Pets can benefit from a New Year's makeover
Here we are again…January! Time for resolutions and diets. We are not alone in feeling the need to get “back on track,” our fur family also needs to work on being as healthy as possible. Like ourselves, our pets need to be at a healthy weight with good muscle tone to look and feel their best and decrease the risk of disease. Don’t neglect your pet when you resolve to “get in shape”.
It is not uncommon for dogs and cats to slowly gain extra weight as they age. Like with us, winter can be the time when those extra pounds sneak on. Less outside activity and more time to eat is a recipe for poor health.
Obesity is a serious problem with our family pets. Today’s dog generally does not have a job to do. He is not out working the livestock or patrolling the property perimeter. Most of our canine friends sleep on the couch while we are away at work and join us in popcorn and a video in the evening. They receive high-quality dog foods, often more than they need in daily rations, not to mention snacks, treats, etc. Our feline friends no longer hunt for food or patrol the neighborhood, most sleep in the sunny spot by the window with a buffet of various delicacies in their food bowl.
The number on the scale is not the only indicator of being in good condition. Even within a breed, there can be great variations in optimum body weights. Dogs in proper weight should have an indented waist with ribs that are easily felt by lightly running your hands over the dogs’ side.
As with us, our pets are adversely affected by excessive weight. Some typical negative effects of carrying extra poundage are difficulty with breathing, increased arthritic pain and discomfort, anal gland blockage, increased risk of diabetes and increased inactivity which leads to more weight gain.
As with any weight-loss program, caloric intake and exercise are the two main factors that influence success. Not all pet foods are created equal. Your pet should be on as high a quality food as you can provide. That said, if you are trying to slim him down you will need to cut calories, either change to a less caloric feed or decrease the amount fed. This can be done even if your pet is used to the 24-hour buffet approach. To start, measure the amount of food you put out, being sure to have enough that he has all he wants. Then measure how much he eats in a 24-hour period. Do this for three to four days to get an average per day. Then decrease this amount. For most pets, 15-20 percent decrease works well. Next, put out only that amount of food in a day. This method does work, if more than one pet is self-feeding, you will need to feed them separately. You should weigh your pet every 30 days to check her progress. If she is a large dog, a trip to your veterinarian for a weigh-in on a walk on scale may be needed.
In addition to diet, exercise is a must. As with all exercise programs, start slowly and increase in increments. For dogs, walks are good and trotting beside a bike (there is training involved for safety) are two forms of exercise that work. It is also possible to train your dog to walk/trot on a treadmill so even in inclement weather, she can be exercised. Do be cautious with exercise in warm weather: it is easy for a dog to become overheated. If your dog enjoys swimming, it is an excellent form of exercise in the summer, they stay cooler and there is less impact on joints.
Cats also need exercise. For them, play time with toys or a laser dot can provide a good work out. You will need to be a detective and figure out what activity your cat prefers so that you can encourage play.
Metabolism plays a large role in our pet’s weight. Just like us, some pets have a higher metabolism and burn off calories faster while others aren’t as fortunate. Although ones basic metabolism is generally consistent we can help increase it through proper nutrition and exercise. That is in our control for ourselves and our pets.
Your pet will look and feel better at her optimum weight. She will interact with the family more and be healthier. Before starting an exercise or weight-loss program with your pet, be sure to have her examined by your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will give you a target weight to aim for and ensure your pet is healthy and ready to start her spring fitness program.
Remember, your pet relies on you for her quality of life, don’t let him down. Have fun and hope to see you and your dog out and about this spring.
Dr. Nancy Schenck, D.V.M., of Four Loving Paws Veterinary Services, Inc., can be reached at 812-448-1415. If you have a question or pet-related topic for Dr. Schenck to discuss in an upcoming article, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.