Weight Isnât Just a Cosmetic Issue
By Cheryl Lock
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), 54% of the nationâs dogs and cats are overweight, and the founder of APOP, Ernie Ward, DVM, is really not happy about it.
âWe often try to compare whatâs happening with our pets to the childhood obesity epidemic, since itâs a similar pattern that emerges,â said Dr. Ward. âThe biggest problem is that by the time most people recognize the problem, itâs often too late.â
So why is it that having an obese dog is such a problem? Dr. Ward broke it down.
The Two Main Problems with Overweight Dogs
There are really two factors to keep in mind when you consider the issues associated with overweight and obese pets, says Dr. Ward: health and money.
The first, health, should come as no surprise to those who are aware of all the health issues that overweight people have to deal with. âItâs not only the fact that obese pets face a shorter life expectancy, but itâs the quality of the life theyâre leading in the first place,â says the doctor.
A few of the major health issues that obese dogs have to deal with include osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart and respiratory disease, kidney disease, cancer, and more.
âThe real heartbreaker for me as a vet, though, is that these pets have such a diminished quality of life,â Dr. Ward said. âI see the consequences, and I wish for those pets that I could roll back the tape to five years ago and say âLetâs change a few minor things here and there and we could have avoided all of this.â Itâs avoidable, not inevitable.â
Besides the health factors, Dr. Ward is also astounded by the amount of money that is spent when it comes to treating obese pets. He estimates that obese animals are costing owners tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars in unnecessary medical bills each year. âFrom an economic perspective this is huge,â he said. In fact, according to Dr. Ward, a lot of the vet care expenses associated with weight issues would go away if we would all start making smarter and better food choices for our pets. You heard that right; better pet food choices can save you money!
The Road to a Solution
Dr. Ward suggests a few very specific steps when it comes to preventing and treating dogs that are overweight or obese â and it starts with a conversation.
âIâm demanding of my profession,â says Dr. Ward. âPet owners will come to me and say, âI asked my vet about my petâs weight and he didnât seem interested.â When it comes to your petâs weight, itâs crucial to find a vet whoâs interested and knowledgeable. If youâre not having a conversation with your vet about what youâre feeding your pet and how much youâre feeding him, youâre missing an important step to preventative health care.â
Aside from keeping the lines of communication open with your veterinarian, Dr. Ward also suggests the following to monitor your dogâs weight:
- Measure your dogâs food. Dr. Ward says that in survey after survey pet owners admit to eyeballing or "guestimating" how much food they feed their dogs on a daily basis. The right thing to do? Ask your vet exactly how much food you should be feeding your pet, get a measuring cup and give your furry friend exactly that amount each day â no more, no less. âAnd check back with your vet each year for the amount,â says Dr. Ward. âJust because you fed your [dog] one cup last year doesnât mean he should be getting the same this year.â
- Ease up on the dog treats. Often when we feel guilty about not being able to spend as much time with our pets, we satisfy them with additional treats, says Dr. Ward. While itâs unnecessary to stop giving your furry friend treats altogether, he suggests keeping an eye on it, and not going overboard when giving out treats â especially with dog treats that are high in fat and sugar.
If you think your own dog might be at risk for being overweight or obese, your first line of action is to make an appointment with your veterinarian. âOf all the decisions pet owners make regarding their animalâs health, the most important is what we choose to feed them,â said Dr. Ward. âItâs not rocket science or a medical secret, just good old fashioned food measuring and making smart choices. That alone can have tremendous impacts on the length of quality of your petâs life.â