Dr. Cynthia Maro
With winter underway, in our part of the country, many pets and their families become less active. The tendency to skip a walk is so easy when daylight is short and the weather is cold.
Decreased activity often leads to boredom-snacking which can easily pack on the pounds.
Obesity in pets is a serious health condition. Chubby tabbies and pudgy pooches are adorable, but pet parents must show determination to help pets maintain a healthy weight or shed extra fat.
Many owners are shocked when I tell them their pets are overweight. There are two determinants of a healthy body that veterinarians evaluate during a physical exam.
Pet owners often believe the vet is simply petting an animal, but often the staff is determining your pet’s BCS (body condition score) and MCS (muscle condition score).
These two scores tell us if your pet is overweight, underweight or at ideal lean body weight, and whether muscle tone needs to be improved. Many aging pets begin losing muscle mass when they become less active; even though weight may be consistent. If lean muscle decreases, pets are more likely to suffer from degenerative diseases, like arthritis and disc disease.
You can test to see if your dog is overweight. Slide your hands along the rib cage, just behind the shoulders. If you can easily feel your dog’s ribs, without seeing them, then your dog may be at an ideal weight.
If you must dig through fat to feel the ribs, or worse yet, you cannot feel ribs at all, your pet is overweight.
For cats, feel under the rear legs along the belly. If your cat has a pouch of fat between the back legs, she is overweight. Extra weight will increase the risk of cancer, arthritis, asthma, autoimmune disorders, pancreatitis, diabetes and liver disease.
Once you have established the need for weight loss or gain, you can talk to your pet’s vet about the best food, treats and exercise to help him achieve an ideal BCS and MCS.
Following these tips is an excellent way to start helping your pet find its waistline again:
Improve your pet’s exercise plan
Ample exercise is a vital part of maintaining your pet’s healthy weight. Many pets are couch potatoes, waiting for their families to return from work (or to get off the computer, Zoom call or endless work-from-home duties), school and errands. Pets may not receive much exercise because of the family’s lifestyle.
Help your pet be active while you’re not home or occupied with other activities by investing in interactive toys, such as robotic mice for cats and ball launchers for dogs.
Nothing can replace one-on-one playtime, which can be achieved indoors. Spice up your pet’s exercise plan with the following suggestions:
• Blaze new trails: If you are in a rut, walking the same old path every day, find new trails or investigate a different neighborhood.
• Sign up for a class: Although your dog may already have been put through their paces with basic obedience, many groups take that training up a notch.
Depending on your pet’s interests, you can find a great activity, such as agility, scent work, flyball, lure coursing, disc dogs, search and rescue.
Check the AKC’s guide for new sports you and your dog can play.
• Have daily training sessions: Teaching your dog to spin, weave and dance can provide him with mental and physical activity. Cats can exercise through play but require shorter, more frequent playtimes.
Daily activity is essential for your pet’s physical and mental well-being. Routine exercise not only helps your four-legged friend maintain a healthy weight, but also prevents boredom, anxiety, and behavior problems.
Improve your pet’s diet
Proper nutrition is more critical than exercise in creating health. Many owners mistakenly follow food bag guidelines, which leads to excessive caloric intake as compared to the typical American pet activity level.
Instead, follow these three tips to improve your furry pal’s diet:
• Calculate calories: Calculating the correct number of daily calories is essential for pets, as well as people, to maintain a healthy weight. To determine the calories your pet needs each day, use the Pet Nutrition Alliance’s calorie calculator for dogs or cats — or for a more personalized number, ask your vet.
• Measure food correctly: Use an 8-ounce measuring cup to portion out your pet’s meals and don’t feel obligated to keep the bowl full at all times.
• Switch to food puzzles: Try food puzzles or no-bowl feeding methods to help your pet become more active and hunt for their food.
Like people, pets need a combination of a healthy diet and an appropriate exercise plan to maintain a healthy weight and avoid obesity. Pairing these two critical components can help your companion achieve an ideal body weight — and keep you on the move, too.
Dr. Cynthia Maro is a veterinarian at the Ellwood Animal Hospital in Ellwood City and the Chippewa Animal Hospital in Chippewa Township. She writes a biweekly column on pet care and health issues. If you have a topic you’d like to have addressed, email [email protected].