At the start of a new year many of us begin to think about starting a new diet or exercise program - something to improve our physical fitness. Now is a great time to evaluate your pets' physical fitness as well.
Obesity is a serious health issue in this country - for both pets and their owners. Similar to people, there are many health risks linked to obesity in animals. There is an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, anesthesia complications and structural problems for our pets when we allow them to become significantly overweight.
A thin, conditioned pet will likely live longer, and will certainly have a better quality of life than a sendentary overweight animal. I do make an exception for "elderly" pets. Depending on the breed, that may be eight years for giant breed dogs, or 14 years for cats and small dogs. I try to have my elderly pets carry a little extra weight just in case they catch a virus. Similar to elderly humans, elderly pets can get very sick from a fairly common virus that a younger pet would quickly recover from.
Hip dysplasia is a common health issue for our pet dogs. Studies now prove that raising overweight puppies can significantly increase the severity of dysplasia - it is not genetics alone that determine the severity of the disease. Once dysplasia is diagnosed, carrying any extra weight only adds to the dogs discomfort. Pets get arthritis in their joints just like we do (especially dysplastic joints), and pets that are kept thin and active their whole life have a much lower chance of developing painful arthritis.
Our pets are naturally built to lead very active lives. Felines and canines in the wild spend hours each day hunting, playing and patrolling their territory. A healthy pet has the same physique as a healthy person - lean and muscular with little body fat.
You should be able to easily feel your pet's ribs, and there should be an obvious waste tuck just behind the rib cage. You will be able to save money on food for your pets as well as veterinary expenses because thinner pets have statistically fewer medical problems.
The Journal of American Veterinary Medicine Association (JAVMA) has done studies with companion animal caretakers. The majority of owners with overweight pets did not realize their pets were overweight. Even those owners who realized their pets were overweight did not think it was a health concern.
JAVMA has also done studies indicating that veterinarians often do not recognize that pets are seriously overweight. Veterinarian associations are working to educate the veterinarians, and offer them tools to help discuss this issue with their clients.
A note here on spaying and neutering. It is a myth that neutering your pets makes them fat. Too much food and not enough exercise make them fat. I have owned 27 dogs in my lifetime - all neutered - all very fit (I only wish someone else could be responsible for how much food I consume).
I know it is tempting to spoil your pet with bigger meals and more treats. If you truly love your pet - spoil him with more cuddle time and more play time.
Shiela McGregor is a dog expert and activist in the animal rescue field. She lives in Addison County. Vt.