We love our pets and many of us love spoiling our pets with treats and human food. It’s good to give our pets treats sometimes, it can help clean their teeth and depending on the treats, it can provide extra nutrients. But, it’s never good to give our pets human food or to feed our pets too many treats too often. This article will clear up some common misconceptions about our pets and their weight and offer some suggestions on what to do if you are living with an overweight pet.

Some scientists estimate that between 25 and 40% of all domestic dogs and cats in the US are obese. Both the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list obesity as one of the deadliest diseases in both pets and humans. Chronic obesity in pets is reaching epidemic proportions and shows little sign of letting up. But you, as an informed and caring pet owner can help reverse this trend.

A dog or cat may become obese for a variety of reasons. There may be some underlying disease or, it may be simply a matter of too much food or treats, the wrong kinds of foods or treats, not enough exercise, the age of the animal, breed characteristics or a combination of these factors.

Diseases

Regular vet visits are the best way to catch any diseases afflicting your pet. If caught early, many of the medical conditions that cause obesity including disorders of the thyroid, pituitary and other glands, diabetes and arthritis can be reversed or controlled effectively with medication. It’s very important to see your vet if your pet gains weight suddenly or becomes less active.

Food and feeding

A human diet is far too rich, too salty, too high in calories and lacks much of the protein, fiber and other nutrients pets need to be healthy. Many premium commercial pet foods provide a properly balanced, calorie-proportioned diet for domestic pets. Most also offer product lines for pets with special dietary needs such as calorie restricted, limited ingredients and special vitamin/mineral combinations to improve skin, coat and teeth, and to help with certain disorders.

The big thing that the commercial pet foods can’t do is control the amount your pet eats. The truth is that many of us over feed our pets. Many pets, especially dogs, fish and rodents can literally eat themselves to death if we allow them to do so. Most dogs and cats only need to eat twice a day. Feeding your pet a combination of a premium commercial kibble and canned “wet” food, in the proper quantity for the breed and size, is usually adequate. Many pet owners choose to cook for their pets, especially those on special diets, but this can be time consuming. If you decide to cook for your pet, learn what foods are necessary for the good health of your pet. For example, cat’s need food with much higher protein content than dogs do and you should never feed a dog onions or chocolate.

Treats

There is a lot of confusion about which kinds and the proper amount of treats for dogs and cats. For both dogs and cats, crunchy treats aid in dental care and provide extra nutrients such as fiber. Many people think that feeding a pet treats doesn’t “count” in their daily calorie and nutrition, but that’s not true. Everything your pet eats counts toward their daily calories and nutrition. “Over-treating” is the most easily prevented cause of obesity in pets. Follow the recommendations on the box or, consult your veterinarian for the correct number of treats to give your pet at one time. Treats do not mean table scraps. Never give your pet table scraps either at the table or in their bowl. Unless you prepare the food yourself and know exactly what’s in it, never feed your pets human food, as stated, it’s too rich, spicy and salty for any pet.

Exercise

One of the best ways you can keep your pet from becoming obese and help them lose weight if they are already too heavy is, give them enough exercise. If you don’t take your dog for a walk every day, start tomorrow morning; even two or three days a week is an excellent start on an exercise program for both dogs and people. If you already walk your dog once a day, try walking them twice or increase your walking distance an extra block. For cat owners, play with your cat. Get them to move, to chase a toy or low-intensity laser pointer. If your pet is too large or infirm to go for a walk or other exercise, consult with your vet. There are many low-impact, low-intensity exercise programs for pets such as hydrotherapy for dogs and reduced impact treadmill for cats. Exercise is one of the most important things for the overall health of any pet and is vital to pets that need to lose weight. Be sure to consult with your vet before starting your pet on any new exercise program, especially if your pet is already overweight.

Age

Age is another well-known factor with obese pets. As pets age, they begin to have many of the same aches and pains that we do and tend to slow down just as much. It’s important to adjust your pet’s diet and exercise as it ages. Remember to think about diseases of aging as a factor in why your pet may be gaining weight, as it gets older.

Breed and other factors

Both dogs and cats of any breed can become obese, but certain breeds seem to be more prone than others are. If you are concerned, consult with the American Kennel Club about specific breed traits in dogs and the Cat Fancier’s Association for breed specific information on cats.

All pets are unique and no two animals will have the same physique, temperament or dietary needs regardless of species or breed. The two most important things a pet owner can do to keep their pet from becoming overweight in the first place, or help it to lose weight if it’s already obese are understand your pet and what it needs and, build a relationship with a good veterinarian in your area and work with them closely to help keep your pet healthy and happy.

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