Since quarantine started in March, we’ve seen a lot of families decide to add a new pet to their homes. This means it’s time to discuss topics about how to keep our pets healthy, and how to give them long, full lives. Just like humans, it’s much easier to start out eating healthy and exercising and to make a healthy lifestyle a habit, than it is to lose weight and start new habits and activities. Most pets will become overweight in their first 1-2 years of age. During those first two years they stop growing, lose some of their puppy or kitten hyperactivity, and we neuter them and take away the hormonal component of their metabolism. It’s a recipe for weight gain! Unfortunately, there are so many other preventative care topics to cover during those first few puppy and kitten visits, that healthy weight and body condition frequently gets overlooked. In the midst of talking about heartworm prevention, flea and tick prevention, vaccines, and socialization, we forget to talk about diet and exercise! In fact, you might not even think about healthy weight as a preventative care topic. However, discussing the risks of obesity has been shown to be a VERY important topic of health and preventative care!
Way way back in 2002, a study was published showing that in a research population of labrador retrievers, the average lifespan was longer for dogs who were Calorie restricted (i.e. kept thin and trim) compared to their counterparts who were not Calorie restricted. For years this study, called the “Lifespan study” has been a core piece of information regarding the importance of healthy weight. This study does have a few limitations. For starters, this study was done ONLY on labrador retrievers, and ONLY on a research population.
More recently, a study was published in 2018 showing the impact of obesity on a variety of breeds. This study was done using information collected by Banfield Pet Hospital. This national chain of veterinary hospitals has 900 clinics across the country. They collected information on the body condition and lifespan of client owned dogs of 12 different breeds (both large and small dogs). This means the researchers were evaluating data on dogs just like the ones that live in our homes.
This study showed that dogs who are a normal body condition live on average 2.5 years longer than their overweight counterparts. That’s a big finding! In large breed dogs, Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Boxers, and German Shepherds, the split was smaller. Normal body condition dogs lived on average 5 months longer than overweight dogs of those breeds. In smaller dogs such as Chihuahua, Pomeranians, and dachshunds, the normal body condition dogs lived an average of 2.5 years longer. In all breeds, the average life span of a dog of normal body condition was longer than the overweight population.
At this point in time cat owners are wondering what this means for their population of pets! Overweight cats are more prone to diabetes, heart disease, mobility concerns, and urinary concerns. All of these diseases can considerably shorten the lives, and the quality of life, of our feline friends.
First of all, let’s identify what a healthy body condition looks like! A healthy body condition, for all breeds and species, involves some shape. You should be able to see a curve from the rib cage down to the abdomen, then back out to hips. You should also see a gentle curve up from rib cage to abdomen. You should be able to easily feel the ribs, without being able to see and count them.
If your pet is currently trim, let’s keep them that way! It’s much easier to prevent weight gain, than to take weight off! After young dogs and cats are neutered, and as they reach maturity, their Caloric need is generally not as high. Sometimes a reduction in food is needed when they hit their mature, adult weight. Here’s a few tips for keeping your dog or cat thin!
- Watch treats and snacks! If your pet is highly food motivated, they might be just as enthusiastic about a portion of their dinner used for training and treats throughout the day. The amount that you gave as treats for training comes out of their total Calories.
- Get everyone on board, so everyone in the family knows how much the pets are eating. Tricky pets (Cats are exceptionally good at this!) will trick another family member into thinking they haven’t been fed, or to giving another snack!
- Healthy snacks, like green beans, can be used in place of milk bones and commercial treats.
If your pet is currently overweight, don’t despair! With some good motivation, these pets can lose weight! It can be done! Here’s a few suggestions.
- Cut back the Calories! Reduce the food, cut out table food, and cut back on treats. If treats are an important part of their day, replace the treats with a lower calorie alternative like a green bean, or use part of their dinner as a treat throughout the day.
- Exercise. Even cats can do it! Start small, and with low expectations, and work up. A walk around the block is a good starting point. Cats can be motivated with laser pointers and toys, make sure they get the reward of the catch at least a few times during their play sessions.
- Cats will often have their best weight loss on a canned diet. Dogs may need a prescription Calorie restricted diet if they are really struggling to lose weight. Talk to your veterinarian about these options!
It’s true! Staying trim can help our pets live longer, healthier lives! New Year’s Resolution weight loss isn’t just for people!