It’s up to owners to help pets maintain a healthy weight | Health | Spokane | Interior of the Pacific Northwest

AAs veterinarians, we treat obesity in companion animals daily in the clinic.

This is not shocking since most online surveys reveal that almost 60% of dogs and cats are obese. Just like in humans, poor diet and obesity are linked to joint pain and arthritis, heart disease, respiratory disease, diabetes, certain types of cancers and other health problems. And just like in humans, access to high calorie diets, excessive sweets and lack of exercise lead to obesity.

Yet, far too often, people fail to recognize the reversible signs of obesity in their pets until these and other complications set in. There are many improvements owners can make. Things like decreasing treats, cutting out human food, and making sure pets get proper exercise all play a role. Diagnosing obesity in pets early is also essential, and anyone can do this using the same method as their veterinarian – a body condition score.

The fitness score requires pet owners to assess their pets to determine their overall health. Generally, the scores range from one to nine, with four and five being the ideal weight.

While many clinics have their own fitness scales, most are similar. Owners can palpate their pet’s ribs and check if they can feel their pet’s spine; the two areas where dogs and cats have a palpable fatty covering. If they can’t feel the animal’s ribs or spine, that’s a strong indicator that there may be too much fat covering them. On the other hand, if the animal’s ribs are easily visible, they may be underweight.

The body conditioning score also includes looking to ensure that a dog’s flank, the area of ​​the abdomen just before it meets the hind leg, is tucked behind the leg. When you look at the animal’s back, it should have a slight hourglass shape. If there is no flank and it looks like their chest and abdomen meet their hind legs, a dog is overweight.

Body conditioning scores can be especially useful for evaluating boxier dogs, such as bulldogs, which can be difficult for owners to judge.

It's up to owners to help pets maintain a healthy weight

Checking cats’ fitness scores is also essential. Cats don’t usually see the vet as often as dogs, and due to their survival instincts, they tend to hide joint pain caused by being overweight. A combination of these factors makes it difficult to recognize pain and health issues in cats.

Senior pets are especially susceptible to weight-related complications, so it’s important to make sure they’re not overweight before they enter their senior years. Older dogs and cats exercise less, so it may be harder to burn fat in later years.

The best thing an owner can do for their pet is to limit treats (both human and animal) and keep their dog on a healthy, balanced diet. Most reputable pet foods are regulated and approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials.

Pet owners can endanger a pet’s health with too much food goodness and possibly shorten its life due to obesity-related health issues. But by paying attention to your pet’s weight, you can help keep your furry friend healthy and active.

Jessica Bell is an assistant professor at the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine and a community practice small animal veterinarian at WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

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