There is a growing trend in the United States and it consists of overweight and obese dogs and cats. The fourth annual Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Study found approximately 53% of cats and 55% of dogs were overweight or obese (1). While exercise is a very important factor in keeping the weight of our beloved pets down, it is not the only one. Considering that most people do not take their cats out on a walk and many strictly keep their cats indoors, there must be another factor contributing to the increased obesity in dogs and cats….that factor is diet.
What we feed out pets has a huge impact on whether our pets maintain a healthy weight. Unfortunately, about 90% of the foods available for your pets are really designed to make your pet gain weight. Don’t believe me…well, think about it this way, if you were to go to your doctor and tell him that all you ate every day was cereal, either in two separate meals or you just free feed on a box of cereal all day, he would look at you and say you were nuts. Furthermore, chances are you would probably be pretty sick too. That is equivalent to what is in many of the pet foods that are available on the market today. Granted, there are a few smaller companies that focus on making human-grade, species appropriate diets, but unfortunately they are few and far between. Most pet food manufacturers have absolutely no motivation to produce healthy pet food. What they are motivated by is the highest possible dollar amount that they can make on their products.
The nutrients available to your pets in many of the larger, more popular brands are not what your pets need to keep their weight low. Many of these foods are anywhere between 30% to over 50% carbohydrates (Hill’s W/D, the prescription diet for diabetes and weight loss in dogs consists of 50.6% carbohydrates…yes, Hill’s recommends giving a dog with diabetes a high carbohydrate diet…does anyone else see a flaw in this logic?). Many of the “Low Fat” and “Light” pet foods are the worse culprits with regard to their “method” of weight loss. These foods use the logic that by lowering the calories and fat and adding fiber, that your pets will loose weight. Unfortunately, by lowering the calories and fat and adding fiber, these foods are also raising the carbohydrate levels of the food and significantly lowering the meat protein levels. Just like in human food, the foods that are advertised as “low fat” are consequentially higher in carbohydrates. So, although your pets food may be low in fat, the high carbohydrate levels create extra calories that your pet will not burn, which will then be stored as fat (vicious cycle isn’t it?) (2).
The key to keeping our pets weights down is to feed them a species appropriate diet. While raw food may be too expensive for some pet owners, there are dry pet foods out there that attempt to get close to a species appropriate diet with their ingredients and protein, fat, and carbohydrate ratios (it’s not perfect, but for the cost it’s a viable option).
It is also important to watch the serving sizes that you give your pet. The guidelines on the back of a pet food bag are a great starting point, but some pets may require more or less than the recommended feeding guidelines in order to maintain a healthy weight. An example would be a dog or cat that is a couch potato, these pets will generally require less of the recommended feeding amount, as they will not be burning as many calories throughout the day.
Although exercise is not the only reason for pets to be overweight, it is a significant reason. While feeding your pet a species appropriate diet is a key component to keeping your pet at a healthy weight; exercise is a great way to help your pet build muscle mass, which will also help them burn calories by increasing their metabolism (2).
It is also important to watch the treats that you give your pets. I am not a huge fan of biscuits, since if you are already feeding a processed kibble it is better to stick with meat based treats. Freeze-dried meaty treats, dehydrated treats, and slow roasted meat treats are all great examples of ways to give your pets treats without upping their carbohydrate intake (which would be the case if you gave your pet biscuits). But as with everything, moderation is very important.
To wrap it up, the key to your pets maintaining a healthy weight is feeding a species appropriate diet (and watching serving size), exercise, and sticking to meaty treats (in moderation).
1) Association for Pet Obesity – http://www.petobesityprevention.com/fat-pets-getting-fatter-according-to-latest-survey/
2) Article by Dr. Karen Becker – The Skinny on Low Fat Diets http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2010/07/07/the-skinny-on-low-fat-diets.aspx