Western culture has managed have spread our unhealthy habits to our children and to other countries—but did you know that they're also affecting our pets?

Recent research revealed that sixty percent of cats and more than 56 percent of dogs are overweight, so we're talking about a lot of pets!

The cause of this problem, is, basically, the same thing that causes our weight problems; too much food and too little exercise! However, just because fat cats can be pretty darn cute doesn't mean that this issue should't be taken seriously.

Overweight pets are predisposed to many of the same conditions overweight humans are, like type 2 diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, breathing problems, certain cancers, and kidney disease.

In fact, letting your pet stay at an unhealthy weight may decrease your best pal’s life expectancy by up to 2.5 years, and even moderately overweight dogs had notably worse health outcomes than slimmer ones.

First, many well-meaning owners may simply not realize how overweight their pet is. A pet is generally considered overweight if they weigh 15 percent more than their ideal weight, and obese when they weight 15 percent more than that.

Your average cat should ideally weigh between eight and ten pounds, while the ideal weight of a dog varies widely with breed—100 pounds might be perfectly fine for a Great Dane, but I'd hate to see it on a chihuahua!

One quick way to get an idea whether your dog is overweight is to see if you can see their rib-cage. If the structure is entirely covered up by fat, your pet may have an issue. You could also check with you veterinarian, who may rate your pal on a nine point scale that works similarly to the way BMI does in humans: 1 is emaciated, obese is 9, and healthy pets fall between 4 and 5.


Of course, the main difference between our pets' obesity crisis and our own is that we have full control of what we eat and how much we exercise. However the habits of a pet are largely determined by the actions of their owners, who can be alarmingly lax about their pets' eating and workout habits. For instance, only one in five pet owners regularly measures the amount of food they give their fuzzy friend.

Lifestyle differences among owners may also trickle down to their pets. For instance, the owner who takes a dog for a nightly walk, plays with him throughout the day, and feeds him nutritious food on a regular schedule is far more likely to have a healthy pet than one who swaps the walk for a night in and lets Fido feast on their pizza crust.

The research backs this idea up: overweight owners are twice as likely as slim owners to have overweight or obese dogs, while obese owners are 20 percent more likely to have heavy dogs than the slim group.

Of course, factors besides lifestyle can play a part: neutered pets are at a higher risk for weight gain since they have lower testosterone levels (though neutering reduces the risk for many other health issues and is critical to animal population control.)

Pets' metabolisms may also slow with age, or pets may gain weight due to conditions like hypothyroidism, insulinoma, and hyperadrenocorticism. Some pets also seem to have genetic predispositions to obesity.

Dog breeds particularly prone to weight gain include basset hounds, pugs, English bulldogs, beagles, golden retrievers, and dachshunds. Pets that grow rapidly in their younger years may also be at greater risk.

However, some evidence suggests that even pets who aren't being overfed or underexercised have mysteriously gotten heavier as well, leading some scientists to suspect that sneaky factors like differences in gut bacteria, light exposure, and chemical environment that could have played some part in kicking off our obesity epidemic is affecting our pets' health as well. Scary stuff!


So, what should we be doing for our overweight pets to help them get their health back on track? Basically, the same things we should be doing for ourselves—we ought to get them to eat less and move more!

As far as nutrition, your veterinarian can probably recommend a prescription diet food, which will likely be rich in metabolism-boosting protein and filling fiber and low in carbohydrates and fat. Then, feed your pet a consistent amount at regularly scheduled times and monitor their weight regularly to ensure that they're on the right path.

As far as snacks, you should avoid feeding your pet high-calorie store-bought treats and rich human food. You could try feeding them lower-calorie people food like vegetables, though you should probably double-check whether any particular food is safe for your pet before letting them dig in.

You should also focus on finding ways besides food to show affection for your pet, like engaging them in some active games. Dogs will likely enjoy catch, tug of war, or simply strolling around the block—some of them even like to swim!

As far as cats, you could try to encourage your kitty to move more by getting them a cat castle to climb on or some new toys to boost their enthusiasm. However, note that cats are also not a particularly hard to entertain bunch, and your cat may have just as much fun chasing a string or a laser pointer than with any fancy stuff.

You also might want to consider a puzzle feeder, which mentally stimulates your cat and helps him or her manage their appetite by releasing food only when the cat solves a simple "puzzle!"

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