By Beth Krueger
Have you heard the one about the cat who strolled into the New Year’s party? The cat asked the dog who was hanging out in a corner, “Aren’t you the dog known all over the neighborhood for your skills at slipping the hors d’oeurves off the plates with no one noticing until too late? Didn’t you even raid a carving station?” The dog sighed at the memories but explained, “That’s behind me now. I’ve made a resolution to get back to a weight where you can feel my ribs and I’m sticking to it.”
Well, maybe not, but as we resolve to cut back on intake and expend energy on exercise for our good health, pet owners are urged to check out Fido and Felix’s weight, as well. Some stats show that this is a matter we should address, as they say, stat!
A study issued this year by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (www.petobesityprevention.org) reported that in 2014 more than half of the dogs (52.7%) and cats (57.9%) in the U.S. were overweight and that owner understanding was a significant factor. Obesity continued to increase, too, with 17.6% of dogs identified as obese, up from 16.7% in a year, and 28.1% of cats, up from 27.4%. A whopping 95% of owners of the overweight dogs thought the weight level was normal. Those having overweight cats weren’t far behind at 90% miscalculating appropriate weight.
“Obesity is the number one preventable health problem in veterinary medicine today,” says. Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, head of Cornell’s nutrition and obesity management services. “Food equals love; people give treats; pets get fatter. Education and prevention are the only real tools against obesity.” A healthy pet collaboration of the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association offers this sobering through: If a 10-pound cat ate one ounce of cheddar cheese slipped from a plate or a well-meaning human, it would be the same as if a person ate three and a half hamburgers.
It’s a problem seen locally, as well as nationally. “We see many overweight dogs and cats, similar to the estimated national average of 52-60%,” observes Michel Casler, DVM, of Guilderland Animal Hospital. “We also see more morbidly obese cats than dogs with body scores of 5 on 1-5 scale and 10 on 1-10 scale.” The hospital monitors patients’ weight over time and inquires into what and how much they are being fed. Laura Engel, DVM, of the Capital Vets Troy Veterinary Hospital says that the practice sees overweight or obese dogs and cats on a daily basis, with a higher incidence of obesity in certain breeds of cats and dogs or certain types of lifestyles.
Dr. Casler explains that obesity factors for dogs include lack of exercise, genetic predisposition, overfeeding and supplementation with table scraps and treats. (Watch those under-the-table maneuvers of family or friends.) Among factors for cats are lack of exercise and overfeeding with dry food. (“In multiple cat households there always seems to be the fat cat that is the clean-up kitty!”) Dr. Casler notes that moist or canned food is a better choice for cats than dry which is high in carbs, as canned foods are more like the natural diet of cats, which are obligate carnivores. He adds that pursuing healthy feeding and exercise for our four-legged friends has to be a commitment of all in the household.
Dr. Engel observes, “As pets have become more involved in family life, they often get additional calories throughout the day without a compensatory increase in exercise.” In a vet visit, “ discuss adjustments that can be made in their diet or exercise routine and we look at different sources of calories including dry food, wet food, bones, treats, and human food and how many people in the household may be involved in the feeding,” she says. “There are many creative ways to increase the activity level even for the cat or dog that likes to sleep all day.”
While we can refuse that extra dessert offered to us by someone subverting our diet, Fido and Felix can’t be expected to just say no. And there is the New Yorker cartoon of the dog with the leash in his mouth who visits his softball-playing owner on home base. Did the owner take the “hint”?
How does excess weight affect a dog or cat’s health? It can reduce the animal’s lifespan by two to five years and contribute to osteoarthritis, heart and respiratory problems, kidney disease, diabetes and some types of cancers, as well as ligament injury.
Signs of sluggishness
Some of the signs? For dogs and cats, you should be able to feel the ribs and spine and see a defined waist; the abdomen shouldn’t sag. “No, we’re not taking walks much anymore,” said one dog owner. “He’s gotten so slow – doesn’t seem to want to go. And he pants at just a few steps. He doesn’t even get up anymore when someone comes to the door or another dog goes by.” The dog still likes to go for a ride but “we need to boost him into the car.” The toys aren’t an attraction. The dog just watches when they are thrown. Similar characteristics can develop in cats that become overweight.
