Pet obesity is on the rise. Not just in the United States but in other countries such as Britain. The evidence is clear: like their human caretakers cats and dogs are becoming more and more rotund. According to Hills clinical evidence reports, over 50% of dogs in the UK are overweight. In the United States the numbers are lower: approximately 25% of the U.S. pet population is either overweight or obese. Interestingly enough, Hills research reports that 76% of pet owners think their pooches or kitties are at a healthy weight.
One in every four pet owners admit to never exercising themselves or their dogs. This coupled with the fact that pets often become surrogate children lends itself to over-pampered pooches and kitties. Extra helpings of food, or the wrong type of food, can quickly pack on the weight. A cat’s or dog’s life expectancy is already short. Added fat around the heart and vital organs will only reduce its lifespan. Not only that, but the quality of life will be curtailed by stress on heart, liver, and joints. Indeed, several diseases specific to diet are associated with obesity. Consider the risk: diabetes, heart disease, skin disease, respiratory problems, lowered immunity, and arthritis.
Humans tend to think of food as a source of love. It’s so easy to hand out a treat or a piece of food from your plate. The appreciative grin on your dog’s face is reward in itself. The purr of your cat lets you know that you are amazing! Yet, feeding your pets additional snacks is damaging. One dog biscuit or one cat treat is the equivalent of a small meal. Let’s face it, most pet owners feed their pets snacks throughout the day. Feeding your pet quality snacks is not the problem. But if you are like many pet owners, a potato chip here and there, a French fry, a piece of burger, or in the case of a cat, a slice of salmon, can quickly become the road to weight gain; particularly when this snacking habit is combined with lack of exercise.
Despite words of admonition from veterinarians and health conscious holistic practitioners there is a myriad of internet mis-information that glorifies fat pets. The rolly-polly pet is portrayed as cute and cuddly. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is nothing cute or cuddly about killing a pet with food. It is a slow death that will eventually result in large veterinarian bills and a poor-quality life for the animal.
Fortunately for owners who take their pets’ health seriously there are solutions. Exercise as well as reduced calories can effectively erase the extra pounds. Additionally, when pooches and their pet parents exercise together their bond is strengthened. There are many types of exercise that are fun for both the pet and his human: walks, hikes, swimming, games of fetch, and jogging. Just 30 minutes a day can make a huge difference in your dog’s weight control.
Unfortunately, cats do not go jogging or walking with their humans. However, there are methods of stimulating cats to exercise. Cat “fisher” toys are poles with a feathered “bait” hanging on the end. These are very successful in luring cats into their natural hunter mode. Dangling a feather, or a string, in front of your cat will quickly engage him into running and leaping over furniture. Do this several times a day and you will discover how fun it is for yourself and at the same time it’ll be great exercise for kitty.
Obviously a pet parent will need to be cruel to be kind. That is, you will have to withhold those extra helpings of food, snacks, and treats. It’s the only solution. Keep in mind that this is actually going to give your dog an extra two to three years of good quality life with you. A cat’s lifespan can be increased by up to five years! And in the long run, isn’t having your beloved pet around longer, more important than the instant gratification they receive from a tasty morsel?
About the author:
Gyvel Young is a journalist and published author. Her passion is animal behavior and nutrition.