New Year’s Resolutions
Many people make weight loss a New Year’s resolution. But humans aren’t the only ones suffering from the obesity epidemic. Statistics reveal a high percentage of pets in the U.S. are overweight or obese, and they run the same health risks we do–diabetes, arthritis, kidney disease, heart and vascular disease–and all these cascade into other health problems.
Why are our pets overweight? Basically for the same reasons that we are: too much food intake (and the food that is eaten is the wrong food–usually empty carbs), and too little exercise. But your pet is not the one buying, measuring and serving the food. Getting your pet to an appropriate weight and maintaining it is your responsibility.
Feeding a species appropriate diet is one of the first topics posted on this website. Feeding an appropriate amount is just as important. Most animals, including our pets, are hard-wired to eat everything that’s fed to them because in the wild, they never know when the next meal will come. A wolf will quickly consume 20 pounds of deer in one meal (hence the term “wolfing it down”) because he must consume the food before it is taken by others and because there’s no guarantee he’ll find another meal in the next couple of days, so it is stored as fat against hard times.
By feeding your pet a species appropriate diet regularly, you’ll be supplying his body with the nutrients it needs to maintain health and he’ll be secure about his meals, making him less likely to eat everything in sight. But when a cat or dog is fed one of the cheap, carbohydrate-laden kibbles, his brain cries for the nutrients, sending him back to food bowl. And because pet food label regulations are not as stringent as those for human food, you may not know how much sugar, salt and fat is being added to the kibble or treats. These are added to make the junk more attractive to pets but it’s no more healthy for them than it is for you. There is even evidence to suggest that a high volume of sugar causes chemical changes in the pet’s brain, resulting in observable behavioral changes. Some researchers have compared this to the changes human brains experience when repeatedly exposed to nicotine or cocaine, and feel that empty carbohydrates in the form of these unnecessary and unhealthy additives are actually addictive. More than one pet owner has watched her cat or dog go through what seem like withdrawal symptoms when removing these items from the pet’s diet.
For in-depth discussion of species appropriate diets, read the first few posts on this site. As I said, most of us are limited by time and money, so we must do the best we can when buying pet food. Next, let’s determine whether your pet needs to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain his current status. If you can’t easily feel the pet’s ribs under a layer of skin & fur, your pet probably needs to lose weight. When observing your pet from above, you should be able to see an indentation at the waist. And viewed from the side, your pet’s abdomen should be “tucked”–if it’s sagging, it’s time to think about dieting.
Of course your pet should be checked by the vet before being put on a diet. You vet can also tell you how much your pet should weigh. Some breeds weigh more than others of approximately the same size. Having determined that weight loss is in order and knowing the target weight, we proceed to portion size.
“Super-sizing” isn’t reserved solely for humans! (Neither is the urge to eat all of what you’ve paid for.) Most people don’t know what are the correct portions for their own food, so there’s no reason to expect they’ll know the correct portion for their cat or dog. Figuring out what a cat would be able to kill and eat in the wild and feeding a similar portion isn’t so hard. A typical adult feral cat might get a mouse or lizard or bird a day if he’s lucky. Translate that amount to canned food or kibble (or raw food). It’s not as much as he’s been eating, I’ll bet! For adult dogs, there’s a simple formula: a small dog needs about 50 calories/pound; a 50 pound dog about 30 calories/pound, a 90 pound dog about 25 calories/pound. (There are also several websites to help you figure out how much YOUR dog needs.) As with humans, caloric need for cats and dogs varies with activity level.
And as with humans, you must count treats as food intake. Most easily available, widely advertised pet treats are as much junk food as any human treats you’ll see advertised during the Superbowl–lots of sugar, salt, fat & calories for very little nutrition. Also as with humans, losing weight gradually and steadily is more healthy and effective, as is making portions much smaller but feeding more often at first.
Remember that puppies and kittens will need more than sedentary adult dogs and cats. Starting them off right with a species appropriate diet in correct portions will make them healthier and your life easier.
CAUTION: NEVER PUT A CAT ON A STARVATION DIET! The cat will develop hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver) syndrome and die. The cat must eat at least every 24 hours. Yes, she may cry and howl and complain and you may have to change to the new diet and reduced portions gradually. Cats will only eat fresh food, so if Fluffy refuses the diet food, throw it away and try again at the next scheduled feeding, maybe mixing in a little of her junk food or drizzling tuna juice to get her started.
Weight loss isn’t easier for our cats and dogs than it is for us; it’s only easier in that they can’t go to the store, buy what they want, and open the packages. Keep in mind that while obesity (or noticeable, unintentional weight loss) is a health problem on its own, it could also be an outward sign of another issue that needs to be addressed by your vet. The process for all of us takes time and patience but will pay off in renewed health, vigor and longer lives. Next time we’ll discuss how much exercise you and your pet get, and how it blends into the nutrition issues.
My apologies for being absent for almost two months but one of my humans was very ill and in the hospital for nearly that whole period. Thanks for your loyalty!