A formerly lively and leaping cat is hesitant to jump up, isn’t interest in games, and has difficulty grooming, according to the American Veterinary Medicine in its Alliance for Healthier Pets initiative (www.PetFit.com) with Hill’s Nutrition. The initiative has provided thousands of obesity/weight awareness kits to vets as a resource in their conversations with owners. The vet and owner can then make a plan for the animal’s’ exercise, type of food, calorie intake, timing, etc.
Gain vet’s counsel and plan
Pet owners who do a bit of background reading and talking and believe that their furry friends have packed on too many pounds should have their pets checked by a veterinarian to obtain the professional determination and find out if any health problems are involved, such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease. An annual check-up at the vet is a means of assessing conditions and, if a pattern is developing on weight, the problem can be addressed. There are some medical conditions that may make it more difficult for a pet to lose weight, Dr. Engel notes. Tests or blood work may be recommended to further evaluate your pet if that is the case.
But a change should not be sudden. Carolyn McDaniel, VMD, of Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine says, “A cat that is put on a sudden starvation diet is at risk of developing a serious health problem, such as hepatic lipidosis. Gradual is the way to go!” She warns against the constant presence of food or free feeding. “There should be a distinct meal time, and the owner should be in control of it.” In addition to the web sites cited here, check out the American Veterinary Hospital web site (www.aaha.org) for more resources on pet health education.
A check up developing a plan with a vet specific to your pet is most effective, safe and wise. Your vet knows the animal’s medical conditions, just as your doctor knows your circumstances. This professional counsel, planning and the resolution of the owner (and family members) to stick to it can lead to a healthy 2016 for our furry friends.
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Upstate Veterinary Specialties
152 Sparrowbush Road, Latham
Upstate Veterinary Specialties (UVS) recently opened the doors to a new 23,000-foot hospital at 152 Sparrowbush Road in Latham. This move enabled the expansion of services provided currently by the 12 boarded/residency-trained specialists. A larger hospital also improves the care UVS can provide to pets in the Capital District and beyond through the creation of a new emergency and critical care service, offering 24/7 emergency care overseen by a board-certified critical care specialist, several emergency clinicians and technicians. Expansion will permit future development of additional services, including expanded rehabilitation/physical therapy, radioactive iodine therapy, and advanced imaging modalities as well.
Mohawk Hudson Humane Society
3 Oakland Avenue, Menands
Since 1887, the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society has been improving the lives of animals and the people who love them through sheltering, adoption, education, advocacy and the prevention of animal cruelty. It has created numerous programs for all ages, needs and abilities, working collaboratively with corporate, community and nonprofit organizations, and continues to introduce new initiatives to address the needs of the community. The Society is the oldest and largest animal welfare organization in the Capital Region and has recently expanded its paw print with locations in Saratoga Springs and at the PetSmart Charities Everyday Adoption Center in Latham Farms.
Welcome to Capital Vets where our staff is our strength! What does that mean for you? We are committed to building enduring bonds with you and your pets. We want to be a life-long partner in your pet’s health and help you to be the best pet owner you can be. Our staff stays up to date with the latest advances in medicine and we are committed to constantly advancing our knowledge. We promise to put your pet’s needs first—every pet, every time. For more information contact us at one of our 4 locations across the Capital Region. Watch for news in early 2016 about the grand opening of the River Street Veterinary Clinic, our newest wellness clinic at 193 River Street in Troy.
Guilderland Animal Hospital
4963 Western Turnpike, Guilderland
Guilderland Animal Hospital has been providing veterinary services for the Capital District since 1955. GAH is a full-service companion animal hospital and has been an accredited member of the American Animal Hospital Association since 1973. AAHA triennial evaluation includes over 800 standards of practice to ensure up-to-date quality and technology. As one of the only 3,000 accredited hospitals in North America, GAH has made a commitment to provide and maintain the highest standard of companion animal veterinary care. Among services provided are wellness and preventative care, surgical services including soft tissue, cancer and orthopedic surgery, comprehensive dentistry and laser surgery. Laser therapy is also available for pain management and promotion of healing.