While some dog breeds are more prone to becoming overweight or obese, nearly half of the nation’s dogs and cats suffer some level of tipping the scales beyond their breed standards.

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) reports that 59% of cats and 54% of dogs suffer from excess weight. Dr. Jerry Klein, AKC chief veterinary officer states: “Obesity in dogs is a widespread problem in the U.S. today, yet it is one of the most preventable problems.”

Pet sitters are typically the “first responders” to notice this growing problem. Knowing what to look for and politely educating the owners is a best practice to employ.  Be polite and gentle in your suggestions yet having a few “fat facts” in your tool belt will help.

While many factors may contribute to excess pounds, such as Cushing’s Disease or Hypothyroidism, obese dogs tend to be older females, dogs between the ages of 5-12 and those who aren’t exercised enough to offset their daily food and caloric consumption.

Pet Pro Tip: This is a great promotional message for your dog walking services or to suggest more frequent walks for the heavier dogs in your client base.

The long-term health problems from overweight issues include:
  • High blood pressure
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Respiratory issues
  • Orthopedic problems
  • Some forms of cancer
  • Shorter life spans

How do you know if a dog needs to shed a few pounds?  When viewing them from above, he/she should have an hourglass shape.  From the side, ribs should be slightly visible with the abdomen tucked in and not hanging down.

It’s important for dog owners to develop a health plan to keep their “hefty” dogs toned and fit.

First starters should include a thorough physical exam with blood work, followed by a consultation with the family veterinarian to determine how to effectively reduce calories and increase exercise in a safe and methodical way.

A comprehensive weight management program might include a diet change, fewer treats, smaller portions, or a complete change of food brand. All dogs require high-quality protein, especially seniors. Treats shouldn’t exceed 10% of daily caloric intake and can include carrots, green beans, apple slices (no skin or seeds), watermelon (no seeds), blueberries and other quality alternatives to Milk Bones (basically potato chips for dogs).

Daily exercise is important for all dogs of all breeds and ages. Daily walks twice a day is ideal.

“Most veterinary nutritionists recommend a consistent diet in order to ensure a balanced meal,” says Dr. Alvarez. “The most important nutrient for senior dogs is high-quality protein, due to a higher need for protein levels.” No matter the dog’s age, exercise is another important factor in keeping him/her healthy and fit. It’s also good for a dog’s mental state – a tired dog is less likely to get into mischief.

Even older dogs should go out at least twice a day for mental and physical stimulation. “Dogs with heart or respiratory disorders can be taken out for shorter periods of time and during the cooler parts of the day,” says Dr. Alvarez. Some senior dogs can benefit from low-impact exercise such as swimming.

Similarly, this weighty problem also applies to cats.  It’s estimated that a cat is considered overweigh” when they are 10-20% above their ideal body weight and OBESE when more than 20% over their ideal weight.  So what’s ideal?

The ideal weight for the average healthy cat is 8-12 pounds. There are breed variations of course that detour from this general guideline.  A Maine Coon cat, for example, has a larger body frame so may have a healthy weight of 20 lbs as opposed to an Abyssinia.  They are petite in nature, so 6-8 lbs would be considered normal.

A cat’s fluffy coat can make it difficult to assess their body weight, yet a bird’s eye view should show an hourglass shape with the abdomen tucking in behind the rib cage.  A veterinarian is the ultimate weight assessment professional.

Not only does a “fat cat” risk shortened lifespan, but also an increased likelihood of developing other diseases such as:

  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease and hypertension
  • Osteoarthritis and faster joint degeneration
  • Urinary bladder stones
  • Anesthetic complications
  • Skin and coat problems
  • Arthritis

Feline obesity is a common disease and affects approximately 63% of cats. Diet and feeding strategies are therefore very important for proper weight management.

Feeding a diet of mostly dry food may contribute more to weight gain vs. canned food. Feeding small, frequent meals or free feeding may avoid rapid food consumption and ‘begging’. Treats tend to be higher in fat and calories so should be kept to a bare-bones minimum.

Keep this in mind and spread awareness among your pet sitting staff and client community about this important health aspect for dogs and cats.

Hugs,

Your Pet Pro Team at AoPP

Photo by Flouffy on Unsplash

Resources:

If you’re curious about weight standards for individual dog breeds, check out this quick guide from AKC: Breed Weight Chart – American Kennel Club (akc.org)

Better Pet Fitness in Four Steps — Association for Pet Obesity Prevention

https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/digestive/c_ct_obesity

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