Friday, May 09, 2008

Obesity in Pets

While over-feeding by giving treats to your animal may be considered a sign of your affection, it might also be a death sentence. In the United States and other countries, about 40 percent of pets are obese. In fact, the No.1 nutritional problem for all pets is obesity.

Dr. Debra Zoran, associate professor and chief of medicine at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, has some valuable advice about getting your portly pet in shape.

She says the first step a pet owner should take is to have the pet examined by a veterinarian to assess its overall health, body weight and body condition. The vet will typically use the Body Condition System (BCS) chart in order to classify the animal as lean, overweight or obese. A score of 8 or 9 on the BCS means the animal is clinically obese and measures should be taken to reduce the animal’s excess fat tissue.

“Obesity in animals is caused by a combination of over nutrition and decreased energy expenditure,” Zoran confirms.

Over nutrition is something that the pet owner can control, with a little extra effort and help in understanding proper feeding in dogs and cats from your veterinarian. Zoran says there are a number of dietary factors that can result in a pet becoming obese. First, pet owners need to know the proper amount of food – and calories – they need to provide their animal based on its lifestyle, neuter status, workload and body condition.

She notes to keep in mind that recommended serving sizes on the labels of pet food have been calculated for active, intact animals, and should be decreased by 20 - 30 percent for neutered animals, house dogs and cats, and animals that lead a primarily sedentary lifestyle.

“Dogs should be fed twice a day at controlled time intervals. Try not to leave the food bowl down constantly since this is often the cause of overeating,” informs Zoran.

Zoran also recommends limiting the number of treats a dog receives, especially around the dinner table. Every treat the dog receives has calories, which can lead to obesity if the dogs’ caloric intake is not adjusted. Since treats are often an important aspect of owner-dog interaction, it is essential to increase exercise to compensate for the added calories. This can be done by allowing the animal to run in the backyard or taking the animal to a park. It is important to visit with a veterinarian if a pet owner is unsure of the optimum amount of food or treats a dog should receive.

Just as in dogs, feline obesity is also a significant problem in pet cats. Since inside cats are less likely to be extremely active, their caloric content should be carefully controlled. The most common method of feeding indoor cats is free choice, since open bowl feeding is highly associated with over-eating.

Ideally, Zoran says, cats should be fed small meals two to four times a day in controlled time intervals and using a specific amount of food. Zoran recommends encouraging activity in cats by purchasing toys or using other methods of stimulation like laser lights or climbing trees in order to encourage physical activity. The key to feline activity is to increase movement – cats respond to movement and activity.

“Cats need physical activity in order to burn the excess amount of carbohydrates and other calories present in their food,” she adds. “Since cats are carnivores, their bodies do not need any carbohydrates. If the animal lies around all day, these carbohydrates are not used and this can lead to obesity.”

Obesity is a serious disease that can lead to an early death. Obesity is associated with the development of osteoarthritis, diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidemia, cardiac and respiratory diseases and diseases of the urinary system, including kidney disease and bladder problems. Zoran says it is a pet owner’s responsibility to control the animal’s food intake and foster an environment that encourages exercise. A good way to show your pet some love is to keep it thin and healthy.

Pet Talk is a service of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

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