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Obesity is more than just a human problem

Julie Sutor

While many of us are familiar with the obesity epidemic among American humans, we may not realize that our nonhuman companions are suffering the same fate.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 25 percent of dogs and cats in the Western world are obese.

As if it isn’t overwhelming enough to keep ourselves fit, now we have to worry about our pets’ waistlines, too.

Fortunately, the National Academy of Sciences just issued a new report, “Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats,” which recommends dietary guidelines to keep dogs and cats healthy.

The report summarizes 25 years of scientific research on the topic.

Based on their findings, the authors provide helpful hints for pet owners trying to get their pets to a healthy weight and keep them there.

Overweight or not?

According to Frisco Animal Hospital vet tech Greta Sokol, you can determine whether your dog or cat is obese by a few simple tests.

First, look at the animal from the side, so that you can see the profile of its belly. If there is a “tummy-tuck,” an upward slope toward the back legs, that’s a good sign.

If the line is flat, your pet could be obese.

Next, stand over the animal, looking down the length of its spine. If the body slopes down to the sides away from the spine, that indicates healthy weight.

If the animal’s back is somewhat flat, that’s an indication of excess weight.

Lastly, place your hands along the animal’s rib cage. If the animal is healthy, you should be able to feel the ribs quite easily without pressing hard.

Slimming down

If you have an overweight dog, the “Nutrient Requirements” report authors recommend feeding it smaller amounts of food on a normal feeding schedule. Adult dogs should be fed one to two times per day.

Puppies should receive two to three meals per day.

Alternatively, low-calorie dog foods are available commercially and by prescription from a vet.

To help your dog shed unwanted pounds, keep him or her from accessing other food sources, such as a neighbor dog’s food or human table scraps.

Fresh water should be made available to dogs at all times, regardless of their weight.

If your feline friend is overweight, your approach must be tailored to a cat’s specific needs, according to the report’s authors.

Unlike dogs, cats will eat between 12 and 20 meals per day, spread out evenly over a 24-hour period. It is unnatural for a cat to be restricted to one or two meals during a day.

However, if given unlimited access to food, 30 to 40 percent of cats will become overweight.

To slim down a cat, give it less food each day, but make sure the dole is spread out over the 24-hour period to accommodate the cat’s natural eating schedule.

Other options include giving your cat a low-calorie food or a less palatable food.

As with dogs, be sure your cat does not have access to other cats’ food or to table scraps.

Cats should have access to fresh water at all times, even though their weak thirst does not drive them to drink often. To pre-empt any dehydration problems, feed a cat canned food or add water to dry food.

Take a trip to the vet

If you suspect your pet is overweight, take a trip to the vet to be sure.

The vet may place the animal on a prescription weight reducing diet. In some cases, pets may need to stay on a restricted calorie diet indefinitely to maintain a healthy weight.

During the weight-loss process, it is important to monitor your pet’s progress closely.

“You don’t want any animal – especially a cat – to drop weight too quickly. Rapid weight loss can be really unhealthy for a pet, just like it is for humans,” said Sokol.

You should weigh your pet every two weeks during the diet. Most vets allow owners to use their scales at no charge.

For more information on keeping pets healthy, along with daily calorie recommendations and vitamin and mineral requirements from the National Academy of Sciences, visit http://www.national-academies.org/petdoor.

Copies of “Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats” are available at http://www.napu.edu.

Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-3998 and at jsutor@summitdaily.com.


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