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Pet Obesity: What’s Making Our Furry Friends So Fluffy?

pet obesity

Today (October 14) is National Pet Obesity Day. So let’s talk about the elephant fluffy dog (or cat) in the room.

Obesity, defined as an excess amount of body fat, can have serious adverse health effects on your pet, including:

  • Torn ligaments
  • Joint pain
  • Spinal disc disease
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • High blood pressure
  • Liver & kidney disease
  • Bladder & urinary tract disease
  • Heart failure

Did you know that more than 50% of pets in the US, and up to 60% of pets in Canada (specifically dogs and cats) are overweight or obese? That’s alarming, yet not altogether surprising, given that approximately 40% of American adults and about 27% of Canadians over 18 are also obese. 

So what’s the deal? Why are our pets so chunky?

Are we overfeeding our furry friends? Are we feeding the wrong foods? Or are they just not getting enough exercise

While diet and exercise may be a major factor in weight gain, we can’t blame pet obesity on that alone. Spaying and neutering, along with a handful of diseases can also cause our pets to pack on a few extra pounds: 

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Insulinoma
  • Cushing's disease (Hyperadrenocorticism)

For pets, particularly smaller breeds, a “few extra pounds” can be catastrophic. Take dog breeds in the toy category, for example -- an extra 3lbs for them is equivalent to your or I gaining about 30lbs.

For a variety of reasons, some breeds are also more prone to packing on the pounds, such as:

  • Bulldogs
  • Pugs
  • Beagles
  • Basset hounds
  • Golden & Labrador retrievers
  • Dachshunds
  • Shih-tzus
  • Several types of spaniels & terriers

Whatever the cause may be, the facts remain:

  • Approximately 25-30% of the general North American canine population is obese. And up to 45% of 5-11-year-old North American dogs are considered overweight.
  • 59% of cats and 54% of dogs in the U.S. are classified as overweight or obese, according to October 2016 research conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP). 

Obesity is the most common preventable disease in dogs in North America

“Being just 10% overweight decreases a dog’s lifespan by one-third,” said Dr. Carol Osborne, an integrative veterinarian at Chagrin Falls Pet Clinic in Ohio. 

Pet obesity creeps in slowly, causing cumulative damage over time. So let’s talk about how to regain and maintain control of your pet’s weight.

Pet Obesity Treatment & Prevention

Overweight dogs that lose as little as 6% of their body weight experience a noticeable improvement in their daily mobility. What does that look like in real life?

Six percent of a 20-lb dog (Boston terrier, pug, dachshund) = 1.2lbs 

Six percent of a 50-lb dog (Cocker spaniel, Airedale,bulldog) = 3lbs

8 ways to help your pet lose weight

Eliminate table scraps. Tempting as it may be to share leftovers with your pet, it’s likely causing them to gain unwanted weight. The food we eat contains lots of unnatural ingredients, colours, preservatives and, worst of all, bad carbs. It may be tasty to us, but it’s likely not healthy for your pets.
    Watch the feeding guidelines on pet food packaging. Recommended portions are based on active adult dogs for all life stages. But, spaying and neutering, for example, reduces energy requirement by 20-30% -- something the labels don’t take into consideration. 

      Count calories. For this, we use the Resting Energy Requirement (RER) formula. 

      resting energy requirement
        Choose quality foods. We recommend avoiding processed foods whenever possible. They’re filled with carbs and nutritionally useless fillers. Instead, feed fresh or raw diets made with quality proteins, fibre and moisture. Lowering carb intake will help keep your pet feeling fuller longer. 
          Don’t forget to count treats! It can be easy to get caught up in counting mealtime calories, completely forgetting about those calorically dense treats. Remember to factor those in when planning your pet’s daily food intake. 

            Here are some deliciously healthy treats you can feel good about feeding your pet:

            Single-ingredient treats (stuff that’s already in your fridge!):

            • Baby carrots
            • Celery
            • Broccoli
            • Green beans
            • Zucchini
            • Cucumbers
            • Blueberries
            • Pumpkin
            • Lean meats
            • Pig ears
            • Bully sticks

            RELATED POST: Save Time & Energy with these Meal Prep Hacks

            Pro Tip: Hand feeding your dog’s meal during training sessions is a great way to eliminate the need for added treats. It’s also a great way to slow him down, which brings us to our next point ...

            Use a slow feeder. Some pets eat so fast it barely has time to register in their brain that they might be full. Other pets gulp down their meals in three quick bites … hardly satisfying. Using a slow feeder does just that -- it slows them down. Eating slowly will give your pet a chance to enjoy his meal. But more than that, it’ll give his brain a chance to catch up and realize he is actually satiated.

            Add supplements. This is particularly important if you're feeding commercial brands or dry kibble. Because these ingredients lose nutritional value when cooked at high heats, your pet may not be getting all the vitamins and minerals he needs to properly metabolize his diet. We recommend adding a daily supplement to balance gut health, boost immune function, and improve metabolism.

              Increase exercise. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Weight loss is all about calories in and calories out. But what if the weather is working against you? And what if your pet is an “inside” pet? Or worse, what if your pet has mobility issues?

              Not ready, willing or able to set out on a six mile hike with your fat cat or senior dog? Yeah, we get it. Here are a few simple ways to help your pet burn extra calories:
                • Indoor fetch 
                • Teaser toys
                • Laser pointers
                • Tug of war
                • Indoor obstacle course
                • Stair climbing
                • Trick training

                Did you know that dogs with healthy weights live an average of 2.5 years longer than overweight dogs? Help your pets maintain their ideal weight for a happier, healthier, longer life.

                Have questions about your pet's weight? Drop us a comment below or hit us up on social. We're always happy to help!

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