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By Jessica Remitz
While many pet owners feel that feeding their animals hearty meals, table scraps, and treats is a sign of love and caring, overfeeding a cat or dog leads to an abundance of health problems that can shorten or endanger their lives. Here’s a look at why obesity is an issue and how to help keep your beloved pet slim, healthy and happy without the extra treats or servings of dinner.
Just like us, it’s important for animals to have the right balance of essential vitamins, nutrients and minerals for their bodies to function properly. Animals that aren’t fed a balanced diet can have a variety of health problems, like bone malformations or poor density due to a lack of calcium and phosphorous and heart disease due to a lack of taurine, says Sarah Carter, DVM at the MSPCA Angell Shalit-Glazer Clinic. While you want to make sure you’re feeding your pet the right amount of food, overfeeding can cause an entirely different host of issues, namely obesity, which can be difficult to manage.
“An obese animal is not a healthy animal; they often have less energy and it is harder for them to get around [to] go for walks and get up and down stairs,” Dr. Carter says. “A cat or dog that can run and jump will be much happier and have much better mental and physical health.”
Obesity can lead to diabetes, inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, and certain types of liver failure in cats. According to Dr. Carter, orthopedic and neurologic diseases can also be more difficult to treat when an animal is obese. If a dog or cat has slipped a disk or fractured a limb, for example, it will be much harder for them to recover and move around if they are carrying extra weight, she adds. While any animal can be predisposed to obesity, pets that lead sedentary lifestyles and consume extra calories are at the highest risk of being obese. Unfortunately, a large number of pets are currently overweight or obese regardless of their breeding.
The key to keeping your pet’s weight in check is to feed them a well balanced diet with an appropriate number of calories for their breed, age and body type. While it’s essential to discuss the specifics of your pet’s diet (including what and how much to feed them) with your veterinarian, Dr. Carter recommends the following for maintaining your pet’s health and reducing its weight:
Reducing the amount of food you feed your pet to help them lose weight may lead to nutritional deficiencies, and restricting calories too quickly for overweight cats can lead to liver failure, so it’s best to work with your veterinarian to determine the best plan of action.
“Prescription diets have been created to help with weight loss that restrict the number of calories your pet consumes while giving them the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients required to maintain their health,” Dr. Carter says. “These foods can be acquired from your veterinarian who will also be able to provide insight as to how well the diet is working.”
Loving your pet means feeding them a well balanced diet, so if you’re concerned about restricting their food intake and losing their affection, remember that there are many other ways to show our pets we love them. Playing with your pet regularly, taking them for walks, providing them with mentally and physically interactive toys and spending time with them are all non-food related ways to show your pet you care.
“Feeding your pet and then ignoring them will not make your pet feel loved,” Dr. Carter says. “Most animals want your affection and attention, not just your food.”
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