Pet obesity is a growing trend. 51% of all pets in America are overweight or obese. An estimated 89 million dogs and cats in the United States are classified as overweight or obese by standard body condition scores (BCS). 15% of those pets (26 million) are considered obese.
We all love our pets. We all want them to be healthy. But extra weight can sabotage their health in more ways than one. Dogs and cats that are overweight are more susceptible to things like diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, osteoarthritis, and some forms of cancer. Overweight pets live, on average, 2 years less than their healthy-weight counterparts. And it’s not just pets that are 5, 10 or even 30 pounds overweight. One pound on a 30 pound dog is like 5 pounds on a person. One pound on an average-sized cat is like 15 pounds on a person! It only gets worse as the number of extra pounds goes up - 5 extra pounds on a 30 pound dog is the equivalent of a person being 25 pounds overweight. Your cat is 5 pounds overweight? Try putting on 75 pounds and you’ll know how they feel!
So what can be done? Diet and exercise are just as important for our pets as they are for us. Pets prone to being overweight should be eating a good quality, low calorie food. They should be fed on a schedule, and the quantity should be limited. Treats should make up less than 10% of their diet, and adjustments to their overall intake should be made as needed. Table food is out, too - it’s loaded with fat and calories that can sabotage all of your hard work. Low impact exercise is a must for any weight loss plan, and should include at least 30 minutes of activity every day. A brisk walk around the neighborhood can do wonders for the waistline! Cats can be engaged in play with a feather on a string, a laser pointer, or even a mechanical mouse.
So, how much is too much? Your veterinary team is able calculate an appropriate amount of food and treats for your dog or cat. By using your pet’s current body weight as well as a target weight, we can tailor a feeding plan specifically for you and your dog or cat. We are happy to do the leg work for you - simply tell us what kinds of foods you are feeding (brand, variety, flavors) as well as any treats you are currently offering and we will custom make a diet plan. We know feeding and treats are often an important part of the human-animal bond, so we do our best to provide a diet plan that allows for the treats you are used to - just in healthier portions.
Sticking to the plan can be difficult, but it will be worth it when the weight starts coming off. Remember, don’t get discouraged if your pet only loses a few ounces or pounds at a time - every loss is a victory!
Hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats end up in shelters every year, many of them because of behavioral problems. Excessive barking, house soiling, and destructive behaviors are all potential reasons for a pet to wind up in a shelter - but they don't have to be.
Proper training and socialization can prevent a lot of behavioral problems from ever occuring. We recommend all of our puppy patients go through at least a basic puppy kindergarten class. We highly recommend the Obedience Club of Chattanooga for dogs of all ages, but especially puppies. They limit access to their facility to only well-vaccinated dogs, so puppies can begin attending classes at a younger age without a significantly increased risk of contracting a contagious disease such as parvovirus.
The old saying "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" is only that - an old saying. Training classes can be very beneficial to older dogs as well. Whether it's his first time in class or his skills are just a bit rusty, an older dog will benefit from the socialization of a class as well as the training. We are always happy to offer suggestions regarding specific behaviors, as well as guidance (and possibly medications) for dogs that exhibit separation anxiety, noise phobias, situation anxiety, car sickness, and more.
While cats don't typically enroll in training classes, it doesn't mean they can't be trained. Many cats enjoy learning and performing tricks - for the proper motivation. Even if your cat doesn't yearn for the spotlight, proper socialization and teaching appropriate behaviors is important for all cats. They should be given proper outlets for their instinctual behaviors (tolieting practices, scratching, hunting, etc.). Cats crave vertical space - they love to look down over their domain from a high perch such as the top of a cat tree or a tall shelf. They are naturally inquisitive, and will often investigate a paper bag or cardboard box left laying around. You can help satisfy their need to hunt by utilizing a feather on a string, a laser pointer, or a treat dispensing toy. Ohio State University has done extensive research on the lives of indoor cats and how to provide enrichment for them. It is called The Indoor Pet Initiative, and is a valuable resource for all pet owners.
Dogs and cats aren't born knowing how to behave according to our rules. It is up to us to teach them how to interact with our world, and to guide them into becoming the loyal companions we hope for. With dedication, consistency, love, and a lot of patience, we can help them reach their full potential as four-legged members of the family.
Dr. Gerard Clarke
Small Animal Medicine & Surgery
6999 Nashville Street
Ringgold, GA 30736
Ph: (706) 937-7387