Now that the season of indulging on holiday treats is over, many of us have made a resolution to shed a few pounds. While it’s a great personal goal, you might want to take a look at your pet’s waistline, too.
Recent studies show that a whopping 59 percent of cats and 54 percent of dogs in the U.S are overweight or obese. We sat down with Alexandria-based veterinarian Dr. Katy Nelson to discuss this surprising trend. She offers some great advice on helping our furry friends fight the flab.
Q&A WITH DR. KATY NELSON
What defines pet obesity?
While humans rely on the body mass index (BMI) scale to measure fitness, we use what is called the body condition score (BCS) for pets. The BCS has a scale from one to nine. If your pet scores a one, they’d be emaciated, while a nine would mean severe obesity. The sweet spot you want to aim for is a five. If I see any pets that are a six, I urge my clients to address it immediately before it gets even worse.
How can we first tell if our pet is overweight?
Ideally, you want to see that waist tuck, which means that you want to be able to differentiate between their ribcage and their hips. If you’re looking down at their back, and it’s “totally tubular,” you probably have a fat pet on your hands. For a quick and easy test, take your two hands and press down on their rib cage. If it takes some pressure to feel the bones, they probably have a significant fat layer, and that could spell trouble.
What kinds of heath conditions can pet obesity lead to?
Sadly, it can have so many repercussions on their entire life. We used to look at being overweight as just a fat storage issue, but we now know that fat cells are actually tiny hormone factories that produce almost 60 different kinds of dangerous hormones. And by allowing them to sit and breed in our bodies and our pet’s bodies, we are letting them wreak havoc by causing inflammation, which can lead to cancer and diabetes. It can also lead to arthritis, heart disease, hyperthyroidism, breathing and joint problems and more.
What are some bad feeding habits pet owners engage in?
Just like we control what goes into our mouths, we have to remember that we also control what goes into our pet’s mouths. Unfortunately, we are often overzealous in the ways we feed them. “Rounding out the food” may make it easier for you and your busy day, but it’s doing your pet a huge disservice. If you consistently round out the food, that’s roughly 25 percent more food per day than they need. The extra calories will soon add up, just like how those extra cookies do for us. Additionally, table scraps, extra treats and unintentional snacks can be horrible diet choices for your pet, not to mention toxic. If you want to give an occasional treat, make sure it’s healthy and that it factors into their daily caloric intake. If possible, homemade treats are best — try some boiled chicken, fresh sardines or even a spoonful of peanut butter.
How can pet owners go on a journey of wellness with their pets?
There is no better exercise buddy than your dog! A tired dog is a happy dog, and completing a workout can make a huge difference in both your days. Even on those lazy weekends that you don’t feel like getting off the couch, trust me, your pet will! Also, we should remember that our pet’s health is a family affair. Everyone who cares for our pet during the day has a role to play — whether it’s the dog walker, the nanny, friends or relatives. We all need to take our pets health seriously and communicate to each other what we are feeding them.
Any final tips?
I’d love to see pet owners work closely with their veterinarian to determine their pet needs, while also rethinking the idea of treating. A treat could be a walk outside, a run to the post office, window-shopping or whatever gets both of you up and moving. When our pets are long gone, what we’ll regret is not having spent more time with them, not the extra biscuits we held back!
If you think your pet might be overweight, make an appointment with your veterinarian to check their weight and determine their body condition score. Be sure to also bring your pet food label so your vet can see exactly what they’re eating. They will be your best defense at getting “Fido” back into fighting shape. It’s never too late to start on a journey of health and wellness, even for our four-legged friends!