By: Dr. Jack Stephens, DVM
Pets Best Insurance President
As a veterinarian, before I worked in the pet insurance industry, pet owners were constantly asking me how much they should feed their pets.
The amount of food each pet requires is dependent upon a host of variables, including breed, size, genetic predisposition, amount of exercise and type of food they’re being served.
Pet owners may suspect their pets are a little overweight, but they often make excuses for it or fail to realize how many extra pounds (or ounces) their pets are actually carrying. It’s a natural tendency to show our pets love with food, and that can quickly result in overfeeding. After the cycle of treat-giving or overfeeding begins, pets become patterned and begin to expect it.
My Chihuahua, Torrey, will beg for her morning treat every day at the same time due to a pattern we established years ago. Your pet may guilt you into overfeeding by looking up at you with big puppy dog eyes and pretending to be famished after a meal. But remember, it is their nature to overeat when given the opportunity. In the wild, dogs and cats may not eat for several days, so their instincts tell them to fill up while they can. Understanding this can help relieve your guilt and ensure proper pet health.
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Working with your veterinarian will help you address all the variables that can cause pet health problems related to being overweight or obese. Ask your veterinarian if your pet’s weight is too high, and try not to take the response personally.
While genetics or breed predisposition may play a role in some pets being fat, it is not necessarily their destiny. Good nutrition can improve your pet’s health and even aid with impending problems. Studies have shown that reduced weight relieves arthritis from hip dysplasia and of course, healthy pets can live significantly longer than overweight pets because there’s no extra strain on the heart or other organs, and the risk of cancer is reduced.
Your pet’s activity level will also help determine how much you should feed him or her. A sedentary lifestyle requires fewer calories than an active lifestyle, just as with humans. Also, neutered pets tend to require fewer calories than unneutered pets. Treats and rawhide bones can be high in calories and should be factored into diet discussions with your veterinarian.
Some pet owners like to stay healthy with their pets by walking and jogging together. In fact, people who walk their dogs lose weight faster, keep it off, lower their blood pressure and are more likely to meet the activity guidelines provided by the Center for Disease Control & Prevention. Of course, dogs like my Torrey are not ideal for walking. A few retrievals of her stuffed giraffe toy and she is done for the day. But keeping her weight down allows her to repeatedly bound up and down the stairs, and more importantly, it means she will be with me much longer.
There are a few simple ways to determine if your pet is overweight. First, feel your pet. Does it feel muscular or have extra padding? Second, stand over your pet and look down at them. There should be a slight indentation above the hips, just as in a healthy human.
If you learn your pet is overweight, in addition to making exercise changes for pet health, make food changes. Only younger pets need the high-fat kitten and puppy formulas. If you have indoor cats, choose an indoor formula since they won’t need as many calories as outdoor kitties. Right after eating, take your pet for a walk or offer a favorite toy to prevent begging for more.
The good news is, it only takes a few small changes to make a big difference in pet health. And the payoff is well worth it – extra years together. As I always say, “Pets are good for us.” Keep an eye on your pet’s health and they will also ensure you will be healthier and happier.