Follow the Trail from Fat to Fit – A Roadmap for You and Your Pet
By Audi Donamor

Headlines across the land, declare that obesity amongst household pets has reached an all time high. While “News at 11” may not be addressing this issue, recent research conducted by the United States National Research Council, has released some startling, but not unexpected results. Simply put, North America’s pets are mirroring their guardians, and the news is not good. According to the National Research Council, as many as 25 percent of cats and dogs in the Western World, are overweight, and actuarial data, compiled by Veterinary Health Insurance, the oldest and largest health insurance plan for pets, states that between 25 and 40 percent of all American household pets are considered overweight or obese. Heart attack related claims have risen more than 47 percent over the past two years. It’s time for us to take a little road trip, and along the way, we will stop and examine some of the causes behind pet obesity, then we’ll move on down the road, to explore some hidden curves that we need to be conscious of, and finally, we’ll reach the land of the green lights, where our animal companions are fit, not fat, with improved health and quality of life.

In today’s world, we are bombarded by advertising promotions, in print and on film, that proclaim that if you take a little red pill, you will lose 4 to 7 pounds in 5 days, or if you try the latest greatest diet, you can turn back the clock, and I must admit to an element of some surprise, when I see the growing number of pet products that animal guardians are encouraged to buy, so that their pudgy puppy or chubby cat can lose weight.

We all know that excessive body weight is not healthy, and a hands on examination, is the easiest way for you to determine if your pet is overweight or obese. A healthy dog will have a waist, when viewed from above, a tucked stomach, when viewed from the side, and your dog’s ribs should be easily felt, through a thin layer of flesh. If one of these signposts is missing, your dog may be overweight, but if more than one signpost is missing, and if you can see fatty deposits over your dog’s chest, spine, and base of his tail, he has an even bigger problem. He is obese, and it is really time to find out how you can help him to rev his engine. It’s even easier to determine if your cat is fat. If he looks fat, he is. You should not see fat deposits on your cat’s back, face, or limbs, and his abdomen should not be rounded. Pets that weigh anywhere from 10 to 20 percent above their ideal body weight, for their size and breed, are considered obese.

Obesity in our animal companions causes many of the same problems in them, that it causes in us. Dr. Donald Strombeck, DVM, PhD, author of Home-Prepared Dog & Cat Diets: The Healthful Alternative, says that obesity is the most common form of malnutrition, affecting dogs in Western countries, and, according to Dr. John Rush, Professor of Clinical Sciences at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, overweight dogs often have extra fat deposits on their chest walls or inside their chest cavities, which places an additional burden on their cardiovascular and respiratory systems. One of the most common medical problems caused or aggravated by obesity, is arthritis. Your pet can also experience orthopedic problems, from herniated discs, to ruptured stifle ligaments. Obesity can also be a warning sign for heat intolerance, skin problems, and even surgical complications, leading to longer recovery time. Overweight cats are at special risk for diabetes mellitus, lower urinary tract disease, and hepatic lipidosis, a severe form of liver failure, typically occurring in obese cats, who have undergone a brief period of stress, which could be as simple as a change in diet, resulting in anorexia. Treatment of feline obesity needs to be approached with caution, and always under the care of a veterinarian, in order to avoid crashing into this potentially fatal disease. Obesity in our animal companions can be a frightening roadblock, but there are ways you can help your pet back to the road of health and vitality.

Nike cooking away!If your dog or cat is overweight, a trip to your veterinarian is in order, before any kind of weight management programme is put into place. Your pet’s medical history should be considered, along with a thorough physical examination, including a complete blood panel and urinalysis, to ensure that endocrine diseases such as hypothyroidism, an insulin imbalance, hyperadrenocorticism, or Cushing’s Disease, can be ruled out as a cause for your companion animal’s weight gain. Dr. Martin Goldstein, DVM, author of The Nature of Animal Healing : The Definitive Holistic Medicine Guide to Caring for Your Dog and Cat, recommends the use of BioNutritional Analysis (BNA), available through Antech Laboratories, which examines your pet’s body, evaluates immune system function, and determines nutritional and glandular requirements, that can then be used as part of a complete weight loss programme for your pet.

When you stop and think about it, it is interesting, that our companion animals, often mirror our own struggles with weight loss and control, so once hypothyroidism or other metabolic disorders have been ruled out by your veterinarian, it is time for you to map out a safe and successful weight loss programme for your pet, that you can stick to, because contrary to popular belief, love for our pets is not always spelled food. Free feeding is a major contributing factor to obesity in companion animals, so you can’t give in to those soulful eyes and humming purrs.

Well, we’ve looked at the causes of obesity, and some of the things we need to be on the look out for, before attempting a weight loss plan with our pets, so let’s take a look at two critical paths to follow to a fit pet, diet change and exercise.

Try keeping a food journal for even one week. If more than one person feeds or treats your pet, leave the journal in a place of easy access, and ask all your pet’s pals to write down the date and time they feed your pet. The results may surprise you. Fido and Fluffy may be eating much more than you thought!

We know that all food contains calories, but not all foods are converted equally to fat. Dr. Strombeck points out, that fewer calories convert to fat, when an animal’s metabolic rate increases, so by supplementing our pet’s diet with omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil sources or flax seed, we can help them to burn more energy. Other foods that increase metabolism include vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fruits.

Now that you really know how much and how often your pet is being fed, it is time to change your routine, and we all know that change is not easy. Family and friends need to work together, to help you help your pet, from fat to fit. One person should feed your pet. Feeding smaller, more frequent meals is often beneficial, if your schedule permits. It is time to throw guesswork out the window. All food should be measured, and the best way to do this, is by actually weighing your pet’s daily ration, including treats. Consider using fresh fruit or vegetables for treats, rather than biscuits. Chunks of fresh apple, carrots and zucchini, are great alternatives, and even many finicky cats enjoy the taste of fresh melon, but generally, a cat’s digestive system is designed for absorbing nutrients from animal based proteins and fats, and it is important to remember, that cats should never be fed a vegetarian diet. If you do give your pet biscuits, break them into tiny pieces. Your pet will love you just as much, whether the treat is big or small. Working with your veterinarian and perhaps an animal nutrition expert, put well defined diet goals in place that include regular monitoring.

Check out Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats (a 400-page report by an international team of experts and most comprehensive assessment of the daily nutrient and calorie requirements for dogs and cats), to learn more about nutrition for your companion animals, and how you can help your dog or cat to lose weight.

Make a daily activity date with your dog or cat. Dr. Howard Erickson, Professor of Physiology and Anatomy at Kansas State University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, says that even a simple game of ball in your backyard, will provide sufficient aerobic exercise for your dog. Just like us, going for a walk, or participating in other activities, like swimming, can help our dogs to be healthier and happier companions.

Gently encourage your cat to be more active. Consider getting “Da Bird,” one of the top rated toys for cats, whose twirling feather action, mimics the motion of a real bird in flight. Catnip mice are always popular, and a foil ball, makes a great little hockey puck for your feline friend. Let’s face it, your cat is not going to jog along with you, but you can coax them off their nice windowsill, for some interactive play.

There is no magic little red pill, to help your beloved animal companion lose weight, but with the guidance of your veterinarian, you and your pet can successfully take the trip from fat to fit, and have lots of fun along the way.



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