A New Year’s Resolution: Getting the Pets in Shape!

It’s the start of a new year, a typical time for many to take steps towards a healthier lifestyle. It’s old news that there is an “obesity epidemic” in America, and most people are aware that there is a plethora of health complications associated with being overweight. It is also coming to public attention that there is a similar obesity epidemic in the American pet population. It is estimated by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) that 55.6% of pet dogs and 54% of cats are overweight or obese. Obesity is caused by a combination of factors, including genetics, but can be boiled down basically to taking in more calories than are used by the body. From a cultural standpoint, pet animals are becoming obese because of a modern, first-world lifestyle. Many owners express affection to their pets by feeding them, often overfeeding or feeding rich treats. There was a time when most cats and dogs roamed outdoors all day long, but now most are relatively sedentary. Many owners don’t spend the time to walk the dog, and many cats are indoor only with limited space for activity.

Just like humans, dogs and cats can have many health problems that are secondary to or exacerbated by being overweight. They can develop diabetes, have high blood pressure (which in turn can stress the heart and damage the kidneys), and have increased strain on joints leading to or worsening conditions like cruciate ligament tears in the knees and osteoarthritis. Obesity can even be linked to increased risk of certain forms of cancer. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), studies suggest that being overweight can decrease our pets’ life expectancy (up to 2.5 years). Maintaining an ideal weight for our pets is obviously important for maximizing their longevity and quality of life.

So… where do I start?

A reliable and practical place to start getting in shape is going to the doctor’s for a routine physical exam! Too many humans neglect to do this; many pets are also not checked up unless they are due for vaccines or have a perceived problem. Keep in mind that cats and dogs lifespans are shorter than a human’s, so in a sense an annual physical exam could equate to a check-up every 6 to 8 years – a lot can change in that amount of time! The vet can address any of your concerns regarding your pet’s weight as well. Get their opinion on whether there needs to be any changes in diet, exercise, or if any blood tests need to be run, as there can be underlying metabolic diseases that can affect a pet’s weight.

In evaluating the weight of dogs and cats, it’s not easy to go by numbers on a scale alone. The variety of shapes, body types, and ideal weights, even within specific breeds, can be staggering. The veterinarian on exam will evaluate your pet based on palpation as well as visual appearance, so a target weight can be estimated for your individual animal. For your own reference, you could always compare your pet to a Body Condition Scoring Chart, like the two below. (You can download a PDF version of both charts HERE.)


Very roughly speaking, regardless of the breed of your animal, they should still have a waist (where the body narrows down behind the ribcage, and the abdomen should tuck up) and you should be able to feel individual ribs without putting too much pressure on the chest. Many Americans are accustomed to seeing overweight dogs and cats by now, so our perceptions may be skewed by expectations. While you don’t want to see the spine, shoulder blades and hip bones sticking out, seeing some definition to the trunk of the pet is a good thing!

Selecting a quality pet food is also important to maintaining appropriate weight. While there are thousands of opinions as to what constitutes a good brand, what helps is to make sure the food has clinical nutrition trials to back it up and that it at least meets standards by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO ) for being complete and balanced. Many owners are interested in creating home cooked diets or supplementing commercial pet food with table food, but if this is to be done properly a veterinary nutritional specialist should be consulted and a lot of good research should be put into formulating something balanced and appropriate. Home-cooked pet food recipes found on the internet may result in nutritional deficiencies and significant disease, if owners are not careful.

It is also very important to control how MUCH a pet is fed daily. Many owners will only roughly estimate how much a pet is fed, using non-standard “cups” to measure out portions; some will just “keep the bowl full.” If the food is left out for pets to eat at their own pace, at least a controlled total quantity should be offered. Feeding guidelines on the pet food bag or cans may even be overestimating how much should be fed, so these recommendations should be taken in light of the animal’s current body condition, activity level, etc. Also take into account how many calories are added into the daily diet by treats.

