What 2012 New Year’s resolutions are you making for yourself? This year, I’m pledging to spend more unscheduled play time with my dog, Cardiff, in commemoration of two healthy years since his last episode of Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (see I Am So Thankful for the Health of My Dog).
How about New Year’s resolutions for your pet? As pets are incapable of carrying out lifestyle changes themselves, you must proactively promote the best possible quality of life for them.
This year, initiate change for your pet by integrating healthful habits into everyday life.
Focus on Food
As many pet owners show love through food, obesity often results from ignorance of, or lack of, commitment to recommended feeding guidelines. Excessive intake plus deficient activity equals an overweight pet.
Obesity is the number one nutritional disease affecting American pets (see Pet Obesity: Health Implications, Recognition, and Weight Management). The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) estimates that 51 per of dogs and cats (approximately 89 million pets) in the United States are overweight or obese. Serious and life altering ailments, including arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and reduced immune system functioning, can result from carrying too much weight.
Consult with your veterinarian about your pet’s body condition score (BCS). In my clinical practice, I refer to Purina’s BCS scale of 1-9. The ideal BCS is 5. 1 is the extreme of thinness and 9 is the extreme of obesity. Pets with a BCS over 5, yet less than 7, are considered overweight. A BCS greater than 7 classifies a pet as obese.
Ask your veterinarian to create dietary guidelines tailored to your pet’s energetic needs promoting BCS improvements. My general suggestions for paunchy pets include:
- Decrease portion size by 25-33 percent
- Increase frequency of feeding, such as three to four smaller portions per 24 hours
- Reduce consumption of highly processed dry pet foods by incorporating moisture, fiber, and nutrient filled whole foods
Commit to Daily Exercise
Set sustainable activity goals for yourself and your pet. Participate in some form of mood and heart rate enhancing physical activity on a daily basis. If your current fitness plan has gotten stagnant, start fresh for 2012. Walk your dog a longer distance around your neighborhood or choose a more vigorous hiking trail.
Pet exercise isn’t exclusive to dogs. If you have a corpulent kitty, create an indoor activity program using a laser pointer or feather toy to entice movement. Elevate the food bowl to a height that requires jumping or climbing to achieve a meal. Divide dry food feedings into many individual portions, then toss the kibble a distance that motivates natural predatory behavior and redirection.
Before starting on an exercise program with your cat or dog, arrange for a veterinary exam to ensure your pet is healthy enough for physical activity.
Pledge to Readily Resolve Illness
Does your pet receive an annual wellness exam with a veterinarian? He or she should, as wellness exams create the opportunity for your veterinarian to observe illness trends, establish a diagnosis, and swiftly recommend treatment.
Geriatric pets (greater than seven years of age), and those with any ongoing health issues (including arthritis, endocrine disease, cancer, and allergic skin disease), should be examined more frequently.
Commit to readily resolving recognized health problems before irreversible damage occurs. Besides obesity, periodontal disease is a preventable condition I proactively address in my clinical practice. The oral cavity is a source of infection and inflammation that can adversely affect the health of internal organs (kidneys, liver, heart, pancreas, etc.) and the immune system. Dr. Jan Bellows, Diplomate of the American Veterinary Dental College, defines periodontal disease as "the disease process that begins with gingivitis (inflammation of gingiva, i.e., gum tissue) and progresses to periodontitis (erosion of the teeth’s supporting structures) when left untreated." According to a study done by Larry Glickman, professor of epidemiology at the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine, a statistically increased incidence of heart disease in dogs is associated with an increased severity of periodontal disease.
Your pet will benefit from habitual teeth brushing along with regular teeth cleaning under the guidance of your veterinarian.
Dr. Patrick Mahaney
Image: Cardiff by Dr. Mahaney