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Posted on Wed, Oct 10, 2012 : 12:30 p.m.

Local vet weighs in on chubby pets on National Pet Obesity Awareness Day

By Lorrie Shaw


flickr photo by rcourtey

The topic of managing weight is one that you can find in most any information stream or conversation and it doesn't seem that there is any danger of it losing steam.

Like it or not, we are a society that loves to overindulge and our waistlines show it.

But, we're not the only ones affected by a weight problem; it's an epidemic that is costing pets and their humans alike. Pets have health issues, injuries and even shortened lifespans as a result — and it hits their caregivers in the wallet.

It's estimated that more than 50 percent of pets in the United States are considered overweight or obese. That's a very sobering number.

With pets, I'll often hear how a pet looks when it comes to their weight problem. The real issue isn't skin deep — it what's happening on the inside that's scary.

Animals that are overweight are at risk for many of the same diseases that humans are, like heart and respiratory disease, insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes. I see too many pets that are suffering from debilitating joint problems like osteoarthritis and cranial cruciate ligament rupture (CCR) because they are too heavy.

And to put it bluntly, pudgy companion animals have a tendency to have decreased life expectancy, too.

Barring any chronic medical conditions (for example, Cushing's syndrome), the reason for weight gain in pets is simple: humans.

Being overweight isn't a health condition in itself, as one might be led to think.

I think that we honestly want to nurture our pets with food; we often care for each other as humans by cooking for others and sharing our time over a plate of yummy food.

We also like to extend that same sense of goodwill toward our pets. And, even if we aren't offering scraps from our plates, quite often we are overfeeding our companions.

More often than not, our pets aren't getting enough exercise, either. And this doesn't just apply to dogs and cats — I've written about the problem of pudgy exotic pets who don't get enough activity and the right diet.

The topic of overweight and obese companion animals has become such an issue that there is a nationwide push to put focus on the problem. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) has designated today as National Pet Obesity Awareness Day.

One local clinician is all too familiar with the topic of overweight pets and their health problems. Dr. Crystal Eberly, DVM — who is also a veterinary nutritionist — says that when a pet comes in for a visit to her office, diet is most often a part of the conversation, no matter the reason.

But, when it comes to talking about how to help pets lose those extra pounds, she understands the dialogue can be difficult for clients to manage. Knowing that, she always keeps one premise in mind: As pet owners, we are our companion animal's advocates.

In essence, we have to power to control how much exercise and food a pet gets, to empowering her client's is paramount.

She notes, "I often hear clients say, 'I don't know where to start...' - and that's where my expertise comes in."

Eberly says that she starts by having her clients keep a journal of what their pets eat for one week, and that means everything — kibble, canned food, treats and scraps — and then coming back to review it all.

Most people are surprised when they see everything in black and white.

In trying to design a plan for feeding, Eberly tells clients, "Let me work out the specifics when it comes to how the amounts of food, calories," that sort of thing.

As for the amounts that are listed on the pet food packages, Eberly says to forget about that. "Most of those recommendations are inaccurate."

She elaborates, "Each pet is different. There is no one-size-fits-all amount of food that dogs of a certain size or breed should get. Their activity level and overall health need to be factored in."

After that's done, Eberly spells out exactly what that pet needs in terms of amounts, and calories (something that most of us are more accustomed to thinking in terms of). She also makes room for treats in that plan.

She says that instead of offering high-calorie treats, there are alternatives like baby carrots, pieces of rice cakes, even taking a dog biscuit and breaking it up rather than giving it to a pet whole. It's the whole 'quantity-vs-quality' thing.

"Mostly, it's about the attention and the very act of getting something from you that a pet is enjoying, not the kind of treat that they are eating."

Eberly, who owns Washtenaw Veterinary Hospital in Ann Arbor, notes that one of the most common ailments that a pet presents with that can be addressed with weight reduction is arthritis.

"A 10 percent weight loss for an overweight pet can be better medicine than any pill I could ever prescribe when I am treating arthritis."

Lorrie Shaw leads the pets section for and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.



Fri, Oct 12, 2012 : 2:02 p.m.

I want to celebrate the fact that my dog has lost 9 lbs! He dropped from 110 to 101. It's the perfect weight for him. It took about 8 months (slow but sure) but we did it. He always acts like he's starving so I got suckered into feeding him more than I should have. But I love my big ol' pooch so I cut back on the kibble and make sure he has plenty of daily activity. If I could just do the same for myself......

Sarah Rigg

Thu, Oct 11, 2012 : 1:09 p.m.

I think the focus on obesity in both pets and people is misguided because, as you point out in the article, obesity isn't a medical condition in and of itself. It's almost always a signifier that something else is wrong, from poor diet to boredom (both cats and dogs can eat from boredom and stress like humans can) and lack of activity to an underlying condition. I adopted a chubby cat and didn't do a lot on purpose to slim him down and he still lost nearly 1/3 of his body weight in one year just because a) I was feeding him quality food that was bulky and filling without being high-carb or high-calories and b) He got a lot of attention and play and was expending a lot more energy. My focus is on proividing good food, appropriate exercise and letting the weight settle out where it will (barring a medical condition that may cause weight gain).