Often, if there is difficulty losing extra weight and other underlying medical issues have been addressed, the vet may recommend a specific veterinary prescription diet to help animals have decreased caloric intake while feeling more satisfied than they would if they just decreased their regular diet quantity. Often these prescription diets are higher in fiber or protein to help the animals feel more full, and some also are formulated to increase metabolic rate to help burn calories. Often, fatty commercial dog treats can be replaced with pieces of vegetables, which are often in large part water and fiber. (Unforunately, cats are carnivorous; but high protein and low carbohydrate diets are important for their weight management!)

Exercise is obviously an important component to maintaining healthy weight. It is also critical for our pets’ overall well-being and can be important for avoiding or resolving behavioral issues like anxiety, supposed hyperactivity, and destructiveness. For very overweight animals, it will be important to slowly increase activity over time to avoid injury. Walks and jogs are obviously mainstays for dogs, but for cats a little more creativity may be required. Investing in toys, laser pointers, etc. may be in your future!

For many helpful tools (such as calorie calculators) and much more information, go to www.PetObesityPrevention.com. Good luck and good health!


A Visit to the Vet by Jackson

image003Like every morning, I go with my Mom to get Zoe. Zoe sleeps at Jessica’s place, but that silly girl has to come home every morning to do her business in our yard. I found this pretty gross if you want my opinion.

Mom loves to take me with her anywhere she goes but I do provide some help with Zoe. You see, as soon as Zoe gets into my truck, she starts whining, and whining, and then screaming because she needs to go. When I am with Mom, I just bark once and it does it: she shuts up! Seriously that girl needs a reality check! Hello, there is grass somewhere else than in “my” yard!

So, anyway, we went to grab Zoe. Mom took her out of the truck. Zoe is one of those that Mom has to carry because she never figured out how to get out of the truck, but hey, I have known my sister for so long that I am quite accustomed to her non sense.

Zoe went inside the house, and I was waiting in the truck. First time it ever happened! Mom…. Hello…. Mom? I am still here? Mommmmmm! What’s happening here? I am hungry! My stomach is growling…. Mommmmm?

It seemed like it took Mom forever to come get me. Gosh, by then, I was so hungry. I went straight to the kitchen. Nothing. The others were already taking naps and taking it easy. Where is MY breakfast? Mommmmmmm….. I am hungry! She was in her office, and I went there and tried to get her attention by grabbing her arm. She kissed me, but did not move. Mom? Seriously? It’s not funny anymore! I need my food!

I went back to the kitchen, checked out the counter which was totally clean for once. I am usually the one in charge of it. What was happening here? That started to freak me out, let me tell you! I thought I was going to faint! I went to check the trash can just in case: EMPTY! Starting to get really upset, I went straight to the recycling: EMPTY! I was starting to panic: what if she had totally forgotten that I did not have breakfast? I tried to open the fridge, but she had put a chair in front of it!

Suddenly, Mom arrives, all smiles, and she called me to go back to the truck! Okay, maybe she ran out of my food, and we are going there. I like to go to that shop. One time, I managed to get lose and Gosh, I had a ball! I swallowed everything I could find on my path. Now, Mom is careful when we go there. She always checked my collar first. Still, most of the time I get that duck patty as a treat. I love ducks! One of my favorite foods in the whole wild world.

We were in the truck, Mom driving and I was next to her making sure we were safe. I tried to grab her arm a few times. I kind of like to have my paw in her hand in the truck. It just feels good. I suddenly realized that we were on the way to the swimming pool! Gosh…. Ok Mom I forgive you to have forgotten my breakfast. Between food and swimming, I go for the swim. I was so excited. I started talking to her. Go faster…. Faster woman! Suddenly we were stuck, and the truck was not moving! I was getting impatient and started barking! Mom got impatient too, and starting honking! It was getting fun. We started to move again.

