Carrying extra pounds puts undo stress on the body’s joints, digestive, respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Especially while growing, even a few pounds of extra weight tremendously increase the incidence of painful hip dysplasia and osteochondritis dissicans (OCD) lesions. How do you know if your pet is too heavy? See if you can count their ribs with gentle to moderate pressure with your hands. If you cannot feel and count ribs, or feel a waist, they are bigger than they should be.
Since we are in charge of feeding our pets, it should be easy to help restrict calories, right? Well…remember, there are a lot of simple things to be aware of that can make over-feeding problematic. People often fail to recognize where they have blind spots in regards to over feeding. Here are the most common:
- feeding too much food
- free feeding/leaving food out all the time/refilling the pet dish
- too many treats
- too many table scraps
- multiple members of the family feeding the pet
- scavenging when unattended—either outside or counter-surfing
- eating other pets’ food, such as kitty’s
- feeding too fatty or too high calorie content for age and lifestyle
- feeding too many carbohydrates
- not feeding enough vegetables and good types of fiber
- inappropriate nutrition
Let’s look at these a little closer. Measure the food you give to your pet. Often the package recommendations over estimate how much you should be feeding. Also, many pets are not getting as much exercise as they should. This means they need less calories—anything in excess of what they can utilize immediately will turn into fat. Also, pets need to be fed based on their ideal weight, not their obese weight. For example, if the bag of food recommends 1½ cups daily for a 30 pound dog, but your dog’s ideal weight is actually 22 pounds, do not feed to maintain 30 pounds. Also, remember that the total daily recommendation is often best split into two daily meals—not doubled into two meals daily.
Even if feeding meals appropriately, people LOVE to give their pets treats. Most pets would be just as happy if given quality attention and affection as receiving food. You can actually kill your pet with kindness by overfeeding! If you really need to give treats for training or behavior purposes, use a portion of their total daily intake that you subtract from their ideal weight daily ration—do not give in addition. Vegetables such as green beans make a great treat instead of higher calorie expensive treats. If a pet is “picky” they are being fed more than they need. Hungry dogs are not picky!
Wholesome foods are a great supplement to nutrition in addition to kibble. However, again this is very easy to over-do, and needs to be taken into account for total daily intake. Also, if we are overlooking an obese pet, are we actually feeding ourselves appropriately? Maybe the foods we have in the house are actually not as lean and healthy as we think for ourselves, either, so be careful!
Many dogs will overeat until they make themselves sick. If your pet is crafty at convincing multiple members of the family that they have not been fed yet, set up a chart so that the person who feeds the dog each day can check off the day and indicate to other family members that the dog or cat was indeed fed.
Certain foods can actually increase hunger and are addicting. Wheat has been genetically modified for decades to stimulate opiate receptors in the gut. This is why pets (and people) get carb cravings. There is nothing preventing food and treat companies from adding appetite-stimulating chemicals to foods under the guise of “natural or artificial flavorings.” Just like people who only eat fast foods high in fat and not much nutrition, pets can be obese but malnourished. Consult with a holistic veterinarian who can help you make wise decisions about how to feed healthy, nurturing, chemical-free foods and treats.