percent of what the bag says if your pet gets extra goodies or doesn't get much exercise.
  • Try canned food. It has a larger protein to carbohydrate ratio and helps a pet to feel full faster. Think about eating soup to feel full. The larger water content keeps the appetite at bay.
  • Cut out the "people food"! A medium-sized dog needs only about 380 calories a day. Even a pizza crust can increase calorie intake by 20 percent. Try using pieces of dog food as treats.
  • Dog treats can have many calories. Rawhides, although they keep a dog's teeth beautiful, contain about 200 calories an inch. They can cause gastrointestinal issues as well, so it is best to avoid them.
  • Make exercise time for both of you. Joining a gym is helpful to you, but you might not feel like taking your dog for a long walk after a two-hour workout. A long dog walk is great exercise.

So ... while making your New Year's resolutions, take a good look at your pets. Perhaps they, too, could benefit from a diet and exercise plan for healthy living.

Dr. Schroth is a veterinarian at the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. Pet Points appears biweekly in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The intent of this column is to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you'd like addressed in Pet Points, e-mail Please include your name and municipality or neighborhood.

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