I knew we were getting there. I know the way; I could walk there, except that I would not really be able to do so since my paws are kind of fragile on hard stuff! I could not wait to get to that pool! I love to swim! Then that guy, Ross, plays with me and sends a bumper in the pool and I grab it, he takes it back, he throws it, I grab it back. I could play forever!

YES! We are there! I knew it! I started getting antsy and….. MOMMMMM you passed the pool! Mom! Are you kidding me? Are you blind or something this morning? Mom! And I did not stop screaming until she stopped the truck some time later.

It was a place I have never been before. There was some grass, and she told me to pee! Okay, that’s what she says each time we go swimming. If I don’t pee before going in, then when I see Ross, the guy I play with in the pool, I am always so happy that I kind of forget myself! Hey, nobody’s perfect around here! It just might be another place where I can swim! I can’t wait! So, as soon as I get out, I pulled Mom fast, and she screamed at me to stop!

As soon as we arrived there, so many smells, but funny, I could not smell the pool stuff. Where was she taking me? Sometimes humans are really hard to read!

We went to a small room. The first thing Mom did was to break a small flower pot! Who is clumsy? You wanna tell me? Mom told me to shut up. Gosh that woman has no manners!

We were waiting and suddenly the door opened and a woman came. She looked sweet. She kneeled down, and petted me. She started talking how handsome I was, that I was taller than George! How the heck did she know George? He never ever mentioned anything about that place, but true, he left us long ago now!

Mom and “the” woman started talking, then she got something out of a cabinet, and I shrieked in horror “NO! I am not sick! I do not want to have my temperature taken! This is violating my rights! Any laws in this country protecting my privacy?

Then, we all left the room, but Mom did not come with me. I went to another place without her, and I really did not want to go without her. Was she leaving me there? I started to panic and barked loud. I think I scared all the other dogs who were crated there, and they looked quite sick! What on earth was I doing here?

Another lady joined us, and here we went to another room again. How many rooms does that place have anyway? There, she made me lie down, and at that point, I was really scared. They started shaving my tummy? Hello? That thing is tickling me! Can’t you stop?

Those humans sometimes are making me speechless. After shaving my tummy, they put some kind of jelly on it, and it was cold! Then, they started massaging me with something. I was so lost. I just wanted to go see my Mom. Mom, whatever I did to deserve this, I swear, I’ll be good!

Then, they wanted me to pee again. I mean, make up your mind, people. First, Mom makes me pee and now those strangers want me to do the same thing? I am shy, Okay? When I do my business, I do it behind bushes! They were pretty insistent so at the end, I did it. Happy, now?

Then, we went back to the room where were first, and Mom was waiting for me. I ran to her so fast, the woman who was holding me kind of tripped, but I did not care. All I wanted was my Mom. I was so happy to see her that I jumped on her lap, and I am telling you, nobody will make me stay away from her now!

The woman talked to my mom, and was petting me and saying that she loved to see healthy dogs, and that she used to have a lab herself, and that I was so handsome, she could not get over it. I know. Very often, I have that effect on people. When they see me, they are just stunned how handsome and perfect I am.

We finally left. As soon as we got into the truck, Mom got from under the seat a bag with those duck patties I was telling you about a bit earlier. Okay woman, you are forgiven. I just gulped the whole thing down, but then I was a bit thirsty. Mom was laughing and pulled a bowl that she filled with water from a bottle. That’s my Mom! I know she loves me, but I haven’t figured out the meaning of this trip!

We did not go back home the same way. Instead we took kind of a weird stuff. Our truck was on a boat and we crossed a river. That was kind of cool. Mom opened my window, and there were so many smells. I decided I kind of liked it. I don’t like bridges. If I walk with my Mom, and there is a bridge, I brake with my four legs. By now Mom knows that I don’t do bridges!

We finally made it home. Just on time for our daily snack: carrots! Of course, as soon as I got into the house, all the others were all over me and asking me where I have been. I shook my head and told them “Don’t even ask!”