Friday, September 21, 2012

The Obesity Epidemic in Pets

Jennifer Koslo, PhD, RD, CSSD, CPT
FT Faculty, School of Health Sciences
Health and Wellness/Nutrition

Did I catch your attention? I just read an article in Science Daily that I just had to share and blog about. Not only are more than half of American overweight or obese, but now according to studies it would appear those numbers run parallel to the obesity numbers in the average American family pet. Yes that is right, up to 60% and perhaps as high as 70% of cats and dogs are overweight.  I am guessing the reasons for this are similar to the reasons that so many Americans are overweight: lack of physical activity and poor diet. Interestingly, the obesity epidemic in pets is opening up an entire new career opportunity as an American College of Veterinary Nutrition board-certified clinical nutritionist. Currently there are only about 100 of these experts in the country three of whom are employed in the first ever obesity clinic for pets at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts in Massachusetts. The clinic has just recently opened and is designed to help owners achieve safe and effective weight loss for their pets.

Studies completed at Cummings have shown that while dogs and cats are not prone to coronary artery disease, they are prone to weight related complications such as diabetes, orthopedic and respiratory problems and a reduced quality of life. An overweight pet is neither happy nor healthy despite the perception many owners have.  You may wonder if it isn’t as simple as feeding your pet one of those “weight management” foods. Well apparently it is not. The researchers at Cummings have found that the amount of calories in these types of foods can vary greatly. Add to that the fact that weight loss is as difficult for an animal as it is for a human.
Hmmm. So what do we make of all of this? I am a big proponent of prevention and speaking as a dog owner myself, I do my best to keep my little cockapoo, Kismet, who is now 9 ½ years old as healthy as possible. I feed him baby carrots instead of dog biscuits and he loves them. They are sweet and crunchy. I know other owners who feed their pets fresh green beans. He doesn’t get any table scraps, although since I am vegan they would be healthy anyway! In general you just want to avoid doing this as scraps can add up to a lot of additional calories.
To assess whether or not your pet is overweight, vets generally say that you should be able to feel but not see its ribs. You should also be able to see a distinct “waist” where the body narrows behind the rib cage and in front of the hindquarters.
So what type of food?  I feed Kismet organic food (dry and wet) because the same laws that keep the meat that people eat free of Mad Cow Disease do not apply to the manufacture of pet food. And while you don’t have to go organic, you should read the ingredient list. The FDA has a whole site dedicated to pets, pet food, etc and has a section on reading the label on pet food
Get active with your pet! Kismet is really active. I walk him about 2+ miles a day. It pains me when I see dogs penned up and never taken for a walk. Owning a pet is a just such an easy way to stay physically active yourself. Pets are so fun and entertaining that I just love watching Kismet bound down the local walking trail on our nightly walks.
So while the obesity epidemic in pets seems to have opened a whole new career field, I think it also serves as a “teachable” moment to all of those loving pet owners out there. Put your pet’s health right up there at the top of the priority list with yours. Now get out that leash and start walking!


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