Fitness and Your Pets

Well the Flying Pig Marathon was just run and May is national Fitness Month (for humans!) so I thought this was a good time to talk about fitness and your pets. This is an extremely important subject because obesity is probably, directly or indirectly, the highest cause of death in our cats and dogs.  The saddest part of that statistic is that it is the easiest preventable disease we see.

Obesity predisposes dogs to arthritis, ligament damage , cardiovascular disease, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, cancer, and premature aging.  Because dog ancestors were scavengers, they have an innate desire to gorge on food as often as possible; thus, they will beg for food and who can resist those big eyes? In a short time being overweight graduates to obesity.

Obesity predisposes cats to arthritis, ligament damage, cardiovascular disease, heat stroke, cancer,premature aging, and the big one: type 2 diabetes. Twenty years ago obesity was rare in cats; however, it has become very common because of more sedentary lifestyles of indoor cats and poor nutrition.  In the last 10 years nutritionists started to realize that our cat foods were formulated inadequately and this is being slowly corrected.


Prevention is easy.

  1. From an early age keep your pet active.  Outdoor activities should be part of all dogs’ daily activities. If you walk, take them with you. If you have a larger athletic dog and you run, take them with you. Frisbee, and retrieving games are great ways to stay fit.  

    Cats create more of a challenge. Start when they are kittens. You can create games with laser pens and toys on a stick. Remember, you are working with their instincts and trying to mimic small mammals (mice) for them to chase.  We recommend keeping cats indoors, but those that spend time outdoors tend to stay fit naturally.

  2. Feed a high quality diet. The least expensive components of feedstuff for manufacturers are fiber and fat. They know that a moderately overweight pet appears healthy to the owner. They also know that our pets crave fat. So some diets tend to have too much fat so that the pets readily eat it and appear “pleasingly plump.” Canned foods or gourmet food for small pets are the worst offenders. It is ok to feed these gourmet diets, but be careful on amounts and watch their weight closely.

  3. Know how to monitor their body fat. The easiest way to do this is weighing them monthly and watching for upward trends. The other method is manual.  First look over their back and be sure they have an obvious waistline. Then run your hands down their back. With a little pressure, you should be able to feel the top of each vertebrate (backbone). Then run your hands over their ribs. As with the back, with a little pressure you should be able to feel each rib.  If it is difficult to feel this, the fat layer is too thick.  If, on the other hand, you can lightly run your fingers over these areas and easily count each rib or vertebrate, your pet is too thin.

  4. If weight gain is occurring simply feed less. I recommend reducing intake by 10% increments.  If you do this twice with no results, schedule a visit with us for further assessment.

  5. No table scraps, period.

  6. Compare when you shop for treats. Check fat content and don’t substitute a food decrease with a treat increase.  

OK,OK I failed prevention, now what I do?

  1. Go back to basics. Feed a high quality reduced fat diet.  Remember not all diets are the same. Some “lite” diets are anything but low calorie. Compare fat and calorie content.

  2. Start on an exercise program.  This can be complicated and if not sure, contact us. Young dogs with a moderate weight problem can rapidly be introduced to exercise. Older and more obese pets are a bigger challenge. Use common sense. This is where you can think of them as little people. Start slow and gradually build up in weekly increments. Watch them for over exertion. Excessive panting and/or drooling or just slowing down means you are pushing them too hard.  Back down and slowly build up. Don’t exercise right after eating and remember they have to adjust to heat just as we do. 75 degrees is a comfortable summer day but in the spring a sudden jump from 50 degree to 75 degrees can be as dangerous as temps in the 90s.

  3. Monitor weight as discussed. As with us, losing weight too fast can be deleterious. Feel free to bring your pet in during office hours to be weighed at no charge.

  4. If you are diligent with poor results, make an appointment. We carry the best weight reduction diets available. Also, in older pets, there may be an underlying disease process preventing successful weight loss. Of course if you are on a semi-annual exam and bloodwork program, these problems more than likely would have already been recognized and controlled.

So that’s it. Snap to it and get busy. The biggest heartbreak we see is a pet prematurely aging with arthritis, diabetes, etc. Fitness is key to a long active life. Keep them with that kitten/puppy attitudes all their lives!

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