How healthy is your pet? 4 tips for maintaining pet wellness this New Year
With the start of the new year comes promises of improved health and better choices. We hope to begin with a clean slate and pursue our own personal goals. But what about our pets? If they could set a New Year’s Resolution what would it be?
Did you know that over half of cats and dogs in America are overweight? I know it is the last thing you want to hear – from a neighbor, a good friend, and especially your veterinarian. Your cat is so hungry and your retriever begs for food all. the. time. I get it! But despite people making better health decisions for themselves and even pursuing boutique and homemade diets for their pets, animals are suffering terribly from excess body weight and the health conditions that follow (such as diabetes and arthritis). Here are a few tips to keep your pet happy and healthy while also keeping their weight on track in 2019:
1. Wellness comes first
Schedule a visit with your veterinarian to discuss your pet’s weight. A physical exam and body condition assessment by your veterinarian will give you an idea of how much weight your pet needs to lose (if any). Many dogs and cats are overweight due to underlying health conditions that have yet to be diagnosed. Hypothyroid disease is a common reason many dogs are carrying excess weight. This disease slows the metabolism so even if you are restricting calories and exercising your dog, they will either continue to gain or stay the same weight. Heart disease in cats and small dogs can be a reason they are reluctant to exercise allowing excess body weight to accumulate. In addition to a physical exam, having a full blood panel performed will rule out many potential causes of obesity and allow you to focus on diet and exercise as the primary means to keep your pet healthy!
2. Obtain your pet’s daily calorie requirement
During the visit with your veterinarian, find out exactly how many calories your pet needs based on his age, activity level, and ideal body weight. This is a fairly simple calculation that any licensed veterinarian can do for you. Having this number is incredibly helpful as it allows you the flexibility to continue to feed treats (maybe they are smaller treats, or maybe you decide to feed green beans or pumpkin) in addition to their meals while staying on board with the diet and allowing your pet to lose weight without feeling hungry 24/7. Ask your veterinarian about switching your pet to a diet labeled for weight management or weight loss. This change is helpful because it prevents you from having to severely cut back the amount of food you are feeding (thus, preventing Fido from feeling like he is being starved). Weight management foods have lower calories in each piece of kibble, so you potentially can feed the same amount of food to your pet while also feeding less calories!
We know how important exercise is for our health (mental as well as physical) and this is no different for our furry family members. As a veterinarian, I often talk to pet parents about their animal’s routine. I want to know when they eat, when they exercise, and how often. Most of the time I hear about how the family has a fenced in yard so their pet doesn’t need daily walks. I cannot stress how important it is for us to keep our animals active outside of their normal environment! Sure, we want them to burn calories to maintain an ideal weight, but we cannot forgot about the mental health of our pets. Dogs need to be off of their property every day; either for a walk, run, swim, bike ride, or game of fetch. Even playdates with neighborhood dogs are helpful. Animals need stimulation of new scents, sounds, and surroundings each day. This helps a lot with behavior as dogs who live in their fenced in yard become bored and exhibit anxiety-type behaviors. Indoor cats are the biggest challenge. The best recommendation for these pets is to consider a feeding system that requires play. So, instead of walking up to their food bowl throughout the day when they are bored or hungry, a cat must hunt and play with a toy to encourage the food to be dispensed. This helps with their mental stimulation as well as getting your cat off the couch and moving!
4. Appropriate treats
Treats are such a joy to us as pet owners. I love rewarding my animals with food – heck, I love rewarding myself with food! But we need to be cautious as to what type of treats we are giving and when. Obtaining the daily calorie requirement for your animal will help with this, but feeding whole foods (cucumber, bell pepper, carrots, apples, sweet potato, etc) is most ideal. I know some animals would rather have actual pet treats, but please make sure you know how many calories are in each treat. You may be surprised, as some of the most popular dog treats have the same amount of calories as a cup of food!
I have 2 senior dogs, 1 senior cat, a kitten and 2 (almost 3) kids. It is a challenge for me to get my animals moving daily. I understand how hard it can be. I am lucky enough to live in a town by the beach so I have to say that is my favorite way to exercise the dogs (and the kids)! But many of my friends (and clients) send their dogs to daycare throughout the week. It is so nice to pick up your pet on the way home from work and know they are tired and have been well taken care of during the day. There are many different options to help you provide the best environment for your pet. From indoor hunting feeders for cats, to dog walkers and cat sitters, to doggy daycares. It may take some adjusting for you and your pet but I promise you will both be living a healthier life in the end!
– Leigh Hofmeister, DVM