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News Story
Updated: 11/06/2013 08:00:03AM

Is your dog fat, or worse, obese?

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Lori Shank

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The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that as many as 80 million cats and dogs in the U.S. Are either fat or obese.

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Not long after coming to Florida, I had a client bring in their Labrador Retriever. I didn’t need scales or a veterinary education to see that this pooch wasn’t just fat, but obese, morbidly obese.

In assessing the situation with the dogs owners, I asked, of course, about its diet, and what it was fed on a regular basis.

“Cheeseburgers” came the most unexpected response.

If I recall, that lab weighed in at a whopping 157 pounds, or what a male mastiff, might be expected to weigh.

I’m sure you may have missed it, what with all the planning needed for Halloween and the upcoming holiday season, but Oct. 10 was National Pet Obesity Awareness Day.

And while a fat dog or cat can often be a funny, friendly dog or cat, it really is no laughing matter. In fact, the American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that as many as 80 million cats and dogs in the U.S. Are either fat or obese.

And while no one would have trouble labeling a 157 pounds Labrador retriever as obese, recognizing that a pet might have a weight condition isn’t always easy. In fact, one recent study showed that 45 percent of pet owners misidentified their pooch as being normal weight when in fact they were not.

(By the way, I’m not trying to pick on labs. We have a senior one ourselves, who fortunately has managed to keep her girly figure for her now 13 years. But the same study showed that Labs and golden retrievers are the two breeds most likely to be overweight. German shepherds are the least likely, the report noted. And, interestingly, female dogs are more likely to become overweight than males.)

If like me you’ve seen the television reports on an almost weekly basis, it seems, about how obese our nation is becoming, it’s true of our pets, too. And the truth is, many of the same reasons we want to keep a healthy weight are the same reasons we want that for our pets as well. Our pets will have fewer medical issues (diabetes, lameness, cardio) and live longer lives if they stay at a healthy weight.

One study done by the American Veterinary Medical Association tracked labs from the age of eight weeks on. It was a study done over a 14-year period to track the effects of extra weight on dogs. The healthier dogs lived two years longer in the study. Multiple joint arthritis occurred in 77 percent of the overweight labs, and in only 10 percent of the healthy weight dogs.

Pun intended, but this is a very “broad” topic. The most important thing to do if your pet is overweight is to determine exactly what is causing it. Is it as simple as what or how you are feeding your dog, or is there an underlying medical condition that needs to be addressed? Once we all understand why your dog or cat is fat, then we can work on a plan that makes sense for both the client and the pet, taking into consideration all kinds of factors from lifestyle (of both the clients and pets!) to food choices.

There are a few, quick, simple things I can suggest that might help. One is instead of treating your dog with table scraps or a commercial dog product, try a frozen vegetable instead. Many dogs love frozen green beans, for example. They’re crunchy, which dogs like, and cool which is always a welcome treat in our climate. Baby carrots right out of the cello bag are a nice treat too for many dogs. Other things like feeding more but smaller meals, no free choice feeding, more exercise can also be important changes that you can make for your pet.

As for that large, large Lab, she suffered from a variety of ailments because of her weight. We structured a new eating plan for her — we started with no cheeseburgers — and lo and behold, she began to shed pounds on her way to a longer, healthier, and happier life.

If we are what we eat, so are our pets. Make good decisions for them; at least skip the cheese!


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