Ask the Veterinarian
Dr. Brianne Hagerty, BVM&S, MRCVS
Veterinarian at James Bay Veterinary Clinic
The ideas of pledging ourselves to the act of losing weight or giving up a habit with the coming of the “New Year” are not new concepts. History suggests that this practice of “New Year’s resolutions” dates back to our ancient ancestors; Babylonians made promises of returning borrowed items and completing debt fulfilments to their gods at the start of each New Year.
Now, as January turns to February some of us have already let our new life changes begin to fade out of focus. However perhaps we shouldn’t let our goals go so soon. Instead we should include our four legged companions in our 2018 diet and exercise plan.
Unfortunately, overweight pets are not uncommon. According to studies done by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, pet obesity was calculated to be a staggeringly high number, with 59% of cats and 54% of dogs classified as significantly overweight.
Identifying the problem is the first step. Stop and take a look and feel of your pet. You should be able to easily feel your dog’s ribs when you lightly run your fingers across their side. Next, from above, look down at your pet. Yes, the ever sought after “hourglass figure” is the goal. He or she should not resemble a shapeless squash or a pudgy oval. However, remember breed and age will influence what are considered ideal “lines” for your pet.
Lastly, looking from the side, the abdomen should gracefully slope upwards. The low hanging or lose “pudge” of abdominal (mesenteric) fat should not be seen, which is often where an overweight cat hides its extra kilograms, disguising it as a useful dust sweeper.
Importance of weight loss
Gentle teasing aside, obesity is a serious health concern. Pets struggling with weight issues are often faced with osteoarthritis and degenerative joint issues. Debilitating pain and marked physical limitations are consequences of these diseases, amplified by the significant excess weight their musculoskeletal system is carrying. Imagine being asked to run up a flight of stairs while carrying a recently purchased large bag of dog food. How does your body feel?
Additionally, significantly overweight pets are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. Chronic inflammation, respiratory disorders, kidney disease, hypertension, skin conditions and even cancer are also closely linked to obesity.
You are what you eat:
Picking the right dog or cat food can be a challenge. Life stage, size, gender, activity level and concurrent health concerns are all factors that go into selecting a food. Ingredients are the delivery medium for the nutrients, vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy pet and therefore understating what your pet needs is key. However ingredient lists can be misleading. Meat is normally the main source of protein for our pets, but whole meats contain a large percentage of water weight, which means the overall percentage of meat after processing is lower than it appears on the label. “Meat meal”, although sounding much less appealing, actually contains more meat then “whole meats”. This is just one example of the many hidden details on a pet food bag. Besides reading the ingredients, also look at the product’s Nutritional Adequacy Statement, which indicates the life stage the food is intended for and if it’s designed for supplemental feeding or only short term feeding.
Portion size is just as important as what you are feeding. Often foods have suggested amounts based on weight, but remember if your dog is older, spayed, or neutered, the amount to feed may be less than suggested. Discuss with your veterinarian how to determine the number of calories required for your specific pet.
Lastly, when you decide on an amount to feed, pretend you’re baking when you feed your pet. Would you add an overflowing heaping measuring cup of an ingredient when baking a soufflé? Even 30 additional kibbles can be a significant increase in calories for some pets.
Don’t Underestimate Exercise
I take my dog running as “our” form of exercise, and although he reminds me daily that he is clearly in better shape than I, it’s a great and healthy way to spend time together. Exercise is key. Dogs need at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day, and cats should engage in at least three to four 5-minute intense play sessions. Exercise can be anything from swimming, walking, agility classes to ball retrieving. For our feline fitness friends, using feather dusters, fake mice, moving food dishes, or building our cats an indoor jungle gym are all great ways to get them to stalk, prowl, chase, and pounce.
Everyone knows someone who expresses love for you through food. It’s that deep rooted mothering instinct to provide and nourish the ones you love. Stereotypical or not, I picture walking into a warm house with the wholesome smell of freshly baked bread, or slightly spicy cinnamon and apples bubbling away on the stove for applesauce. The image is made complete with a meal ready made by the Grandmother standing with her smiling eyes, weathered and creased face, and soft, rounded figure.
We express this love for our pets through treats and table scraps. I myself am guilty of succumbing to the intent sad eyes of Avery, my dog, watching me eat something tasty and sharable. How can I help but give him the last bite? Unfortunately, many treats are calorie dense and made tasty with sugar and fat. Instead, use the fact that dogs and cats can’t do division to your advantage. Break treats up into tiny pieces and use them as rewards. Setting kibbles aside from the measured out portion and using them as treats also can help.
Vegetables and some fruits are an excellent alternative. My dog is a picky, finicky eater, but knows a mile away when I’m prepping zucchini in the kitchen. You might be surprised what healthy treats your dog likes.
Slow changes to daily routine can be the key to success. Squeezing in exercise for you and your pet, or taking the time to focus on nutrition for both of you will have surprising health benefits for all. Enjoy the time you have with your pet as you both step into the New Year!
Dr. Hagerty and Avery